June 25th 1906, was the opening night of the musical revue Mamzelle Champagne
on the roof of Madison Square Garden
. In attendance were Stanford White, renowned architect (Washington Square Arch, Judson Memorial Church, Madison Square Garden itself)
, and Harry Kendall Thaw
, eccentric coal and railroad scion. During the performance of the song I Could Love a Million Girls
, Thaw "left his seat near the stage, passed between a number of tables, and, in full view of the players and of scores of persons, shot White through the head
Standing over White’s body, Thaw said “You’ll never go out with that woman again.”
Five years earlier, White (47, married), had been introduced to 16-year-old chorus girl and model Evelyn Nesbit
. White took Nesbit to his apartment, which contained a red velvet swing (NSFW)
"so that Nesbit and other young women in varying degrees of undress could entertain him
." On a subsequent visit to the apartment, they drank champagne, and "White allegedly had sex with her after she had passed out from the alcohol
That same year, Nesbit was also being courted by 19-year-old John Barrymore
. Nesbit’s mother did not believe him wealthy enough to marry her daughter. Barrymore proposed marriage; Nesbit declined.
In 1903, Nesbit and Thaw met. He also proposed marriage. She confessed that she had lost her virginity to White. Enraged, Thaw began to carry a pistol.
Thaw’s first trial ended in a deadlocked jury. During the second trial,
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.
Thaw was found not guilty by reason of insanity. He was committed to an asylum, escaped to Canada in 1913, was extradited back to the US, and eventually freed in 1915. Nesbit attempted suicide (pdf)
several times and became a sculpting teacher
. The whole affair was dramatized by E.L. Doctorow in his novel Ragtime
, which was adapted as a film
and a musical
. Madison Square Garden was demolished in 1925, replaced by the New York Life Building
. Mamzelle Champagne
closed after 60 performances. It has never been remounted.