Looking Back with Aurore Eaton: The Queen City falls in love with Harry K. Thaw
At the end of September 1914, Harry K. Thaw was back in Concord after his quiet summer in Gorham. He was awaiting the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision regarding his extradition to New York State. As this ruling would not be rendered for several weeks, Thaw decided to rent a house rather than stay in a hotel. He found that the large stately home at 2146 Elm St. in Manchester suited his needs. The house was owned by dentist Dr. Chauncey W. Clement, who was out of town.
Thaw arrived in Manchester on Oct. 5, accompanied by Coos County Sheriff Holman Drew of Berlin and Special Officer Dell Stevens of Concord. As these men were assigned to watch over Thaw 24 hours a day, they took rooms in the house, as did Thaw’s personal secretary, Mr. N.J. Rice.
Thaw hired a cook and a servant and bought an expensive new car. He seemed determined to make a good impression in the eyes of the scrutinizing public, so he took pains to act the part of a well-to-do, cultured gentleman. He especially displayed a kindly interest in the children of his North End neighborhood. The local parents didn’t seem to be bothered by the fact that Thaw was an infamous murderer who had spent five years in an institution for the criminally insane.
Thaw hosted a children’s Halloween party at his house and when the weather grew cold, he spent most days at Dorrs Pond, skating and mingling with the young people. If he learned that a child didn’t own skates, he would have his secretary write down the child’s shoe size and address and would make sure that a pair of skates was delivered to his or her home within a day or two. On Dec. 21, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against Thaw. He would now be extradited to New York to face charges of conspiracy to obstruct justice by escaping from the Matteawan Asylum on Aug. 17, 1913. New York detectives were dispatched to Manchester to make sure Thaw didn’t try to escape.
Thaw’s mother, Mary Copley Thaw, arrived in Manchester on Christmas Eve to spend time with her son. On New Year’s Day 1915 Thaw put on a grand party for 23 neighborhood children. They surprised him with a silver loving cup, on which was inscribed “A token of friendship from your little friends in Manchester.” The children sang, danced and played games with Thaw, while one of their mothers played the piano. Thaw gave each child a small compass. On the afternoon of Saturday, Jan. 16, Thaw played basketball at the Manchester YMCA. The next morning he attended the service at the First Congregational Church on Hanover Street with his mother. She had, according to the Manchester Union newspaper, “been at the side of her son in every crisis of his eventful life.”
On Tuesday, Jan. 19 at around 5 p.m., several carloads of chorus girls and musicians from the burlesque troupe “City Belles” left the Park Theatre on Elm Street downtown and paraded north to Thaw’s house. About 100 spectators had gathered in front of the house along with newspaper reporters. When the cars arrived, everyone sang “Tipperary.”
Thaw and his housemates came onto the porch to see what was happening, but Thaw became alarmed and went back in. The musicians and the 35 chorus girls performed a few numbers to entertain Thaw, but he refused to come out. Two of the girls forced open the front door and found him standing behind it. As reported in the Manchester Union, “This cue was enough for the other 33 girls and … up the steps they dashed for a genial clasp of Thaw’s hand and a momentary enjoyment of his smile. He assured each of his appreciation of their kindness and well wishes.’”On the morning of Saturday, Jan. 23, Harry Thaw left Manchester. He arrived in Concord, where he surrendered to the New York authorities at the U.S. District Court building. He was then taken under guard by train to New York by way of Boston. When Thaw disembarked at North Station in Boston he was delighted to encounter a raucous crowd of several thousand supporters.
Next week: The conclusion — Harry Thaw’s ultimate fate, and that of his wife Evelyn Nesbit Thaw.
Aurore Eaton is a historian and writer in Manchester, contact her at email@example.com.