Stanford White and the Crime of the Century

Will Dean, Heather Lember, and Anna Lillian Moser

In 1901 Nikola Tesla commissioned his friend, the architect Stanford White, to design him a brick laboratory to accompany the Wardenclyffe Tower. Ten years later the laboratory would be abandoned, and the artist behind it dead, the victim of a salacious, scandalous murder deemed the crime of the century.

Stanford White was born on East Tenth Street near the Bowery on November 9, 1853. His father, Richard Grant White, was a well-respected music critic and writer at the time, known for his airs of sophistication and nobility, yet almost always found himself in financial upheaval.

Stanford initially aspired to be a painter, but decided to pursue the more profitable career of an architect. Through his father’s connections, White secured an apprenticeship with Henry Hobson Richardson. It was there that White met his future business partner Charles Follen McKim. Joined by William Rutherford Mead, the three men formed the architectural firm of McKim, Mead & White in 1879.

White went on to design such New York City landmarks as the Tiffany Building, The Gould Memorial Library, the Player’s Club, Madison Square Garden and Washington Square Arch. White’s designs were directly influenced by the buildings of Europe. He believed in a connection between power and architecture, and his buildings seemed to personify New York’s prosperous times.

If White’s designs typified the Gilded Age, then so, too, did his boisterous and excessive social life.

White kept a number of apartments throughout New York City where he carried out his dalliances with young women undisturbed. The most famous of White’s love nests was at the top of Madison Square Garden’s 300 foot tower, which was fittingly topped with an 18-foot gilded statue of the nude Diana.

One of the women White entertained was a 16-year-old model named Evelyn Nesbit.

In 1901 Nesbit came to New York City from Pittsburgh in order to seek her fortune. She became an artist’s model, most notably posing for Charles Gibson. She managed to get a small part in a Broadway show where she caught the eye of White.

White’s relationship with Nesbit eventually ended, and in 1905 she married Henry Thaw, a millionaire from Pittsburgh. Thaw, it was rumored, suffered from violent mood swings, flying into rages and often beating Evelyn mercilessly.

When Thaw found out about his wife’s previous relationship with White he flew into a jealous fury. On the night of June 25, 1906, during a performance of the musical comedy “Mamzelle Champagne,” Thaw confronted White on the roof of Madison Square Garden, shooting him three times in the head.
Two trials followed. The first ended in a hung jury, the second with Thaw being committed to an asylum for the criminally insane. During both trials Evelyn Nesbit testified on her husband’s behalf. Years later she would say she testified to save a husband she didn’t love for killing the man she did.

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