Tuesday, October 27, 2009
Last week, I entered this contest on Slate. The contest was to write a 500-word-or-less description of a random object, imparting some kind of significance to it, after which the object, with description appended, would be posted for bidding on E-Bay. Which is all part of a fascinating project/website called Significant Objects . . . and how they got that way.
This was the object:
This was my entry as submitted:
From The Naughty Pine: A History By Tabletops:
Booth 106 was the regular table of Evelyn Nesbit -- it's where she was introduced to Charles Dana Gibson, who used her as the model for his famous Gibson Girl drawings; it's where she met the young John Barrymore, who became her lover and got her pregnant twice (once in the booth itself and once in his apartment); it's where she was introduced to architect Stanford White by fellow Floradora Girl Edna Goodrich; and it's where she met her future husband Harry Thaw, who murdered White at Madison Square Garden on June 25, 1906.
Originally surrounded by red velvet drapes, the booth is now open and unlit. On the wall is a photo of Nesbit from her Gibson Girl days and beneath it, on a small shelf, is a little jar labeled “BAR-B-Q Sauce.” The jar was originally purchased by Nesbit as a gift for White -- whenever White would meet her for dinner, he would order ribs, and she paid the waiters to always keep the small jar full of sauce at the table for White’s special use. Very special, according to suppressed trial testimony after his murder -- allegedly, the ribs weren’t the only thing White covered in barbecue sauce behind those drapes.
After White’s death, Booth 106 was roped off as a sign of mourning, a RESERVED sign was placed on the table, and per Evelyn Nesbit’s wishes, once a week the bartender would refill the BAR-B-Q jar, as if in preparation for White’s eventual return. The table went empty for almost two years (not even Nesbit sat at it), until the afternoon of January 5, 1908, when Harry Thaw sailed into the Naughty Pine, plunked himself down at Booth 106, ripped up the RESERVED sign, tore down the red velvet curtains, draped them around his body like a winding sheet, and demanded a shave. When told that he was in a bar and not a barber shop, Thaw cried, “Then I’ll do it myself,” whereupon he pulled out a straight razor, stropped it on his leather belt, and taking the BAR-B-Q jar, proceeded to slop sauce all over his face as if it were shaving cream. Then, pretending to stare into a mirror, he gave himself a blood-soaked shave while humming “I Could Love A Million Girls,” the song that had been playing when he shot White in the face.
“You must be a lunatic,” said one of the waiters. Thaw just smiled at him. His first trial for the murder of Stanford White had ended in a deadlocked jury; but the next day, when his second trial began, he pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.
And this was the e-mail I received yesterday at 2:48 PM:
Congratulations! A panel of judges at Slate.com and Significant Objects has awarded you FIRST PRIZE in our SO/Slate fiction contest. You beat out over 600 other entrants for this honor. Soon, thousands of Slate and Significant Objects readers will be thrilled and chilled by your vision of Harry Thaw's blood-soaked shaving spree, not to mention Gibson Girl Evelyn Nesbit slathered in BBQ sauce.
The plan is to announce the winner (i.e., you) tomorrow (Tuesday) on both websites. The story will appear on both sites simultaneously, and the auction will go live at that time, too. Please keep news of your win under wraps until then. However, once we've posted the story and started the auction, please do spread the word via Twitter, Facebook, email, etc. -- all proceeds from the auction go to you.
Thanks so much for entering the contest!
Josh Glenn (director, with Rob Walker, of the Significant Objects project
As you can imagine, I spent the rest of the afternoon trying to think of synonyms for, "I am thrilled to death."
Thie afternoon, the contest results were posted on the Slate website and the Significant Objects website, where the jar above is up for auction. Given that I've already received several e-mails inquiring about the precise location of The Naughty Pine, I must confess that, sadly (outside of my own imagination), it only exists here, here, here, and here.