American Experience
Confession To Thaw



I want you to marry me," he said.

He was as dogged and as persistent as ever. There was no fending him off with excuses, with reasons or with explanation as to why marriage was not desirable. I knew in an instant that now he must know the truth, must take his answer for good or evil.

"I cannot marry you," I said.

"Why not?"


"Do you not love me?"

I nodded.

"Then why--?" he repeated.

"Because--" I said slowly.

He walked towards me and laid his hand on my shoulder, looking straight into my eyes.

"Is it because of Stanford White?" he asked; and I nodded again.

I hesitated a moment.

"Sit down over there and I will tell you everything."

It was a story that was difficult to tell. But it had to be done. Very slowly, very deliberately, making no excuse for myself, giving no place to prejudice against White, I told him all that had happened from the very beginning.

He sat in silence for a while, his hands shaking, his face ghastly; then he rose and walked up and down the room, his shaking hands gesticulating as he muttered.

Then when I reached the climax of the story he sat down suddenly, burying his face in his hands, and burst into tears.

You saw all that was best in Harry Thaw then, all the finer side of him, all the womanliness in him, all the Quixote that was in his composition.

He sat there sobbing, "Poor child! Poor child!"

Evelyn Nesbit, The Story of My Life, 1914


For three nights this torment continued until my head ached to the point of bursting. Beside myself with physical exhaustion and lack of sleep, I trembled at the thought of giving away my secret; Mamma might find out about it -- and she adored Stanford, worshipped the ground he walked on. Could I expose her to such shocking disillusionment? Never!

"Now listen, Harry," I made a dying effort to hold him off. "I've been on the stage and I like the work. I can earn enough to support my family. You seem to think I am in danger of becoming a kept girl or something. That's silly. I won't. On the other hand, I don't intend to marry -- ever. So please stop this questioning."

"That's filthy! Indecent!" he cried, furiously. "I'll call your mother and tell her."

"Oh, don't! Don't do that! You promised you wouldn't."

A cruel, demonical grin distorted his face.

"All right, if you will tell me what I must know. I love you. I've got to have you. Tell me, is it because of some other man you won't marry me?"

Then and there I made the greatest, the most terrible, the costliest mistake of my life. To my dying day I will suffer because of it. In a last desperate effort to control the Fate that had hitherto always controlled me, I answered him:


Very quietly, he asked:

"Was it Stanford White?"


As briefly as possible I told him all. Instead of flying into a rage he wept like a child. Never before and never since have I seen a man shed such tears. So genuine and abysmal was his anguish that I pitied him. And how accurate is the saying that "Pity is akin to love." ...A great pity for Harry Thaw came over me then and has never completely left me. I still pity him.

Walking the floor, he kept wringing his hands and sobbing:

"The beast! The filthy beast! A sixteen-year-old girl! Damn him, damn him, damn him to hell!" And then his mood changed to one of triumph. "But I knew I! I knew it all the time! I know more about it than you imagine. I had you followed. Yes! I know about those long hours you spent with that blackguard in the Tower and other places!"

So incredible was this revelation that I failed to realize that he had had detectives trailing me night and day.

Evelyn Nesbit, Prodigal Days, 1934

previous |  | next

1 -- Artist's Model In New York 2 -- Meeting Stanford White 3 -- The Red Swing 4 -- Confession To Thaw 5 -- The Murder 6 -- The Call To Testify 7 -- Aftermath