I believe I have stumbled upon a way to spot a deranged maniac with a gun before they get the gun, and it ain't their choice of video games or violent movies that gives them away. Simply criticize their poetry, and the unbalanced individual is instantly revealed. Case in point, in early 1910 Fitzhugh Coyle Goldsborough once again had “insisted on inflicting his home-made poetry and epigrams on all who would listen", according to William Mossman, manager of the Pittsburgh Orchestra. Now, the experienced members always listened politely to Fitzhugh, and kept their spit valves firmly closed until the maudlin verse was over, but on this day, brass section member Otto Kegel could no longer resist trumpeting his opinion that Fitzhugh wrote the worst poetry ever written Fitzhugh's response was to grab his own $400 violin and smash it over the critic's head. Fitzhugh then fled screaming from the building. He sulked for 72 hours, and when he returned he was not a better poet. That, I believe, is a certain indication of a lunatic destined to kill somebody.
His story began inside 1331 K Street Northwest, Washington, D.C..The row mansion stood just across the street from Franklin Square Park, on the corner lot with 13th Street. In this wealthy abode resided the imminent Dr. Edmund K. Goldsborough, his wife Julia and their children - two sons, Fitzhugh, the eldest, and Edmond the youngest child, - and two daughters in-between – Francis the older and Ann the younger girl. Julia doted on all her children, and denied them nothing, But Fiitzhugh was her favorite. He showed real talent with the violin and he loved poetry, which he produced in prodigious quantity. He composed, by his own admission, a new ode to Venus about once a week. And his mother assured him every line was sheer genius.
In 1898 Dr. Goldsborough decided his son needed a profession. And that year the would-be poet was dispatched to Harvard College, to become an attorney. After just one year however, he withdrew and returned home. Tensions in the house on K Street began to rise. Fitzhugh (above) told his diary that he was being followed by private detectives, and increasingly, they volitile young man would intervene when his father tried to discipline Francis or Ann, eventually even threatening violence if the doctor “so much as laid a hand” on either girl. After two years of this, in 1901, and by mutual consent, Fitzhugh left home again, this time for Europe, to study the violin. Here he met with considerable success, and he did not return for four long years, coming home briefly during the winter of 1905-06. That spring he left again, first to Montreal, Quebec where he worked as an instructor, and then in 1907 he followed a Berlin acquaintance, Karl Pohlig, who had been hired as the new conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra.
The city of brotherly love offered Fitzhugh his best chance for normality, and he became first chair. However, at the same time he took to signing his name with a multi-pointed star, with his name forming all the spokes. But then in 1909 he followed an offer of more money, when half the Pittsburgh orchestra quit in a dispute with their cold intellectual conductor, the Frenchman Emil Paur. The labor tensions had an impact upon Fitzhugh, as shown by his attack upon the head of the unfortunately outspoken Mr. Kegel. As the orchestra teetered on the verge of bankruptcy early in the 1910 season, the 31 year old Fitzhugh learned his little sister Ann had become engaged to William Stead, and the pair intended on moving to England. Shortly there after Fitzhugh Coyee Goldsborough disappeared from Pittsburgh, leaving behind only a note of explanation. “The Pittsburgh smoke has driven me crazy”, he wrote. “You will never see me again.” He confided to his diary that he had decided to murder a man he had never met, the journalist, social novelist, and affected eccentric, David Graham Phillips.
The tall, handsome and beryl eyed Phillips once said he would rather be a journalist than President. His 1906 series “Treason in the Senate”, serialized in the magazine “Colliers”, was such a scathing indictment of political corruption that it led by 1912 to the 17th amendment to the Constitution, requiring the open election of senators. Phillips was a workhorse, writing late into the night while standing at his desk (above), grinding out 6,000 words a day. He said, “If I were to die tomorrow, I would be six years ahead of the game” And beginning in 1901 he also produced six popular pot boiler novels like his 1909 best seller “The Fashionable Adventures of Joshua Craig”.
His characters were little more than caricatures, but because Phillips (above) told interviewers he based them on living people, readers were intrigued. Phillips described his female protagonist in “Craig” , the wealthy “noodle-head” Margaret Severence, in venomous terms. “To her luxurious, sensuous nature every kind of pleasurable physical sensation made keen appeal, and she strove in every way to make it keener.” In reality Phillips wrote from his fertile imagination, and what he knew his readers wanted. The hint of slander was a marketing ploy, like the white suits with a mum in the lapel Phillips always wore in public, or his crumpled alpine hat. The problem was, Fritzhugh fell for the ploy.
