Evelyn Nesbit was an icon, to say the least. Having started her modeling career in her mid-teens, she went on to grace the covers of Vanity Fair and Cosmopolitan, as well as the stages of Broadway and the silver screen (though none of her films have survived), inspiring the idealistic “Gibson Girl” aesthetics and the titular character of Anne of Green Gables as an artistic muse.
In popular culture and true crime history, Nesbit is also known for her associations with the so-called “Trial of the Century.” Arguably 1910s New York’s most beloved star, she attracted attention from countless men, including the multi-millionaire Harry Thaw, whom she married in 1905, and Stanford White, another wealthy man, Thaw would shoot and kill on the rooftop of Madison Square Garden on June 25, 1906.
It may have happened a long time ago, but it’s not really an unfamiliar narrative. While the story of the murder and the resulting “Trial of the Century” continues to fascinate people to this day, it is undeniably an over-sensationalized tale that overlooks the abuse and exploitation Evelyn Nesbit endured, and how powerful men prey on women, and much younger girls in particular.
In 2019, Los Angeles-based artist Tristan Eaton unveiled a 100-foot-tall mural of Evelyn Nesbit titled The Gilded Lady on Fifth Avenue in NoMad—in a neighborhood known as the Tenderloin at the turn of the century.
Ostensibly pop and vibrant, the mural is a colorful collage of various events and elements of the Gilded Age, including a tram, construction workers, and Diana, the statue by Augustus Saint-Gaudens that once stood atop the Madison Square Garden tower, sometimes (erroneously) said to have been modeled after Evelyn Nesbit. Also seen on the mural is the face of Audrey Munson, “America’s first supermodel,” another Gilded Age icon who inspired many an artwork, suffered objectification from the public, and had her life ruined by a murder committed by a man in power lusting after her.
The Gilded Age, after all, was not a golden age. Underneath the gold plating lay a world of depravity and perversity, social issues prevalent in times of rapid economic growth—but not unheard of in our days.