I have been listening to an audio book of “Ragtime,” which I purchased because I have tickets to the play “Ragtime” that is scheduled for the Kennedy Center in May. Halfway through the book, I have decided that Evelyn Nesbit and Harry Thaw are featured characters that I should know more about. To learn more about them is quite easy, as, before reading “Ragtime” I had never heard anything of either of them; for all I knew, they were figments of the author’s imagination.
After the author’s coverage of Houdini, Teddy Roosevelt, Admiral Byrd, the famous psychiatrists Freud and Jung, I decided that murderer Harry Thaw, Gibson Girl Evelyn Nesbit and Evelyn’s lover Stanford White must have been historical characters. In 1906, Harry Thaw’s trial for the murder of White was labelled the “Trial of the Century.” Of course, OJ Simpson had not yet been born, and his trial for murder was fated for the end of the same century.
I find “Ragtime” interesting reading as it covers the historical events of my father’s boyhood. He was born 1901, and came to the U.S. as a teen. Also, my grandmother and my mother had grown up on a Virginia plantation of the family of another Gibson Girl, Irene Langhorne Gibson. I remember my grandmother recounting how she and her siblings played with the discarded drawings of Irene’s artist husband, Charles Dana Gibson. This is all doubly intriguing, as E.L. Doctorow links all of his historical characters with one another, and with his created characters, and I have found that my own family is linked to the very same people of his novel.
Well, back to “Ragtime” and Evelyn Nesbit, I finally Googled her this morning. (I’m not sure if “Google” the verb should be in caps or not.) She and her star-crossed lovers are in Wikipedia as real American characters and she even has her own web page: “The Story of Evelyn Nesbit.”
UPDATE WARNING: I downloaded this audio book from the Apple Store through iTunes. Halfway through the book I discovered that four or five chapters in the middle are missing. This is a defect in the actual audio book that Apple sold me, not a download problem. This is the very first book I have downloaded from Apple, so needless to say, I am NOT impressed.
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