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Murder, Manure, McKim, Mead, & White

Brooklyn's cultural attractions have had their share of shameful and dirty dealings (including the first American performance of a certain Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, but let's not talk about that). Today, let us set our minds on a magnificent-half-mile of scandal and intrigue along Eastern Parkway.

The Brooklyn Museum was built by McKim, Mead, and White, notable architects of several beautiful-but-stuffy processional piles. In recent history, the museum is most famous for the "Sensation" exhibit of 1999.

"The Holy Virgin Mary" was a mixed media work picturing an elephant-crap Madonna surrounded by cherubim-like cutouts of the female anatomy. Mayor Rudolph Giuliani declared the show "insulting to Catholics," adding that there is "nothing in the First Amendment that supports horrible and disgusting projects."

The ongoing crap slinging (literally) raged and the cast of characters grew, involving no less than the Cardinal of St Patrick's Cathedral, Hillary Rodham Clinton, the ACLU, and PETA. Protesters outside the museum prayed, invoked the rosary, handed out vomit bags, and tossed manure in protest.

Speaking of scandal, next door, "The Palm House" and other structures at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden were also designed by the afore-mentioned eminent Victorian, Stanford White. One of the most prominent architects of the age, White was dead by 1906.

Harry K. Thaw - angry husband of White's underage lover, showgirl Evelyn Nesbit - fired three shots directly into White's face during a floorshow.

After the shots, laughter built – the audience thought it might be part of the performance. (Tough crowd.) In the poetic-justice department, Thaw blasted White on top of a building that White himself designed ... the first Madison Square Garden. And to further the irony, that building was crowned by (wait for it) a towering, golden, naked likeness of mistress Evelyn. If you care to pursue the life-as-art theme, you can see all of this portrayed in E.L. Doctrow's excellent novel (and movie, and musical), "Ragtime."

Evelyn (miraculously) settled down and stayed out of the papers for a while ... until she was was named in Brooklyn Supreme Court as one of the causes of a South First Street woman's request for divorce from her taxi-driving Williamsburg husband.

Here's to the "Sensation" exhibition! And here's to Evelyn, who provided entertainment not just for Stanford White, but for all of us.

brooklyn museum photo courtesy of apium's photostream at flickr.com
bam opera house photo courtesy of nancycz's photostream at flickr.com




I've always wondered about the car service here in Brooklyn named Evelyn. The name just seems a little precious for the act of riding in a town car or other sort of sedan. The name calls for carriages.

I wonder if they chose a name as a tribute to Ms. Nesbit.