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The Tragic History of Evelyn Nesbit, The Gilded Age’s It Girl And The Crime Of The Century: Part 2

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Evelyn Nesbit was only 19 or 20 years old when she married Harry Kendall Thaw. By that time, she’d already had a prolific career as a model and had seen her fair share of tragedy, shuffled from her uninterested mother’s care to the control of Stanford White, a much older man with less-than-savory intentions. Her union with Thaw, heir to a wealthy Philadelphia railroad baron, should’ve been her way out of the turbulent life she’d known. Instead, it would tragically thrust her into the center of a brutal crime and the controversial trial that followed.

Evelyn NesbitWikimedia Commons
Evelyn Nesbit

Thaw always had a flair for the dramatic—he’d watched Nesbit from afar for a long time before he met her, but then when they finally encountered one another, he pretended his name was Munroe to obscure his wealthy background. They knew each other for weeks before he revealed the ruse, but Nesbit was unperturbed—apparently, the names of wealthy Philadelphians didn’t fly about as much in New York City social circles as Thaw thought they did. It was when Nesbit found herself in medical trouble that their bond was solidified.

While at the height of her modeling career (and involvement in the New York social scene) Nesbit was sent to boarding school by the tag team of her mother and her wealthy benefactor/abuser, Stanford White. At this point, shortly after meeting Thaw, Nesbit fell ill. While it was reported to be appendicitis, rumors arose that Nesbit had to have an abortion after a short-lived affair with future movie star John Barrymore left her pregnant. Either way, Thaw made sure that she had medical care at school. In order to aid her recovery, he proposed a trip to Europe, where the two would be accompanied by Nesbit’s mother. The women agreed—but they had no idea what they were getting into.

Although the trip was purportedly to help with Nesbit’s recovery, Thaw insisted on a frenetic travel schedule. Before long, the women were worn thin, and Nesbit’s mother declined to continue, leaving Nesbit alone with Thaw for the first time. It was on this trip that Thaw’s more-than-peculiar preoccupations—likely a symptom of the myriad of mental illnesses from which he suffered—began to come to the surface. Although he was known for his sadistic sexual appetites (on a previous trip to London, his family and a team of lawyers had to pay off his abuse of a bellboy—and that’s just one example), he was also obsessed with the idea of purity and chastity. Nesbit recognized this, so when Thaw proposed marriage, she refused, knowing that the abuse she’d suffered at the hands of Stanford White would make her impure in Thaw’s eyes. She might have thought she was dodging a bullet, but her nightmare was just beginning.

Evelyn NesbitWikimedia Commons
Harry Kendall Thaw

Thaw refused to let go of the subject, and pestered Nesbit with questions until she finally relented and told him about the night that she’d woken up beside White, with no real recollection of what had happened, but the sinking feeling that she knew he’d drugged her and “had his way with her.” Thaw was infuriated—he already hated White, and had suspected him of blocking his entry to a number of New York social clubs. Ominously, when Thaw and Nesbit visited the birthplace of Joan of Arc, Thaw wrote in the guestbook: “She would not have been a virgin if Stanford White was around.”

Thaw’s rage over White’s transgression towards Nesbit boiled over when the two were staying at a foreboding gothic castle called Schloss Katzenstein in Austria. And not only did it boil over—he turned it on her. For two weeks, Thaw kept Nesbit locked in a room of the castle where he beat and sexually assaulted her. He paid off the castle staff to stay away from her room. When the two weeks was over, he was apologetic, and the two returned to New York. As Nesbit shared the story with friends, others told tales of Thaw’s wild behavior and drug-fueled rampages.

That should’ve ended the pair’s involvement, but the effort that Thaw had put into isolating the girl had worked. Nesbit was estranged from her mother, and although she still had contact with White, she realized that their involvement would have to end if she ever wanted to attract an eligible suitor. Thaw continued to pressure her about marriage, repenting for his sins in Austria, admitting that his anger had truly been directed at White, not Nesbit. She finally relented and agreed to his proposal, expecting a life of stability—albeit one in high society, with lots of friends and vacations away—but stability was the furthest thing from what she got.

