American Experience
The Call To Testify



1914


  1934


The moment had come, the moment which I dreaded and welcomed.

"Evelyn Nesbit Thaw," shouted an official, and I made my way slowly to the stand.

I did not under-rate the ordeal which awaited me. I knew that on my evidence would depend Harry's fate, and I knew, too, that a merciless prosecutor, the most skillful man in his profession, would leave no stone unturned to discredit me. I went into Court that morning with all the sensations of one already condemned, yet with all the firm resolve to tell everything I knew; to bare my soul to the gaze of the multitude, so that in doing so I might help my husband. It would mean torture to me - - it would mean perhaps ever-lasting effacement; it would certainly make me notorious. I was no better and no worse than any other normal being confronted with the prospect of having her most intimate secrets dragged into publicity.

I had a natural shrinking from such an experience, and my panic was accentuated by the knowledge of how much depended upon my statement.

Harry's eyes met mine as I took my place on the stand, and he smiled encouragingly. I know that the first part of the evidence would be drawn from me by a friendly counsel, but that story would be one which no woman could tell without an effort. In many ways I found this first day the worst of all, worse indeed than the cross-examination which was to follow. Nothing obscured my view of Harry, who sat about forty feet away in the centre of the court.

I was used now to the Court, to the crowd, to the staid judge on the Bench. I was familiar with all the formula of the law; to the rows of busy reporters, to the spectators, to the acoustics of the building. But as I sat in the witness chair it was all the difference between watching the sea from the beach and viewing the beach from the sea.

Evelyn Nesbit, The Story of My Life, 1914

 

Terrible, indeed, were the long hours and days spent in that small witness room waiting to be called to the stand! My nervous system has never completely recovered from the shock of the tragedy and the resultant suffering and mental agony. At last I heard the call: "Evelyn Thaw to the stand!" "Evelyn Thaw!" "Call Mrs. Thaw!"

Somehow I managed to stand up and start walking toward the courtroom. As I entered there was a dead silence; then a sudden buzzing sound. Oddly enough -- at such a moment -- my mind flashed back to childhood days...

I remember thinking: "They sound like angry hornets." Then I had to pass behind the jury box. Here, for a second, I stopped, thinking: "What will they do to me? What will Jerome ask me?" The lawyers never could help me long that line, their answer invariably being:

"Nobody can tell what line or trend Jerome's attack will take." Then, realizing I must go on, I thought: "Well, here it is at last. Even if they kill me I've got to go through with this."

Strange, the thoughts that run through one's brain at critical moments! Sometimes so irrelevant and fantastic. Once I narrowly escaped a motor crash, and what flashed through my mind? I had a glass bowl of goldfish tied in the back of the car and I thought: "Those fish will be knocked out of the water and die!"

All I remember, as I first sat down in the witness chair after the customary oath, is seeing nothing but eyes - - hundreds of staring eyes. Then Mr. Delmas asked his first question and my direct examination by the defense began.

Evelyn Nesbit, Prodigal Days, 1934


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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