The Girl On The Red Velvet Swing
The heir to a multi-million dollar mine and railroad fortune, Harry Thaw (born 12 February 1871) had it all. He also had a nasty temper and a sharp tongue. A troublemaker from the age of three, according to his mother, he fared badly at school where teachers described him as “unintelligible”. His wealth afforded him admission to the University of Pittsburgh to read law. His father died leaving him a trust fund with a monthly allowance of $200, which his mother raised to $80,000 a year. Thaw went to Harvard where he boasted that he studied “poker”. His secondary disciplines were wine, women and going to cockfights. His life post-Harvard was one of debauchery and public outbursts of temper. He romanced showgirls from Broadway although there were rumours about his liking for sexual chastisement using dog leads. He became interested in a beautiful Pennsylvania-born model Evelyn Nesbit who appeared in the hit show Florodora.
She had been the beneficiary of the largesse of leading architect Stanford White who had designed mansions, clubs and Madison Square Garden. White was also a philanderer, something he kept from his wife. In his apartment he had installed a red velvet swing on which numerous young ladies were said to have swung. He taught the girls deportment, paid for their teeth to be fixed and they responded with their own gifts. One night White invited Evelyn to his apartment for dinner, which he had drugged and then raped her — until then she had been a virgin. When White’s interest waned, Thaw’s did not and he proposed to Evelyn.
She hesitated, thinking Thaw would not want her when he discovered that she was a “fallen woman”. Thaw took her to a remote farmhouse where he, too, raped her and then beat her with a dog lead. Eventually they married. On 25 June 1906 Mr and Mrs Thaw attended a production of Mam’zelle Champagne in the rooftop theatre of Madison Square Garden. Also in attendance was Stanford White and, during the finale, I Could Love A Million Girls, Thaw shot him in the face three times. The murder shocked the public and Evelyn became known as The Girl on the Velvet Swing. Thaw faced two trials — the first was a hung jury and at the second he was found not guilty by reason of insanity.
Madison Square Garden, Madison Avenue and 26th Street, New York City, USA
Monday 25 June 1906
Thaw was sent to the Matteawan State Hospital for the Criminally Insane in Fishkill, New York. He was freed in 1913. In 1917 he was accused of sexually assaulting a teenage boy and again adjudged insane. He was released in 1924. Thaw died of a heart attack in Miami, Florida on 22 February 1947. He left $10,000 in his will to Evelyn Nesbit.
YOU SHOULD KNOW:
Thaw was expelled from Harvard for chasing a taxi driver through the streets of Cambridge with a shotgun, albeit an unloaded one.