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The Girl on the Velvet Swing by Simon Baatz

The subtitle of The Girl on the Velvet Swing by Simon Baatz says it all: Sex, Murder, and Madness at the Dawn of the Twentieth Century.

This true crime account covers the fascinating drama that surrounded the 1901 case of Evelyn Nesbit, Harry Thaw and Stanford White. In Manhattan 1901 Evelyn Nesbit was a 16 year old chorus girl who got by in the big city performing small parts as well as posing for photographers. She spent an evening drinking champagne with Stanford White, a highly successful architect and celebrity interested in a bit more than just photographs of a pretty, underaged girl. Nesbit woke the next morning naked in bed next to White, who had raped her. She never spoke of it until she married millionaire playboy Harry Thaw five or so years later. No one really understood the extent of Thaw's rage until they all attended a theater performance at Madison Square Garden, with a finale of Thaw shooting White dead in front of hundreds of theatergoers.

If you thought the scandal of the murder itself was intense, just wait until you hear about the following trials (yes, plural.) Americans were of divided opinion: most citizens found Thaw's actions just--as they not only avenged his wife but also led to the discovery of a ring of men committing similar atrocities--while court officials and the city's district attorney expected him to go to the electric chair. The first trial was indecisive.

The second trial brought out Evelyn Nesbit's testimony, one so explicit that President Roosevelt advised newspapers to not print it. Ultimately, Thaw lands in an asylum, but the crazy doesn't stop there. Of course, there are scandals within the hospital walls that only came to light due to Thaw being committed.

This was a really well written book that I was completely sucked into. When I was super, bedridden sick, I listened to the audio and had a very bizarre experience. My stuffed up sick brain was in and out of focus for the first third of the book, but rather than it messing up my understanding of the content, I actually experienced the story of the murder in a dreamlike sequence. If I could bottle that and sell it, I'd be rich overnight, I swear. The trials and the murder itself felt very much like a movie, in the moment and exhilarating to read, while still presenting the facts. As I was listening, I couldn't help but constantly think, "this is non-fiction??" Plus, who doesn't want to read about sex, scandal, and murder?

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