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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Letters to the editor, Aug. 9

Cartoon by Jim Meadows

Thinking like a New Yorker

Regarding Town & Village’s question from July 26, Do thoughts of crime affect your daily routine and do you avoid certain streets or going out at certain times?

I don’t think of crime geographically; I can’t name any specific areas I avoid, fearing for my personal safety. As a teacher, I’ve traveled all over Manhattan, Queens and Brooklyn and I’ve developed confidence about my bearings and familiarity with the variety of neighborhoods my students come from. I am more conscious of situations and the possibility of interaction and communication.

Twelve years ago, I was badly beaten by a group of gang members only two blocks from Stuy Town; the police later told me I was one victim of a serial attack, most likely part of an initiation routine.

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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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