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FACING DOWN THE RULERS OF WALL STREET A HUNDRED YEARS AGO. THEY ARE BACK.

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Thursday, March 12, 2009

STILL CRAZY

I state without fear of contradiction that Harry Thaw was crazy. That some of the highest paid psychiatrists in America testified under oath that he was sane and that a court agreed is merely verification that in America money can buy anything. His own father, coal baron and railroad owner William Thaw, was so suspicious of Harry’s mental stability that in his last will and testament he limited Harry’s access to the family fortune, valued at $25 million dollars (the equivalent of $400 million today). Harry was to receive just $200 a month until “…the majority of executors shall believe he has shown discretion and fitness.” It seems that besides railroads, William Thaw knew something about crazy.
As a three year the old “Prince of Pittsburgh”- as young Harry would become known - would throw screaming temper tantrums until he got his way. His private tutors called him “unintelligible” and noted that when confronted Harry would crawl under his school desk. He became known about town for sudden violent outbursts. When sent to private boarding schools in Pittsburgh the “Prince” was thrown out of one after another. When William Thaw died, Mother Thaw (above, with Harry) raised her son’s allowance to $80,000 a year. It did nothing to improve Harry’s personality problems.
Harry always claimed that at Harvard he majored in poker, with minors in cockfighting and drinking binges. He did not stay there long. After he chased a cab driver through the streets of Cambridge with a shotgun he was expelled. On biographer noted that after his expulsion “…he became particularly well known for overturning the tables of fine restaurants.” He was an habitual cocaine and morphine user, and there were rumors that Harry occasionally used a dog whip on some of the chorus girls he was often seen escorting, but Mother Thaw’s fortune usually got him out trouble. And then Harry met Evelyn Nespit.Evelyn was one of the most beautiful, vivacious women of the gilded age, a famous artist’s model, a featured chorus girl and a mistress to famous and wealthy men, such as actor Lionel Barrymore. When Harry first met her, Evelyn was sleeping with architect Stanford White. But White was getting bored with Evelyn and Harry was ardent and showered her with gifts, including an all expense paid trip to Paris. Eventually, with Mother Thaw’s approval (she had been a chorus girl in her own day), Evelyn and Harry were married on April 4, 1905.From day one of the marriage Thaw was obsessed with Evelyn’s relationship with Stanford White, who he referred to as “The Beast!” Harry would beat Evelyn viciously and then apologized to her. He continually questioned her about the details of her sex life with Stanford White. And then in the summer of 1906 Harry suggested they take a trip to New York City.On the night of June 25, 1906, during a musical review in the crowded Roof Garden Theatre atop Madison Square Garden - which Stanford White had designed - Harry Thaw walked up to Stanford White’s table and in front of literally hundreds of witnesses, Harry shot White three times in the face. As they say, at least Stanford White died doing what he loved; drunk and leering over the chorus girls. During the ensuing pandemonium Harry told Evelyn “I probably just saved your life.”
There was no mystery. The headlines the next morning blared the entire story. Harry plead insanity, so the prosecutor called for a “lunacy commission” to examine him. Harry explained his motive this way; “After ten years during which a crew of moneyed libertines had made life almost as unsafe for virgins as did the Minotaur, a revolver made New York safer for other girls.” The commission came to the conclusion that, “Harry K. Thaw was and is sane and was not and is not in a state of idiocy, imbecility, lunacy, or insanity …” Any faith in the “science” of psychiatry should vanish in the presence of that judgment. It certainly confused the jury who deadlocked seven to five for conviction.At the second "Trial of the Century" Doctor Britton Evans, Alienist for the defense, testified that he “observed a nervous agitation and restlessness, such as comes from a severe brain storm,” in Harry Thaw, which “…is common in persons who have recently gone through an explosive or fulminating condition of mental unsoundness”. And Defense Attorney Delphin Delmas argued on April 9, 1907, in his summation, “…call it Dementia Americana…the species of insanity which makes every American man believe his home is sacred;…the honor of his daughter is sacred;…the honor of his wife is sacred;…that whosoever invades his home, that whomever stains the virtue of this threshold, has violated the highest of human laws…“
Yes, the defense managed to make any sensible juror want to believe that Harry was sane and evil. Luckily for Harry there were no sensible men on the jury. They adjudge Harry Thaw not guilty by reason of insanity. He was ordered confined in Matteawan State Hospital for the Criminally Insane until the doctors there judged him to be sane, which they did in 1915. Harry had served just seven years for a cold blooded murder. The lawyers, the publicity machine and the verdict had cost Mother Thaw at least $900,000.It might have cost Mother Thaw even more except she never paid Evelyn the million dollars she had promised her, in exchange for Evelyn's perjured smearing of Stanford White. But Evelyn was no longer a problem since the first thing Harry did as a legally sane man was to divorce Evelyn. However, Harry was still a problem, because the second thing Harry did was to sexually assault and horsewhip a teenage boy, Fred B. Gump Jr. Again a jury judged Harry to be nuts, and again he was sent to a hospital, and yet again for seven years.When he was finally released in 1924 Mother Thaw was mercifully dead. Perhaps that had some connection to Harry’s rages, because there is no record he ever had another. Harry bought a farm in Frederick County, Virginia near the small town of Clearbrook. He even joined the local volunteer fire company, marching in all their parades in his full regalia.
In 1927 Harry invested in a film company on Long Island, and attempted at one point to film the story of his own life. No film was ever produced and like so many other film companies this one ended up in court, with the final judgment in 1935 ordering Harry to pay $7,000 to his partners. Harry Thaw died of a heart attack in Miami, Florida in 1947. He was 76 years old and by all accounts still crazy after all those years.
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