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MADISON SQUARE TRAGEDY: THE MURDER OF STANFORD WHITE

By Rick Geary
80 6x9-inch pages
b/w
NBM hardcover
$15.99

MADISON-SQ-TRAGEDY.previewAnother in Geary's meticulously researched and elegantly rendered series, A Treasury of XXth Century Murders, this tidy volume rehearses the sensational murder of New York’s celebrity architect Stanford White on the evening of June 25, 1906. White’s murder was no mystery: scores of witnesses saw Harry K. Thaw shoot him while he was attending the open-air theater atop Madison Square Garden, a landmark building he had designed. The crime was followed by “the trial of the century,” in which Thaw’s wife, the gorgeous showgirl Evelyn Nesbit, related (in lurid detail) how White seduced and despoiled her (albeit before she was married), a despicable act that drove her husband to kill White to avenge her honor.

Geary begins his tale with short biographies of the three principals. White is revealed as a 50-something self-indulgent man-about-town with a taste for young women and a specially-designed boudoir in his apartment. Evelyn Nesbit is a young girl with no particular theatrical ambitions whose beauty nonetheless advances her career on the stage — initially, with the active encouragement of her mother. Harry Thaw is a spoiled rich boy whose use of drugs exacerbates the weaknesses in his personality.

In his unique restrained, step-by-step manner, Geary traces the activities of the trio on the night of the murder; and with equal care, he briefly covers each of the three trails that finally resulted in Thaw being declared sane and acquitted of all charges. In the remainder of the book, Geary tells what happened to Thaw, whose violent lifestyle continued to earn him headlines until he died in 1947, and to Evelyn, who survived a miserable existence largely by exploiting her fame.

Evelyn, by the way, is the inspiration for Charles Dana Gibson’s famed “The Eternal Question,” a portrait in which Nesbit’s hair-do forms a question mark. She is also indirectly responsible for advancing the cartooning career of Nell Brinkley whose first assignment after her 1907 arrival in New York to take a job with the Hearst’s New York Evening Journal was to cover the trial and testimony of the beautiful young woman. And Brinkley was very good at drawing beautiful young women. (All of the Brinkley story is unfolded in the Usual Place, RCHarvey.com, Rants & Raves, Opus 253.)

Geary’s careful drawings are the perfect accompaniment to his narrative style. In his pictures of the actors in the drama, he often depicts them as nearly emotionless automatons, their faces as deadpan as his narrative. His fastidious linear shading suggests tintype imaging, imparting to the tale a period aura. Just seeing how he models figures and faces with simple lines offers one of the great treats available in the study of the visual arts. As a concluding sample, here are some of his pages.

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For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

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