LOCAL HISTORIC PROFILE: Evelyn Nesbit, Model, actress, face of the ‘trial of the century’

Illustration by Sabina Mollot

By Sabina Mollot

Evelyn Nesbit (1884-1967) was a highly sought after artists’ and photographers’ model at a time when fashion photography was in its infancy, and was also an actress who lived in Flatiron, after she and her family came to New York in the year 1900.

However, what Nesbit ended up becoming the most famous for was not her talent or beauty but for being the face of the “trial of the century” as it was called at the time in 1906, when her unhinged millionaire husband, Harry Thaw, fatally shot Stanford White, a well-known architect. White had seduced and, Nesbit stated in court, sexually assaulted her when she was only 16 and unconscious, after drinking champagne, at his home. Still, the two ended up having a year-long relationship.

White was a well-known playboy, and Thaw, who had a reputation for violence, never went to prison for killing him. Instead he was sent to an institution after being found insane in his second trial after the jury was deadlocked in the first. Nesbit would then become known in headlines as a lethal beauty, “the girl on the red velvet swing,” because of a swing that she would play on in a mirrored room at White’s apartment on 24th Street.

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LOCAL HISTORIC PROFILE: Harry Burleigh, singer, composer

Aug2 burleigh

By Sabina Mollot

Henry “Harry” Thacker Burleigh was a baritone singer, composer and arranger who worked for over half a century at St. George’s Parish in Stuyvesant Square as a soloist. He also sang for 25 years at another Manhattan religious institution, Temple Emanu-El, and at both institutions, he was the first black singer to be hired.

Burleigh (December 2, 1866-September 12, 1949, pronounced “burly”) received his earliest musical training from his mother, according to a Library of Congress profile, while a Wikipedia bio also notes he learned about spirituals and slave songs from his grandfather, Hamilton Waters, who’d bought his way out of slavery in 1835. Burleigh’s father, Henry Thacker Burleigh, Sr., a naval veteran in the Civil War, was the first black juror in Erie County in 1871.

As for the younger Burleigh, called Harry, even without formal training, he was able to find employment as a soloist in several churches and synagogues in his native Erie, Pennsylvania. When he came to New York, he sang with Free African Church of St. Philip’s on West 25th Street, the first black congregation of Protestant Episcopalians in the city, according to the Dvořák American Heritage Association. Burleigh then became situated in part of a large black community there that established itself around St. Philip’s.

At the age of 26, Burleigh was accepted, with a scholarship, to the National Conservatory of Music in New York City at the age of 26. The conservatory was then run out of two homes where the Washington Irving High School campus currently exists today.

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Stuy Town author delves into history of Gramercy Park and Union Square

 

Alfred Pommer in Gramercy Park (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Alfred Pommer in Gramercy Park (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

Stuyvesant Town resident Alfred Pommer, who’s been leading historical walking tours of various Manhattan neighborhoods for over 25 years, has released a new book about two neighborhoods with particularly rich but different histories — Gramercy Park and Union Square. Pommer’s wife Joyce is the co-author of the book, Exploring Gramercy Park and Union Square ($22, paperpack, The History Press), which was released on October 26.

Together, the couple has also written another book, Exploring Manhattan’s Murray Hill, and Pommer has previously written two other neighborhood history books, Exploring New York’s SoHo and Exploring the Original West Village.

On his latest venture, Pommer said he had initially pitched the idea to his publisher of writing only about Gramercy Park, but was then asked to throw the adjacent neighborhood into the mix.

“I said sure,” said Pommer, who was intrigued by the idea of side-by-side profiles of a neighborhood known for its exclusivity as well as one known for being the pulpit of the masses.

“You have two different neighborhoods in Manhattan that have distinctively different heritages,” he said. “Union Square represents the working class, the common people, while Gramercy Park is much more elite and wealthy, and like many neighborhoods in Manhattan, they’re a block apart.”

The book delves into the past of each community, with Gramercy Park always having been known for its wealthy residents but also those who were creatively gifted.

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Letters to the Editor, June 20

Lyric the latest loss in neighborhood diners

To the editor,

Several months ago, a resident of the building I live in went to the Lyric Diner at Third Avenue and 21st Street to get his morning coffee and found it closed. For several days, we all waited anxiously to find out what had become of Lyric. Finally, we saw a sign in the window, saying that the restaurant was being remodeled and would reopen in a month.

A restaurant called Taverna has opened on the site of Lyric. Its hours are considerably shorter, its menu items more expensive. The police from the precinct and Police Academy and the students from the School of Visual Arts, who routinely jammed Lyric at lunchtime, are conspicuously absent.

Lyric is just the latest of several neighborhood coffee shops to go. Remember Pete’s, the coffee shop on Third Avenue and 21st Street with the lovely old tiled floors and the decorative metal ceiling? Their back room frequently resembles an annex of the police station and the academy. Then there was the Third Avenue diner around 24th Street. They served the best Sunday brunches in the neighborhood, and a very serviceable pizza as well. I understand that it is a difficult and expensive proposition to run a restaurant these days. Rents are high, help is not cheap and food is perishable. One remedy is to get a liquor license. Some coffee shops don’t always have them, but many do.Sunday brunch at that nice Third Avenue Diner always came with a bloody mary!

We have a few diners in the larger neighborhood, and they are always busy. But there are none in my immediate area. I wonder where the cops go for lunch?

Bettijane Eisenpreis,
Gramercy Park

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