Evelyn NesbitFlickr
Evelyn Nesbit

Both Thaw’s fixation on purity and chastity and his outbursts of rage likely came from his mother—they were both known for mistreating the servants who worked for them. And when Nesbit married Thaw, she was brought into close proximity with his mother, who demanded that Nesbit cease her stage and modeling career. Thaw enlisted Anthony Comstock, a moralistic politician known for his zealous censorship, on his crusade to expose White as a predator, but he grew increasingly paranoid that White would retaliate—until one night when his paranoia completely took over.

The couple, now married for just over a year, were spending a night in New York City before embarking on another European trip, when Thaw surprised Nesbit with tickets to a show at the rooftop theatre of Madison Square Garden (which had been built by White) called Mam’zelle Champagne. It was June 25, 1906, and it was a hot evening, but a visibly agitated Thaw refused to take off his overcoat that night. During the final song of the revue, Thaw approached Stanford White at his table and shot him three times at point-blank range. Stories differ on what Thaw then yelled, with some saying he gave a whole speech about how White had it coming, but with a consensus that he definitely shouted either “You ruined my life!” or “You ruined my wife!”

Nesbit had no idea what had happened and met her husband in the elevator. During his arrest, she extricated herself and ran to the home of a girl she’d met on the chorus line, where she spent the next few days in complete shock. At a time in her life when she’d finally found the stability and security she’d craved, she’d been thrust into the middle of a heinous and histrionic crime—and the media attention on the ensuing trial would be unprecedented.

Evelyn NesbitWikimedia Commons
Evelyn Nesbit

Immediately after the murder, the newspapers and tabloids seized on the sordid details of Nesbit’s involvement with White and Thaw—with some writers even framing Thaw’s crime as justified and even honorable, as he was defending his wife’s honor. The attention was so great, and people were so hungry for anything even peripherally related to the case, that Thomas Edison himself rushed a short film called Rooftop Murder into production.

The subsequent trial was called the “Trial of the Century.” While that phrase may seem commonplace today, it was first applied to the Stanford White murder trial. Desperately seeking to protect the family from any further damage to their reputation—a rather futile gesture at that point—Thaw’s mother insisted that he not claim insanity. She hired a team of doctors to mount a defense of temporary insanity, but she knew that she had another trump card up her sleeve: Evelyn Nesbit.

The Thaw family made Nesbit an offer she couldn’t refuse: financial security in exchange for testimony that would paint Stanford White as an abusive pervert (a not-untrue accusation) and Harry Kendall Thaw as her knight in shining armor (a little harder to believe). But there was one catch: if Thaw was convicted, she would receive nothing. While she’d been more of a chorus girl than an actress, Nesbit knew that she had to give the performance of a lifetime on the witness stand. She did the best that she could given the circumstances—she was cross-examined about her terrifying first encounter with White, a story she’d never shared before, except to Thaw.

Evelyn NesbitWikimedia Commons
Evelyn Nesbit and her son

The trial of Harry Kendall Thaw was one of many firsts—beyond being the first to be called the “Trial of the Century,” it was also the first in US history where the jury was sequestered, due to the ceaseless media coverage. The first jury was deadlocked, so Thaw was re-tried, eventually being found not guilty by reason of temporary insanity. He was sentenced to life in the Matteawan State Hospital for the Criminally Insane in New York. He escaped once before eventually being released just a few years into his sentence.

As for Nesbit, she was financially supported by the Thaws during the two trials, but they cut her off following his sentencing. She gave birth to a son that she claimed was conceived during a visit to Thaw at Matteawan. She didn’t have it easy—she struggled to support herself and her son financially, and to shed her notorious past. Divorces, failed businesses, and problems with alcohol followed. On the other hand, she wrote two autobiographies in that time, and even acted as a consultant on a film that featured a fictionalized account of her early life. That young girl who’d seen and been through so much before she even turned 20 lived to the ripe old age of 82—closing the final chapter on a life filled with both promise and horror, the likes of which most are never exposed to.

