The Aristocratic Nose and the Vulgar Heart


Early paparazzi photography of Evelyn Nesbit-Thaw and Harry Thaw. C.1909. 

Harry Kendall Thaw (February 12, 1871 – February 22, 1947) was the son of Pittsburgh coal and railroad baron William Thaw, Sr. Heir to a multi-million dollar mine and railroad fortune, Harry Thaw had a history of severe mental instability and led a profligate life. His historical legacy rests on one notorious act: on June 25, 1906, on the rooftop of Madison Square Garden, Thaw murdered renowned architect Stanford White who had been the lover of Thaw’s wife, model/chorus girl Evelyn Nesbit.

Plagued by mental illness since childhood, Thaw spent money lavishly to fund his obsessive partying, drug addiction, and the gratification of his sexual appetites. It is alleged that it was at this time that the term “playboy" entered the popular vocabulary coined to describe the lifestyle that Thaw so energetically pursued. The Thaw family wealth allowed them to buy the silence of those individuals who threatened to make public the worst of Thaw’s reckless behavior and licentious transgressions. Throughout his life, however, he had several serious confrontations with the criminal justice system, which resulted in his incarceration in mental institutions.

Thaw shot and killed Stanford White as a result of his jealousy over the relationship between his wife, Evelyn Nesbit, and White. After one hung jury, he was found not guilty by reason of insanity. Years later, Stanford’s son Lawrence Grant White would write, “On the night of June 25th, 1906, while attending a performance at Madison Square Garden, Stanford White was shot from behind [by] a crazed profligate whose great wealth was used to besmirch his victim’s memory during the series of notorious trials that ensued.

(via notinthehistorybooks)