Updated: May 1
Evelyn Nesbit (1884 or 1885 – 1967)
was a highly sought after model, chorus girl and actress. After her fathers death, she quickly learned that her beauty could help make ends meet. She started modeling in her teen years, working for artists such as Dana Gibson who used her to illustrate the Gibson Girl stamp above. Before too long she wanted more, and worked her way up to becoming a well recognized actress who drew the eyes of many prominent and powerful men.
When Evelyn was still a poor teenager she met Stanford White who was a prominent New York architect. White took a liking to Evelyn, and helped her family substantially. He would give them money and gifts, while working on gaining her mothers trust. Things went well for a while, until one night Stanford invited Evelyn into a secret room where a velvet lined swing hung from the celing. He charmed her, pushed her in the swing, and got her so drunk that she blacked out. The next morning she awoke in his bed, bleeding, naked and afraid. He told her she could never mention what transpired to anyone or he would cut off her whole family who had become dependent on him and his money.
Evelyn continued her routine of modeling and acting after the event, not speaking a word about that night. She kept her silence until well into her courtship with Harry Kendall Thaw.
Harry Kendall Thaw was an American playboy, the son of a railroad tycoon, and heir to a multi million dollar inheritance. He became infatuated with Evelyn while Attending her plays and obsessively pursued her. Eventually, Harry asked Evelyn to marry him while they traveled Europe. Evelyn declined because of the emphasis Harry had put on abstinence until marriage and told him about that fateful night with Stanford White. Harry reacted to the news by sweeping her off to an Austrian castle where he held her captive, raped and tortured her for what white did to her. After what transpired that night Thaw went back to lavishing her with love and gifts, and after two years of this, they were married.
Harry Kendall Thaw was mentally unstable and known for heavy drug usage. His inheritance made it so he could live and do whatever he wanted and buy his way out of any trouble.
One day Harry Thaw ran into Stanford White on the rooftop of Madison Square Garden. He was heard saying to Stanford White either “you ruined my wife” or “you ruined my life” as he pulled out a gun and shot him dead in front of everyone.
‘The trial of the century’ rang throughout all of the papers. From this point on no matter what Evelyn did she couldn’t escape the association with the killing. Harry’s mother poured money into him and his defense. They ended up going with a defense that was essentially temporary insanity. Harry Thaw was eventually released, however, not long after his release he was re-institutionalized for attacking and whipping a 9 year old boy.
During the murder trial Dana Gibson illustrated Evelyn as the eternal question. This was incredibly fitting considering the questions of the trial and who she was and how she was facing the challenges of her life.
When Harry Kendall Thaw was locked up, Evelyn had a son that she claimed was his conceived during a conjugal visit but Harry always denied it. They eventually ended up divorced and she was cut off from his money, except for a final donation at the end of his life.
Evelyn got Her son into acting at a young age and Even co-stared with him. Her son became a pilot during the World War, raced planes across the country, out racing Amelia Earhart, and was a private pilot for some of the most wealthy and powerful people in the country.
The tragedy that was her young life ended up as inspiration for some of the most famous traditional tattoo images. Most people that wear the tattoos have no knowledge of the intense history they represent.
(Highly recommend) Excellent podcast with even more in-depth information recapping the story check out
Clip of video footage of an older Evelyn Nesbit singing in the 1930’s
Book on her life story
And an older movie from 1955 starring Joan Collins about her life