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Margaret and Roumania Peters: Forgotten Champions

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On the Court

Today, women tennis champions like Venus and Serena Williams get paid millions of dollars in endorsement deals, prize winnings, and celebrity appearances. But for a long time, the sport was not only an amateur pastime—leaving even its top athletes unable to make a living from their talent—it was also heavily segregated by race.


In America, black athletes were effectively barred from playing against white athletes, and thus barred from competing in the most publicized matches, until 1950—when Althea Gibson (a tennis player herself) competed against a white player. As a result, the world never saw what many of the top athletes of the 1930s and 1940s were truly capable of. In fact, it almost never saw them at all.

If it had, maybe we would more easily remember the great tennis sisters who came before Venus and Serena: Margaret and Roumania Peters.

Margaret and Roumania Peters: Forgotten Champions

Tennis Stars Are Born

Margaret Peters was born in 1915, and in 1917, her little sister Matilda Roumania followed. The two girls were almost inseparable growing up in the Georgetown area of Washington, DC, so when Margaret began playing tennis at around 10 years old, it was only natural that Roumania (as she was known) joined too.

Their beginnings were humble: the two girls often played in Rose Park, located near their house, on terrain that was hardly Wimbledon-worthy. As Roumania later recalled, the court had “sand, dirt, rocks, everything. We would have to get out there in the morning and pick up the rocks, and sweep the line and put some dry lime on there.”

Nonetheless, their hard work paid off, and soon they were playing with the American Tennis Association. As this was still a segregated, Jim Crow-era America, the ATA was an exclusively African American league. In 1936, Margaret and Roumania attended the annual ATA tournament; Roumania made it all the way up the brackets, losing only in the finals.

And that was just the beginning.

Rose Park Recreation Center – Washington, DC

Pete and Repeat

At that ATA tournament in 1936, both girls were scouted and then recruited as tennis players for Tuskegee University, a historically black college. At the time, Margaret was 21 years old and Roumania was only 19—and not yet finished high school. When they were both offered full, four-year scholarships, Margaret agreed to the deal only if she could wait until Roumania was old enough to enroll in Tuskegee. They entered the school together the next year.

Margaret and Roumania attended Tuskegee from 1937 to 1941, honing their skills and rising up in the ATA ranks. Most good athletes have signature moves, and the Peters sisters became particularly known for their slice serves, which used an underspin to keep the ball low, as well as their chop shots, which used a now-rare technique that returns a serve with an underspin.

Yet while both girls were talented singles players, they really shone together—earning them the nicknames “Pete” and “Repeat.” They won no less than 14 doubles titles in their tenure as world-class athletes, a record for the time. This understandably gained them fame, and the girls performed for luminaries like Gene Kelly, as well as members of the British royal family. Black theater owners would even show the Peters’ matches in cinemas.

But there was a big problem.

Amateur Hour

For all their fame, the Peters siblings were stymied by the state of both tennis and American culture in their prime years of the 1940s. For one, tennis only entered the professionally-oriented Open Era in 1968. Before this, players competing in most large tournaments had to be amateurs, and thus had to pay for their own equipment, transportation, and miscellaneous fees, all while getting no remuneration. For another, most of the prestige of tennis competition in the era was centered in whites-only clubs, leaving the Peters sisters out in the cold.

Photograph of Queen Elizabeth II presenting Althea Gibson with the Venus Rosewater Trophy at the 1957 Wimbledon Women’s Singles Championships.

Times were changing, but far too slowly. In the late 1940s, African American superstar Althea Gibson rocketed through the tennis world, and after persistent lobbying the powers that be caved and invited Gibson to the Nationals in 1950, effectively breaking segregation. Gibson, however, was a full decade younger than Roumania Peters; by the time tennis opened up, the Peters girls were no longer at their full strengths.

This is not to say that they finished their careers unaccomplished. Aside from their 14 ATA doubles titles, Roumania also won multiple singles titles on her own individual steam. In fact, the youngest Peters sister won one of those titles against none other than Gibson herself; Roumania is still the only African American woman to have ever defeated the Grand Slam champion.

