Hello, my friends! Today I am participating in a new feature! It is called Old Postcard Wednesday and is the brainchild of my friend Lydia. If you haven't been to visit Lydia's blog, Writerquake, then I'd like to know why ever not? Well? I'm waiting. God, I love me when I'm bitchy! Anyways, Old Postcard Wednesday consists of Lydia, and me, and...Lydia...and...me...well, you get the idea. It's always a good thing to get in on the ground floor of these things. Okay okay...thanks to Lydia for letting me horn in. You're a sweetheart. Now stop twisting my ear.
Now, on to the star of the show, the Old Postcard! This postcard is from someone named Elise, who is promising her friend Frieda (in Newark NJ) that she will be home on Saturday. I wonder if she made it? I wonder who these two ladies were? I have loved old post cards nearly all of my life, and I always wonder who the people were who chose them, wrote their little messages and mailed them to someone, so long ago. The truth is, I am drawn to anything from the 1890s through the 1920's. Silent stars, gangsters, gilded age financiers, all of it. It tugs at me. Part of me has its heart there, and I can't explain it.
This postcard is of Evelyn Nesbit, and her story is absolutely fascinating. She would be on my short list of famous people I would love to meet somehow. If I could do lunch with Evelyn and Marlene Dietrich, that would be it. I could just keel over after dessert with a huge smile on my face.
When I was a library rat wayyyy back in high school, I discovered a series of coffee table books put out by Time-Life, about each decade of the 20th century. (thanks, Daddy, for making me love history) In one of them, as I leafed through, I saw such a remarkable face staring back at me through the years. I thought, "who IS this?" There was such a soulful, beautiful, heartbroken quality to her. I became fascinated with her, and fascinated I have stayed. That incredible face belonged to Evelyn Nesbit.
She was just a girl from the wrong side of the tracks in Pittsburgh, when she was noticed by an artist, who paid her to pose for him. She was only fourteen. Soon, she was in demand as an artist's model, though she hated having to stay still for long periods. It brought in money, and a little bit of independence from her mother, and so she posed away.
In time, she found herself in New York, and in less than a year, at the age of sixteen, she was essentially America's first supermodel. You can see her face in hundreds of vintage advertisements, for everything from soap to magazines. She was, in fact, the inspiration for Dana's famous "Gibson Girl." She was supporting her mother and brother and working non-stop. (I have found that many famous women of the era were the breadwinners for their families at a very young age, Mary Pickford and Mabel Normand among them).
Evelyn's mother wanted to marry her off to a millionaire. Any millionaire. And indeed, she did marry an unstable millionaire named Harry K. Thaw. But the most important man in her life was the celebrated architect Stanford White, designer of Madison Square Garden and numerous other New York landmarks of the day. Before she married Thaw, the much older White had a secret hideaway just for Evelyn and him to meet. (White was a married man). It was in this apartment that White had a giant swing suspended from the ceiling for Evelyn to swing on, nude. Yes, she was the famous "girl on a swing." But despite all of her bewitching beauty, and success as a model, when White found her she was still a virgin, just a teenage girl from Pittsburgh. That all ended the night he spiked her drink and, as Evelyn lay groggy and helpless, had his way with her. Why he did this, who knows? It broke my heart for her when I read about it. In any case, in that era, Evelyn considered herself damaged goods after that and so began a long affair with White.
One of the things that endears Evelyn to me, is that she loved to eat good food. She was so different from today's starvled stars, and White had the means and the inclination to provide spreads of things that she not only loved, but had never even tasted before. Also, Evelyn took a childish delight in any kind of mechanical toy, and any time White spotted one, he would buy it for her. I share that with her, too, I adore the old toys from that time.
In time, as she got older, she grew restless, and made demands of White that he would never satisfy. And so she married Harry Thaw. She told Harry about the way Stanford White had raped her, and he became obsessed with it. In the end, in a public place in front of dozens of witnesses, Thaw fatally shot the great architect. So ensued the first "trial of the century" at which Evelyn had to endure days of painful and embarrassing testimony. She handled it with grace, for which I admire her tremendously.
Harry went to prison and Evelyn divorced him, but her life was never the same. She was forever the "girl in the swing", the temptress who had driven one wealthy man to murder another in spectacular fashion.
Evelyn for many years became an out of control drunk, getting into physical fights in saloons and getting arrested. But she pulled herself up from that, and died, decades later, a sober woman.
Her story tugs at my heart. She had singular beauty and allure, and yet, men much older than herself, and her parasitic mother, controlled her life all through her young womanhood. Her beauty was her blessing and her curse. I don't think that anyone really could see past it, and see her. One of the most poignant stories from her life, to me, is this one: Stanford White arranged a photo shoot in the apartment they used, with a well-known photographer White had engaged for the day. Many of her most famous photographs were taken that day. Evelyn grew tired and wanted to stop, but the session went on and on. Finally, the shoot seemed to be over, and Evelyn put on a kimono. White and the photographer found her so beautiful in it, that they had her pose for a few more shots on a bearskin rug that had been used as a prop that day. Evelyn, exhausted, fell asleep on it. The photographer took one more shot.
Evelyn Nesbit never did find genuine love in her life, except from the pet dogs she adored. Now she is gone but her photographs survive, looking out hauntingly across a century. They still fascinate me today.