In “The Trial of the Century”
By Megan McKinney
In our last segment, we briefly discussed the second Madison Square Garden, for which its architect Stanford White is best remembered. This version of the “Garden”, built by White at 26th Street and Madison Avenue in 1890, lasted until 1925.
The tower soaring up from the massive building brought the second Garden’s total height to 32 stories and within the tower was an apartment kept by White.
The great tower was topped by a statue of Diana by Augustus Saint-Gaudens, one of White’s many distinguished friends and supporters.
As charming as were both White and the buildings he designed, he was far from perfect. He had reached a level of womanizing that would not be tolerated today, and his turn-of-the-century romance with chorus girl and artist’s model Evelyn Nesbit so infuriated the man she later married that he sought revenge. Serious revenge.
On the evening of June 25, 1906, 52-year-old Stanford White was watching a theatrical production in Madison Square Garden’s Roof Top Supper Club, which he had designed. It was opening night of Mamzelle Champagne, a show in which White was an investor. The architect came in late but was seated at a table near the stage. Suddenly, at 11 o’clock, a shot rang out from behind. There was another shot, a third and Stanford White was dead.
Standing a few feet away, a pistol in his hand, was Evelyn Nesbit’s unstable husband, millionaire Harry K. Thaw. It was not the crime of the century—there have been too many of those—but it was soon dubbed Trial of the Century. Actually it was even closer to newspaper character defamation of the century.
The story had everything: Money, Sex, Fame, Beauty, Insanity–and maybe even Love. The press grabbed the memory of the astonishingly talented and genial Stanford White and would not let go. The more Mr. White was vilified, the higher the circulations of New York newspapers skyrocketed. The temptatation was so great that sensational coverage spread from the expected yellow journalism sources to such normally circumspect papers as The New York Times. By the time it was over, the dazzlingly brilliant man who had contributed such beauty and civility to his time—and ours—was so maligned, his reputation so sullied, that he was victim of far more than gunshot wounds.
The Trial of the Century was actually two trials, with Evelyn Nesbit Thaw testifying on behalf of her deranged husband in the first.
Thaw’s first trial ended with a hung jury and in the second he was found not guilty “on the ground of insanity.” He spent seven years in an asylum for the criminally insane, and upon release his first act was to divorce his loyal wife.
This segment concludes Classic Chicago Publisher Megan McKinney’s coverage of architect Stanford White.
Edited by Amanda K. O’Brien
Author Photo: Robert F. Carl