SSN – Saving Sin City – A Book by Mary Cummings

New York Times Bookshelf: Sam Roberts on Saving Sin City

There’s Plenty to Read About the ‘Trial of the Century’



Family members of Harry K. Thaw in the courtroom during his murder trial in 1907. Credit Edmunds E. Bond/The Boston Globe, via Getty Images

By Sam Roberts

August 23, 2018

The epigraph of Mary Cummings’s book about the trial of the century — the early 20th, at least — pretty much sets the tone for the tawdry, misogynistic and, even in the 21st century, painfully familiar narrative that follows in the latest recaps of Stanford White’s murder, one by her and another by Simon Baatz.

“What is the chief end of man?” Mark Twain asks. “To get rich. In what way? Dishonestly if we can, honestly if we must.”

Add sex and ego as two more goals and the self-destructive means to those ends (lusted after by women, too) are re-examined in Ms. Cummings’s “Saving Sin City: William Travers Jerome, Stanford White, and the Original Crime of the Century” (Pegasus Books) and Mr. Baatz’s “The Girl on the Velvet Swing: Sex, Murder and Madness at the Dawn of the Twentieth Century” (Mulholland Books; Little, Brown and Co.).

Both make for good late season beach reads, even though each explores the 1906 love triangle killing through different prisms. Ms. Cummings focuses on Jerome, the Manhattan district attorney, in a methodical, but engrossing account. Mr. Baatz’s more breezy version attempts to place the sexual exploitation of Evelyn Nesbit in a modern context.

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About the Author

Mary Cummings is a writer, historian, and an award-winning journalist whose work has been recognized by the New York Press Association. She was a regular contributor to the New York Times for ten years, writing feature stories for its Long Island coverage. She has also written for TimeOut New York, Newsday, Columbia Today and numerous other publications. She was the arts editor and principal feature writer at The Southampton Press for seven years and has written three books on local history: “Southampton,” “Hurricane, 1938,” and “One Hundred Years of Healing,” a study of the role of Southampton Hospital in the social history of the Hamptons. In recent years, she has been a staff member at the Southampton History Museum, managing its Research Center and using her free time to indulge her fascination with Gilded Age New York, gathering the material and writing the story that became “Saving Sin City.” Raised in Southampton, New York, she is a graduate of Smith College and holds a master’s degree in liberal studies from Stony Brook University. She lived in France for two years, and after her marriage, she and her husband lived in several American cities, as well as in Ethiopia, before returning to the States to raise their two sons. She currently lives in Southampton.