And when the mad young Mr Goldsborough read the “Fashionable Adventures of Joshua Craig” he was convinced the unflattering character of Miss Severence (above) was based upon his own younger sister, Ann. Fitzhugh wrote to Phillips, claiming libel and asking for an apology. However, since he did not sign his name and failed to provide a return address, Phillips could not apologize, even if he had wished to. Fitzhugh took the lack of response as arrogance, and wrote a series of increasingly angry and threatening letters, eventually signing them in Phillips' own name, convincing the novelist his mysterious correspondent was a lunatic - which he was. Clearly this miss-communication could not continue.
With his sister Ann's wedding day scheduled for February 25tth, 1911, Fitzhugh rented a top-floor rear room for $3 a week at the Rand School on East 19th Street in New York City. His check in date was November 2, 1910. He informed no one of his new address. His family thought he was still in Pittsburgh. In fact he was now just a block away and just around the corner from the brownstone National Arts Club at 16 Gramercy Park South – where David Graham Phillips lived. And almost directly across that small private park was the Yale Club, where Phillips received his mail. Fitzhugh spent the next two months stalking his victim.
As was his usual habit, the 42 year old David Phillips rose late on Monday, January 23, 1911. He had been working the night before, grinding out his six thousand words, and after breakfast and dressing, it was well after one before he took the elevator to the first floor and hurried down the front steps of the Arts Club (above) . He carried with him the corrected proofs of his new short story, “Susan Lenox: Her Fall and Rise”, ready to be mailed to the Saturday Evening Post magazine
Rather than cutting through the gated park, Phillips turned left and walked the few steps to the corner of Gramercy Park West, and then turned right. It took him less than a minute to cross 21st Street, or Gramercy Park North, where he turned right again, walking the half block toward Lexington Avenue, which “T”ed into Gramercy Park. At the corner was the mansion that housed the Princeton Club (above).
As Phillips approached 115 East 21st Street a man stepped away from the cast iron fence he had been leaning against, and blocked Phillip's way. From his coat pocked the assassin pulled a ten shot .38 caliber pistol, and was heard to announce, “Here you go.” Then, with a sweep of his arm he fired six shots, each one hitting Phillips, once in the right lung, once in the intestines, the left forearm, the right hip and both thighs. Phillips staggered backward against the fence, almost falling into the arms of John Jacoby, a passing florist. Then, according to two other wittiness who had just come out of Princeton Club, and without bothering to look at his victim, Fitzhugh stepped into the gutter and, announced, “And here I go”. Fitzhugh then shot himself in the head.
The Princeton Club's paper recorded the incident as follows. “David Graham Phillips, (class of ) '87, editor, publicist and novelist, was shot six times today as he approached the Princeton Club, by Fitzhugh Coyle Goldsborough, a Harvard man...”
The three witnesses carried Phillips into the club's foyer and laid him on a settee. There the victim said he had no idea who his assassin was, and begged them not to tell his mother of his shooting because “the shock might kill her.” Out in the gutter Fitzahugh's body lay under a sheet for hours while police tried to understand. In Fitzhugh's pockets they found two short story manuscripts, and a membership card for the American Federation of Musicians. Now they knew the who and what, and after they read Fitzhugh's diary found in his room at the Rand School, they understood the why. He was a lunatic.
Three days after the shooting, David Graham Phillips died in a fever of septicemia. He was survived by his sister Caroline, who had been sharing his apartment at the Arts Club after leaving her abusive husband. She finished up her brother's final short story, and it was published posthumously. And in 1931 it was made into a motion picture, staring Clark Gable and Greta Garbo. The Goldsborough family sent their sincere regrets to the Phillips family. The Goldsboroughs held the mad man's funeral service in the family home at 1331 K Street Northwest, and a month later Anne's wedding in the same rooms. After the wedding, Mr and Mrs. William Stead moved to Nottingham, England, where he served as the United States Counsel.
The only positive outcome from the shooting was the passage of gun regulation, named after its co-author, State Senator Tim (Big Feller) Sullivan, which went into effect in August, just seven months after the shooting. To this day, the Sullivan Act requires a license to carry a hand gun in New York State, and allows each county to set their own limits on handgun licenses. Possession of an unlicensed gun in New York City results in an automatic one year in jail. Similar murders have occurred since, of course, but then crime prevention does not have to be 100% effective. Every life saved is of value, even if it is the life of an arrogant obnoxious lunatic like Fitzhugh Coyle Goldsborough