In 1977, the Peters were rightly inducted into the Tuskegee Hall of Fame—but by then, life was much different for the sisters.

The Retired Life

With the odds stacked against them, Margaret and Roumania simply couldn’t support themselves on tennis alone, but this didn’t mean they floundered. The two sisters got masters degrees—Margaret actually got two—and became teachers later in life, with Roumania even teaching at Howard University. Margaret remained unmarried, but in 1957, Roumania wed a man named James Walker, giving birth to two children, Frances Della and James George.

In 2003, while Venus and Serena Williams were dominating tennis, Roumania died at the age of 86. Never one to be too far apart from her little sister, Margaret died a year later, in 2004.

Gone and Not Forgotten

Just after the peak of their athletic careers ended, the Peters witnessed some of the biggest upheavals of the 20th century, inside the tennis world and beyond—from the desegregation of the sport to the wholesale Civil Rights Movement. Though many may not remember their names today, Margaret and Roumania Peters were an essential foundation of this history—not just for women’s tennis or African American players, but for tennis as a whole.

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How Did Bob Marley Die?

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Jim Morrison. Kurt Cobain. Jimi Hendrix. Many talented musicians have died tragically young from the self-destructive habits of their superstar lifestyle. But while we often place reggae singer Bob Marley in the ranks of these rock gods gone too soon, few people know the truth about Marley’s early death. So how did Bob Marley die?


RIP Bob Marley

Bob Marley wasn’t necessarily known for fast and reckless living; a Rastafarian icon, Marley infused reggae music with his spiritual beliefs of gentle love and beautiful harmony. Yet on May 11, 1981, he died at just 36 years old. It felt sudden, but those who knew him had actually spent years preparing for his death.

That’s because back in 1977, the legendary singer was diagnosed with a malignant, and eventually fatal melanoma just underneath one of his toenails. When he died fewer than five years after his diagnosis, Marley was deeply mourned in both his home country of Jamaica and around the world.

His death was tragic, but there’s much more to the story than that.

Bob Marley FactsGetty Images

Death Comes for Marley

You see, many people believe that Marley could have been saved.

When the cancer was first diagnosed, Marley’s doctors suggested amputating the toe to give him a better chance for survival. However, the singer refused. Although this might seem irrational, he actually had a good reason: his religious beliefs prevented him from amputating, as Rastafarian tenets state that the body is a temple and that no part of it should be cut off.

Instead, Marley went with a less invasive but ultimately less effective procedure. He simply had the nail and nail bed removed with the help of a skin graft from his thigh. Ever the trooper, Marley and his band continued planning the world tour for the album Uprising, even after finding out about the cancer. The tour saw Marley reach new heights, playing his biggest-ever crowd in Milan and even playing the iconic Madison Square Garden in New York. For now, it seemed like the storm had passed.

But dark days were coming.

Bob Marley FactsGetty Images

Die Another Day

Near the end of the Uprising tour, Marley’s illness had taken a toll on his body, and it began to show. Just two days before a concert in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in September 1980, Marley suddenly collapsed while jogging in New York City’s Central Park. He was rushed to the hospital, where doctors performed a series of tests—and the results were devastating.

The tests revealed that the small melanoma from his toe had spread over the past three years, and was now infecting his brain. In an incredible feat, Marley still made it out to his scheduled Pennsylvania show, but this appearance would be the last concert of his world tour. His team canceled the rest of legs, and Marley—again partly in accordance with his religious beliefs—began to seek out alternative medicines to fight for his last scraps of life rather than submit to chemotherapy.

It was a radical, peaceful choice in keeping with his religion, but it did not delay his death.

Bob Marley FactsGetty Images

Dying Wish

Although Marley tried to keep the cancer at bay by eschewing certain food and drinks, after eight months it became clear that the end was near for the cultural icon. The alternative methods had not stymied the cancer. Bravely facing up to his fate, Marley made a heartbreaking decision to go back to Jamaica to live out his days.

