Posts Tagged ‘Stanford White murder’

Madison Square Garden, luminous by moonlight

November 11, 2019

No, not today’s MSG in the gritty West 30s. This is the second of the four versions of Madison Square Garden, the Moorish-Beaux Arts arena designed by Stanford White on 26th Street and Madison Avenue in 1890.

At the time this postcard was made in roughly 1907, White’s Madison Square Garden was one of the most recognizable buildings in New York City, a palace of inspiration and excitement that hosted everything from boxing matches to the circus to the annual Westminster Dog Show.

By 1907, the heyday of the Garden was coming to an end.

A year earlier, White was murdered on the very rooftop garden he designed. He was shot by the jealous (and mentally ill, a jury eventually concluded) husband of Evelyn Nesbit—the young showgirl White sexually assaulted after lacing her drink years earlier at his East 24th Street hideaway across Fifth Avenue.

This Madison Square Garden became the center of the city’s first trial of the century. The story of the building and the scandal surrounding it (including new information about this most notorious murder) is detailed in the new book The Grandest Madison Square Garden, by Suzanne Hinman.

[Postcard: MCNY Collections Portal, F2011.33.1324]

Faded outlines of an infamous Flatiron love nest

November 16, 2015

Stanford White was one of New York’s great architects. He was also a notorious womanizer known for seducing teenage girls, preferably showgirls.

Stanfordwhite22west24thst

To facilitate this, the married White kept a secret apartment at 22 West 24th Street, just off Madison Square Park. From the outside, it was plain and unspectacular.

StanfordwhitephotoInside, however, was a seducer’s love nest, complete with mirrored walls, velvet couches, colored lights, a four-poster bed, and of course, a red velvet swing.

It was the same swing he pushed 16-year-old chorus girl Evelyn Nesbit in, not long before he lowered her defenses with champagne and raped her in 1901.

Nesbit wasn’t the only girl he took to 22 West 24th Street. But she was the only one who ended up telling the world about what happened there, after she took the stand during a murder trial that had the entire city’s attention.

Five years after White assaulted her, Nesbit’s new husband, Harry Thaw, took out a pistol and shot and killed White in the rooftop theater at Madison Square Garden.

Thaw was unstable, wildly jealous of White, and obsessed with avenging his wife’s honor.

Evelynesbit1901At Thaw’s trial in 1907, Nesbit recalled the events of the night White raped her and what the inside of his multi-level seduction lair was like.

[As a reader points out below, Nesbit’s take has to be looked at through a gimlet eye. She had her own interests (and reputation) to protect, and White was not around to counter her testimony. But here is her story.]

The first time she visited, she was with a girlfriend; White and another man convinced the two girls to get in the swing, and they pushed them from behind.

“Their toes struck the crisp paper covering of a great Japanese fan swung from the ceiling, ripping the fan to tatters,” wrote the New York Times in an article chronicling the trial.

The second time, with her mother out of town, White invited Nesbit to a party he said he was having at 24th Street. When she arrived, she was the only one there.

EvelynnesbitnytimesWhite “asked her to let him show her his antiques and beautiful things, and disclosed a narrow stairway leading from the studio upward,” stated the Times.

“She followed him to a room in which there was a piano and many objects of art. She thrummed the piano for a moment, then White bade her to go into the next room with him.”

“The room was chintz covered. It was a bedroom, and there was a table and chair beside the bed in it.”

Evelynnesbit22west24thstphoto2007White poured her a glass of champagne and made her drink it, she told the court. Then, “there was the sound of thumping in her head, she said, and the chintz bedroom began to whirl about.”

Next thing she knew, she woke up in the bed surrounded by mirrors. She screamed and went home, and the next day, White “praised her beauty and her youth, told her how he liked girls, and said he would do a great many things for her,” wrote the Times.

After two trials, Thaw got off on an insanity defense. White’s former love nest on 24th Street fell into disrepair and collapsed in 2007 (right). All that remains is its faded outline.

[Bottom photo: Don Hogan Charles/New York Times]

The pretty showgirl at the center of a murder

April 9, 2012

Evelyn Nesbit’s ascent to famous model and glamorous chorus girl in the early 1900s follows the usual narrative.

Born poor in Pennsylvania in 1884, Evelyn was an attractive child who helped her family score extra money by working as an artist’s model.

By the time the Nesbits moved to New York City in 1901, she was an astoundingly beautiful 15-year-old who quickly found gigs posing for famous artists—including illustrator Charles Dana Gibson, who used her as one of his “Gibson Girls.”

She also raked in a then-high $10 a day as a fashion model in newspaper ads, and she earned a place in the hit musical Floradora.

Through her showgirl connections, she was introduced to architect Stanford White in 1901. White, a womanizer then in his late 40s, was smitten.

One night, according to Evelyn, he showered her with attention, brought her to his apartment on West 24th Street, plied her with alcohol, and took her virginity after she’d passed out.

Though White remained in her life, Evelyn dated John Barrymore, then married Harry Thaw, the playboy son of a coal baron. She confided in Thaw about being “seduced” by White.

Thaw was obsessed with avenging his wife’s honor. On a June night in 1906, while the three were at the same theater performance at the White-designed Madison Square Garden, Thaw shot White in the head.

The slaying of the nation’s foremost architect and the scandal that surrounded it captivated the city. After his first murder trial ended in a hung jury, Thaw pleaded temporary insanity and was sent to a mental institution.

What happened to Evelyn? She testified on Thaw’s behalf, then divorced him in 1916. She tried her hand at vaudeville and in silent movies and wrote a few memoirs.

After slipping out of the limelight, she got married and divorced, taught ceramics, and survived suicide attempts and alcoholism.

She died in a nursing home in California in 1967 at the age of 82. “Stanny White was killed but my fate was worse. I lived,” she reportedly said.

Top: Evelyn at the height of her beauty, by Rudolph Eickemeyer; bottom: Evelyn in 1955 on the set of The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing, a film based on her life starring Joan Collins.