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The Fall of the House of Walworth: A Tale of Madness and Murder in Gilded Age Americaby Geoffrey Obrien
Synopses & Reviews
In the tradition of The Devil in the White City comes a spell-binding tale of madness and murder in a nineteenth century American dynasty
On June 3, 1873, a portly, fashionably dressed, middle-aged man calls the Sturtevant House and asks to see the tenant on the second floor. The bellman goes up and presents the visitor's card to the guest in room 267, returns promptly, and escorts the visitor upstairs. Before the bellman even reaches the lobby, four shots are fired in rapid succession.
Eighteen-year-old Frank Walworth descends the staircase and approaches the hotel clerk. He calmly inquires the location of the nearest police precinct and adds, "I have killed my father in my room, and I am going to surrender myself to the police."
So begins the fall of the Walworths, a Saratoga family that rose to prominence as part of the splendor of New York's aristocracy. In a single generation that appearance of stability and firm moral direction would be altered beyond recognition, replaced by the greed, corruption, and madness that had been festering in the family for decades.
"The prestigious Walworth family of Saratoga, N.Y., built a fortune on Judge Walworth's 1830s legal success, only to lose everything after his grandson's nationally sensational 1873 parricide trial, the first test case of New York's new definition of first-degree murder. O'Brien, editor of the Library of America and author of Hardboiled America, uses diaries, newspaper accounts, and court records to create a lively multigenerational family history of ambition, hereditary insanity, and loyalty through the antebellum, Civil War, and Gilded Age eras. Judge Walworth's foppish son, Mansfield, married his stepsister Ellen in 1852 only to systematically abuse her and then periodically discard her for years at a time, including a long separation during the Civil War when Ellen lived in her battered native Kentucky. When Judge Walworth left Mansfield with little inheritance, the moderately successful writer penned explicit death threats to Ellen (now his exwife) and their children, resulting in his unstable 19-year-old son murdering him in 1873. O'Brien effortlessly stitches together the story of two families who intermarry with great potential, only to realize complete disintegration--including the great Walworth Mansion, which has been replaced by a gas station. 16 pages of illus. (July 20)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright PWyxz LLC)
The Walworth family was the very symbol of virtue and distinction for decades, rising to prominence as part of the splendor of New Yorks aristocracy. When Frank Walworth travels to New York to “settle a family difficulty” by shooting his father at point blank range, his family must reveal their inner demons in a spectacular trial to save him from execution. The resulting testimony exposes a legacy of mania and abuse, and the stately reputation of the family crumbles in a Gothic drama which the New York Tribune called “sensational to the last degree.”
The Fall of the House of Walworth gives us both the intimate history of a family torn apart by violent obsessions, and a rich portrait of the American social worlds in which they moved. In the tradition of Edith Wharton, this is a riveting true story which “rival[s] the most extravagant Gothic novels of the day” (The Chicago Tribune).
About the Author
Geoffrey O'Brien is a poet, editor, and cultural historian. He is editor in chief for the Library of America. His other nonfiction books include Hardboiled America, Dreamtime, The Times Square Story, Red Sky Café, and Sonata for Jukebox. He lives in New York City.
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History and Social Science » Americana » General