But in a cruel twist of fate, he was denied the chance to die in his beloved homeland.

In May 1981, a very sick Marley was traveling home from Germany to Jamaica. In the middle of the flight, his vitals plummeted. When the plane landed in Miami, Florida, he was rushed to the hospital so doctors could try to save his life.

This time, however, there was no hope to be had: Bob Marley died in Cedars of Lebanon Hospital in Miami. Before he left this world, though, Marley had one last act to finish.

Bob Marley FactsGetty Images

Gone But Not Forgotten

Just before he died, with the melanoma rapidly spreading into his lungs and deeper into his brain, Marley gave his son Ziggy some final advice, father to son: “Money can’t buy life.” They were fitting words for a man who lived by his own harmonious principles and died on his own terms.

After his death, the world felt robbed of one of its brightest stars. There was one consolation: in the end, Marley made it to Jamaica. The country gave him a state funeral on May 21, 1981, following Rastafarian traditions for the ceremony. He was buried alongside his guitar in a chapel near where he was born.

During the funeral, Jamaica’s Prime Minister Edward Seaga gave the eulogy, saying that, “Bob Marley was never seen. He was an experience which left an indelible imprint with each encounter. Such a man cannot be erased from the mind. He is part of the collective consciousness of the nation.”

Bob Marley FactsShutterstock

To Die, to Sleep, Perchance to Dream

The story of how Bob Marley died is not one of partying and excess, but of a principled man unwilling to compromise for modern medicine. In many ways, this makes him an even more tragic figure than some of his fellow fallen rock stars. The melanoma that killed him at the age of 36 might have been managed and eventually defeated, had he only wanted it.

This, however, was not the way that Marley chose to go. Instead, he fought the cancer in his own way, and succumbed when it was his time. It was his life, and he chose how to leave it. Though he is still dearly missed, we have his many albums and inedible songs to help remember him by.

Rest in peace, Bob Marley.

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The King Who Fell To Earth: The Life And Mysterious Death Of Albert I Of Belgium

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Albert I was King of the Belgians at a very tumultuous time in the country’s history. He ruled through World War I and the Treaty of Versailles, and oversaw his nation’s reconstruction after the War ended. Despite such an eventful reign, it’s not this that he’s remembered for—it’s his sudden and tragic demise in a mountaineering accident. The circumstances surrounding his death immediately drew suspicion, leading to the rampant spread of rumors and conspiracy theories about the monarch’s tragic end. So what really happened to King Albert of Belgium on that fateful day?


A Death in the Family

Albert I was born on April 8, 1875, the grandson of the first King of the Belgians, Leopold I, and the nephew of the reigning king, Leopold II. At that point, he was third in the line of succession, following his father and his older brother, but when Albert was just 16, tragedy struck. His brother, Prince Baudouin, died after a bout of the flu. He was only 21 years old. Prince Baudouin’s sudden death sparked many rumors and conspiracy theories—notably, one that said the Prince had died in a situation remarkably similar to the mysterious suicide of Prince Rudolf of Austria just two years earlier.

With the death of his older brother, Albert found himself in a position where he would inevitably become King of the Belgians. His father, Prince Philippe, although next in line for the throne, was already 54 at the time of the Prince Baudouin’s death. Prince Philippe would go on to pass away in 1905, while his older brother Leopold II was still on the throne. When Leopold II died in 1909, it was time for Albert to take his place as King.

Albert I FactsWikimedia Commons
Prince Baudoin of Belgium

War Hero

By that time Albert had already married, to a Bavarian Duchess named Elisabeth, and the couple had had three children. The first few years of his reign went relatively smoothly, especially since his subjects regarded his stable home life favorably. In the final years of Leopold II’s reign, a public scandal had erupted over human rights abuses in the Congo, Belgium’s only colonial property. The Belgian government had wrested control of the colony from the monarch shortly before his death. Albert’s first few years of rule must have seemed like a fresh start after all the public disgrace that had been heaped on Leopold II over the episode. But all the goodwill in the world couldn’t make up for what would befall Albert—and Belgium itself—in the ensuing years.

