Original playboy The twisted life of Harry K. Thaw and his connection to Lititz

By on August 14, 2013


CORY VAN BROOKHOVEN Record Express Correspondent

, Staff Writer

June 25 was an abnormally hot day in Manhattan in 1906. A man named Harry K. Thaw and his wife made a brief stop in the Big Apple that day, on their way to board a luxury liner to begin their vacation in Europe. Beforehand, Thaw purchased tickets for a new show, “Mam’zelle Champagne,” which was playing at the rooftop theater of Madison Square Garden.

After finding their seats, Thaw suspiciously refused to take off his long overcoat that was over his tuxedo. At 11 p.m., as the show came to a close, a man named Stanford White arrived and took his place at his table. Thaw spotted White, and made several approaches to him, but withdrew at the last second before getting within arm’s length. Finally, during the closing number of “I Could Love A Million Girls,” Thaw pulled out a pistol and shot Stanford White three times at close range.

Death came instantly. Thaw remained standing over White’s body holding the firearm in the air, and proclaimed “I did it because he ruined my wife! He had it coming to him. He took advantage of the girl and then abandoned her!”

Initially, the crowd in attendance thought the murder was part of the show; however, looks of surprise suddenly turned to horror as they realized White was dead. Thaw then walked through the crowd and departed to the elevator to meet his wife. When she asked what he had done, Thaw replied, “It’s all right, I probably saved your life.”

The shocking murder described above has a Lititz connection. Read on to find out how; but first, we need to go back earlier in Harry K. Thaw’s life to when he was a boy.

Fair warning, this story you are about to read is for mature readers, and some coarse language is used.

Harry K. Thaw was born in 1871, and was heir to his father William Thaw Sr., the multimillion dollar railroad tycoon of Pittsburgh. Beginning at a very young age, Harry began to show signs of mental illness. Arriving at the Beck school in Lititz in 1881, his parents had hoped that young Harry’s educators would “set him straight” in life, and he would be taught discipline and the ways of becoming a productive member of society. During this time, the school was run by Abraham Reincke Beck. His father, John Beck, started the Beck School for Boys in Lititz, and Abraham followed in his father’s footsteps.

Shortly after the school term began, Thaw started to be disruptive in class by howling out loud, having temper tantrums and excessively babbling. Many times, he would yell and swear at his teacher and cause general chaos during class.

While on Christmas break that year, he took the time to pen a letter to Mr. Beck that read:

Mr. Beck, Sir,

I am very well. I have a nice lot of Xmas things. If I go to your school after New Year’s for if I do, I will be what you call a $1,000 scholar again. You don’t need to thing I care about you reading this to all of your household as you will I know. I am glad I am not with you you old wretch so, I will stop this letter to you nasty thing”.

H. Thaw

Pitts, PA

1881 December 29

The disruptions continued during the next term, and became so bad that Mr. Beck wrote several letters to Mr. and Mrs. Thaw concerning their son’s unacceptable behavior. Both parents promptly wrote back, giving their sympathies for him having to endure these outbursts. They were both at wit’s end at home as well, and apologized many times on behalf of their disturbed son. They wrote that they tried many forms of punishment, but everything had failed.

In 1882, Thaw left the school in Lititz and transferred elsewhere, eventually entering the world as an adult.

Having access to what seemed like an endless supply of money, he began to indulge in women, extreme perversion, orgies, drugs, and alcohol. It is alleged that through his carefree lifestyle, the term “playboy” was first coined. Getting in trouble with the law many times, he was imprisoned in several mental institutions as a young adult.

After a few years, he used his family name to enroll at Harvard University. He would later tell whoever listened that he majored in poker while “studying” there. He would also show off by lighting his cigars with $100 bills.

His father eventually passed away in 1893, and willed Harry three million dollars. Meanwhile, his mother and her lawyers spent countless amounts of money preventing Harry’s actions from ruining the prestigious family name.

Harry would indulge in trips to Europe to throw lavish parties at bordellos. In Paris in 1895, he threw one such party where 25 showgirls and prostitutes were invited. During dessert, each woman received a thousand-dollar piece of jewelry.

While attending a show entitled “The Wild Rose,” Thaw fell fast and hard for one of the main actresses in the production. Her name was Evelyn Nesbitt, who was a very popular chorus girl and model. Thaw was immediately smitten. Different reports indicate that part of the infatuation toward Nesbitt was due to Thaw’s jealousy of Stanford White. White was a very prestigious architect at the time, and was romantically involved with Nesbitt. White, like Thaw, was a very wealthy socialite, and therefore (at least in Thaw’s demented eyes) his nemesis.

What transpired after Harry K. Thaw began to court Evelyn Nesbitt unleashed a trigger of events that drove Thaw further down a dark and evil path.

This story concludes next month!

More HARRY THAW, page A3