A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006. Now a Popeyes fast food restaurant on Google Maps.

Recent entries:
“It’s beginning to cost a lot like Christmas” (12/2)
“I identify as a conspiracy theorist, my pronouns are They/Lied” (12/2)
“What’s worse than a chip breaking off in the dip? The second chip, on a rescue mission, …” (12/2)
“I identify as a conspiracy theorist, my pronouns are Told/You/So” (12/2)
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Entry from June 15, 2005
"Brainstorm" was the catch word at the trial of the century. Harry Kendall Thaw had shot and killed architect Stanford White (September 11, 1853 - June 25, 1906) over their mutual interest - the chorus girl Evelyn Nesbit. Shaw pleaded insanity. Dr. Britton D. Evans testified in February 1907 that Shaw suffered from "brainstorms," and the slang word entered into general use almost immediately.

Harry Kendall Thaw (February 12, 1871 - February 22, 1947), son of Pittsburgh coal and railroad baron William Thaw.
There were two trials. At the first, the jury was deadlocked: at the second, pleading insanity, Evelyn testified. Thaw's mother told Evelyn that if she would testify that Stanford White abused her and that Harry only tried to protect her, she'd receive a divorce from Harry Thaw and one million dollars in compensation. She did just that, and performed in court wonderfully: he was found not guilty Evelyn got the divorce, but not the money. Thaw was incarcerated at the Asylum for the Criminally Insane at Matteawan (now Beacon), New York, enjoying nearly complete freedom. In 1913 he walked out of the asylum and was driven over the border to Sherbrooke, Quebec. He was extradited back to the United States, where he had become something of a folk hero. In 1915 another jury found him sane.

13 February 1907, Chicago Daily Tribune, pg. 1:
The alienist today was Dr. Britton D. Evans. He was positive in his belief that Thaw did not know he was doing when he killed Stanford White. He declared it to be his opinion that Thaw was suffering from "a brain storm or an explosive or fulminating condition of mental unsoundness" at the time he shot and killed Stanford White.

13 February 1907, New York Times, pg. 3:
"I observed that Harry K. Thaw exhibited a peculiar facial expression, a glaring of the eyes, a restlessness of the eyes, a suspicious viewing of the surroundings and me, watching every movement of me. I observed a nervous agitation and restlessness, such as comes from a severe brain storm, and is common in persons who have recently gone through an explosive or fulminating condition of mental unsoundness. I observed in him a peculiar condition known as logorrhea."

10 March 1907, Washington Post, pg. 3:

New York Adds a Term to Its
Slang Vocabulary
New York, Mar. 9. - Whatever happens to Harry Thaw - whether he is convicted of the murder of Stanford White or whether he is acquitted on the ground of insanity or whether the jury disagrees and there is a new trial - the case has at least made one pungent contribution to the already sufficiently large vocabulary of American slang.

The contribution is, of course, the word "brainstorm." Dr. Britton D. Evans has testified as an expert alienist in a good many murder trials, and his testimony has been frequently reported in the newspapers, but nothing that he ever said on the witness stand, or anywhere else, has made such a dent on the public mind as has the brainstorm.

It may be that this word occurs somewhere in the literature of insanity, but nobody excepting, possibly, a few professional students of that sort of thing had ever heard of it until Dr. Evans declared upon the witness stand that that was what ailed Harry Thaw on the night when he shot Stanford WHite. Dr. Evans was not the only cerebral meteorologist to size up the weather of Thaw's mind in this way. He was the pioneer, of course, but a few days later Dr. Charles G. Wagner, another expert witness for the defense, declared that brainstorm was a fine word for just such a case, and he subscribed without reservation to Dr. Evans' application of it. Both the experts explained that brainstorm was a mental fulmination, but for the general public this was an explanation that did not explain. Brainstorm was good enough for them. It got to be a catch word in the court room within a few hours after Dr. Evans first uttered it.

Posted by Barry Popik
Names/Phrases • (0) Comments • Wednesday, June 15, 2005 • Permalink