At the outset of World War I, Belgium found itself stuck between Germany and France—and not just geographically. German forces demanded safe passage through to France, claiming that France planned to invade Belgium to get through to Germany anyway. Belgium refused Germany, leading the Germans to invade Belgium on August 3, 1914. As a result, Britain was then forced to declare war on Germany the next day.

Albert became commander of the Belgian Army and led numerous campaigns to drive the German forces back, but ultimately, his army wound up pushed back into a small area, where they remained entrenched for years. Albert fought alongside his men while his wife worked as a nurse, but the entire time, he tried to encourage other diplomats to negotiate peace with Germany, seeing the damage that the occupation was doing to his kingdom. The forces at war ignored his pleas, however, and eventually, Albert led the drive that liberated Belgium.

When the War ended, Albert and his family returned triumphantly to Brussels, where he spoke to his subjects about the future of the kingdom. He assisted in the Paris Peace Conference in April 1919, but his advice—to not punish Germany too harshly, in an attempt to quell future hostile behavior—was largely ignored, despite Belgium’s heavy losses during the War. He also did what he could to help rebuild his realm, working with the Belgian Ministry of Internal Affairs to create the King Albert Housing Fund for communities that had been destroyed, among other initiatives.

Shutterstock

Tragedy in the Mountains

Albert was known to have a strong interest in mountaineering, so when he asked his driver to pull over so that he could go for a short climb on the afternoon of February 17, 1934, it wasn’t seen as an unusual request—although later, everything that led up to that moment would come into question. He was climbing the Roche du Vieux Bon Dieu in a Namurois village called Marche-les-Dames. Albert’s driver watched him navigate the rocks from where they’d parked. The moment the King went out of sight was the last time that he was seen alive.

As minutes turned into hours, the driver knew something was wrong—after all, the King had an engagement in Brussels to get to that night. He went to the nearby village to ask for help, and soon enough, a search party was formed. At around 2 AM, one of the volunteers stumbled across Albert’s body. He looked to have died of a massive head wound. Albert’s involved role in WWI had made him a name around the world, and when news broke of his tragic death, both his subjects and the rest of the world mourned.

Albert I FactsShutterstock

Dark Rumors

Almost immediately after Albert’s death, whispers about foul play began to circulate. Yes, the king was aging—58 years old at the time he died—and his eyesight wasn’t perfect, but he was also an expert climber with many years of experience, including in solo climbs, under his belt. Many of those closest to him claimed that Albert had told them he planned to stop climbing—so why would he have undertaken such a dangerous climb alone?

One First World War hero-turned-fascist activist gave a speech in which he alleged that despite Albert’s actions during the war, the King’s push to negotiate peace during WWI had angered the wrong people, and that was the reason he’d been targeted for assassination. Others claimed that he must have been killed in another location and had his body dumped in the mountains as a convenient cover-up.

Beloved among his subjects, the area where Albert died became a place of pilgrimage, with many taking souvenirs from the site—rocks, leaves, other debris. A century later, one of these souvenirs would finally provide some insight into that fateful day, finally shutting down some of the more insidious conspiracy theories about the king’s death. A journalist found one souvenir hunter who had taken some blood-stained tree leaves from the site. He purchased the foliage, then had it sent for DNA testing. In 2016, the blood was compared to samples from some of Albert’s descendants, and it came back a match—meaning that the King had, in fact, died at the scene of the climbing accident.

Albert I of BelgiumShutterstock
Albert I in 1919

The King Who Fell to Earth

Albert was a beloved monarch who saw his subjects through one of the worst periods in history, and it was hard for many to accept that he’d died alone and helpless in such a sudden and violent way. Although the revelation provided by the DNA testing did settle some of the speculation surrounding Albert’s death, conspiracy theories are always more intriguing than a simple explanation, and people will believe what they want to believe—and so, sadly, Albert’s legacy will always be as much about the mysterious circumstances surrounding his tragic death as about his honorable actions as monarch.

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