The Rose Man of Sing Sing : A True Tale of Life, Murder, and Redemption in the Age of Yellow Journalism
Today, seventy-three years after his death, journalists still tell tales of Charles E. Chapin. As city editor of Pulitzer's New York Evening World , Chapin was the model of the take-no-prisoners newsroom tyrant: he drove reporters relentlessly--and kept his paper in the center ring of the circus of big-city journalism. From the Harry K. Thaw trial to the sinking of the Titanic , Chapin set the pace for the evening press, the CNN of the pre-electronic world of journalism.
In 1918, at the pinnacle of fame, Chapin's world collapsed. Facing financial ruin, sunk in depression, he decided to kill himself and his beloved wife Nellie. On a quiet September morning, he took not his own life, but Nellie's, shooting her as she slept. After his trial--and one hell of a story for the World's competitors--he was sentenced to life in the infamous Sing Sing Prison in Ossining, New York.
In this story of an extraordinary life set in the most thrilling epoch of American journalism, James McGrath Morris tracks Chapin's rise from legendary Chicago street reporter to celebrity powerbroker in media-mad New York. His was a human tragedy played out in the sensational stories of tabloids and broadsheets. But it's also an epic of redemption: in prison, Chapin started a newspaper to fight for prisoner rights, wrote a best-selling autobiography, had two long-distance love affairs, and tapped his prodigious talents to transform barren prison plots into world-famous rose gardens before dying peacefully in his cell in 1930.
The first portrait of one of the founding figures of modern American journalism, and a vibrant chronicle of the cutthroat culture of scoops and scandals, The Rose Man of Sing Sing is also a hidden history of New York at its most colorful and passionate.
Journalist Morris (Jailhouse Journalism) excellently portrays Charles E. Chapin (1858-1930), scandal-dogged legendary city editor of Joseph Pulitzer's New York Evening World. Backed by extensive research, Morris builds the driven man's roller-coaster life with each masterfully etched chapter, starting with an overview of Chapin's career and demise, succeeding ones detailing his childhood, his apprenticeship with a Kansas newspaper and his arrival in Chicago, landing a plum reporting job at the Tribune. Chapin quickly excels at his new job, with his skills for sniffing out a story, finding its emotional core and writing it up in colorful, energetic prose. After a series of successes as a reporter and editor in Chicago, Chapin moves to New York and is hired at the World, wowing his boss, reporters and rivals. Morris portrays Chapin's turbulent personal life and the world of yellow journalism that ruled newspapers of that time, sharing captivating facts and anecdotal glimpses of early 20th-century America. Dogged by illness, the burden of a fragile wife and growing debt, Chapin, enjoying the fruits of a wildly successful career, suddenly faces financial ruin and scandal after a run of bad investments, which leads him to decide to murder his wife and himself. Unable to shoot himself after killing his wife in 1918, Chapin flees but is captured, tried and sentenced to 20 years to life in New York's notorious Sing Sing prison after a sensational, grueling trial. Morris's impressive achievement will enthrall readers.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Fordham University Press
August 31, 2005
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