Friday, June 12, 2009

Murder at the Brown Palace

I had time so I picked up a book on a murder that occurred in Denver around 1911. Murder in the Brown Palace is about Frank Henwood's murder of two men, Tony Von Phul and George E. Copeland. In all honesty this murder case goes down as one of the more stupid examples of misguided chivalry leading to tragedy than any other I've read. Evidently, Henwood killed Von Phul to prevent himself being beaten publicly by the much larger man. Copeland was an innocent bystander. The reason for the animosity between the two men was one Mrs. Isabel Springer the wife of a prominent man. Mrs. Springer had asked for Henwood's assistance in retrieving some love letters from Von Phul. Von Phul was using the letters to black mail Mrs. Springer into continuing to see him. Henwood let his testosterone get the better of him and gave into Von Phul's baiting and refused to drop the matter even after being asked to do so by Mrs. Springer. As payment for his misguided gallantry (and the death of an innocent bystander) Henwood gets to die in prison.

It's a pleasant read, but even this completely unrelated book got me to thinking about Vivian Chase! (can you say obsessed!) I was thinking about Isabel Springer and her privileged existence and the very different circumstances that Vivian was (more likely than not) born into. Although Springer is at least 20 years Vivian's senior I don't think there was that dramatic a difference in the expectations of either woman about marriage. Marriage was your primary occupation and you married the best provider you could get.

In the 1920 Kansas City, MO census Vivian Davis (prior to her marriage to George Chase) is listed as a waitress. I really didn't think too much about that because I didn't fully grasp where that put her in the American "egalitarian" social structure. I've been trying to find ways to learn what her life might have been like and it hasn't been easy. There's loads of material on Jazz Age women but usually from the viewpoint of middle class expectations and experience. Vivian wasn't middle class (although she could fake it). I stumbled upon an e-book Four Years in the Underbrush Adventures of a Working Woman in New York . Reading this provided me with a new perspective of what it would have been to be an unskilled woman working in Vivian's time. Marrying George Chase and becoming a housewife/gun moll is definitely easier. More than likely she ate better too!