Wednesday, February 10, 2010

February 10, 1910-Harry K. Thaw appeals to the Supreme Court

Stanford White
Evelyn Nesbitt

Harry Thaw

By the start of 1910 Harry K. Thaw had been an inmate at the Matteawan State Hospital for the Insane at Fishkill, New York for two years. It hadn't been so bad. He had enjoyed virtually complete freedom and was kept apart from the really crazy patients. Was Harry insane? A jury ruled that he had been temporarily insane when he murdered New York architect Stanford White in 1906 in front of 1,000 people, but still many believed it had all been a hoax.

Harry had been born into money in Pittsburgh in 1871. He was the son of coal and railroad millionaire William Thaw. A trouble maker as a child he bounced from private school to private school never distinguishing himself. Still as the son of William Thaw, it was difficult for the University of Pittsburgh to turn him away There he partied, chased women, attended cock fights and became addicted to narcotics. He later used his name and his father's influence to get into Harvard and bragged to friends that he majored in Poker.
After getting kicked out of the Ivy League school Thaw ended up in New York City where he lived off of the family money, visited brothels, attended Broadway shows, went on morphine binges and chatted up chorus girls. One of the most popular shows at the time on Broadway was a musical entitled "Floradora" playing at the Casino theatre at 1404 Broadway, at W. 39th Street. The Floradora girl that caught Thaw's eye was young Evelyn Nesbitt. Nesbitt was the model that Charles Dana Gibson had used in his drawing that started the whole Gibson Girl craze. That drawing, in turn, led to the enormous popularity of the shirtwaist in women's fashions in the first decade of the 1900's.

Nesbitt had also been the focus of White, by this time one of the most famous architects in the country. The designer of Madison Square Garden, the Washington Square Arch and the Shinnecock Hills Country Club Clubhouse, White was the toast of New York society. Harry K. Thaw was a spoiled, unbalanced rich kid from Pittsburgh. And now they were fighting over the same girl.

Eventually, Nesbitt would marry Harry K. Thaw, though most people believed it was because Thaw's mother paid her a huge amount of money to do so. Evelyn would later admit to Harry that Stanford White had earlier stolen her virtue by raping her and forcing to pose on a red velvet swing in White's lavish apartment. Harry became obsessed with the architect still further.
In June of 1906 Thaw and his wife attended a performance of the musical "Mam'zelle Champagne" at the rooftop theatre of Madison Square Garden. White also happened to be in attendance. During the performance of the shows finale-"I Could Love a Million Girls"- Thaw shot White three times at close range killing him. At first members of the audience though that the scene was part of the show.

Thaw was arrested and taken to the Centre Street Station. He was soon charged with murder and placed in the Tombs to await trial. While he was in jail, Thaw had all of his meals catered from Delmonico’s, one of New York’s finest restaurants. He also had whiskey smuggled to him and was allowed to continue playing the stock market, meeting with his broker in jail at all hours of the day and night.

His first trial in 1907 ended in a hung jury. At his second trial in 1908 Thaw's attorneys took the insanity defense to murder to new extremes, successfully arguing that Thaw suffered from "dementia Americana," a condition supposedly unique to American men that caused Thaw to develop an uncontrollable desire to kill White after he learned of White's previous affair with Nesbit. The strategy worked and he was found guilty by reason of insanity and ordered incarcerated at Matteawan.

On February 10, 1910 Thaw's attorneys launched an appeal to the Supreme Court in New York City to have him moved from Matteawan. The appeal failed and Thaw would spend five more years at the asylum. In 1915 a judge would find him sane and he was released.

The judge may have been a little off with his assessment as Thaw was jailed again in 1916. He was arrested for horsewhipping a teenager named Frederick Gump and while Thaw tried to buy off the boy’s family with over a half million dollars, he was still sent back to the mental hospital. He was kept there under tight security until his release in 1922.

Harry continued his high lifestyle of chasing young girls until his death in 1947. He would tell anyone who would listen that he was a theatrical and movie producer. There seems to be no record of anything he ever produced.

Evelyn Nesbitt would , in 1956, become a technical advisor for the Film "The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing".

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