Saturday, August 10, 2013

Scenes from the Fisk Assassination

Illustrations from the 1872 book Life, Adventures, Strange Career and Assassination of Col. James Fisk, Jr. provide a good graphic presentation of events surrounding the murder of Jim Fisk:

Dramatis Personae

Col James Fisk, Jr. Helen Josephine “Josie” Mansfield Edward S. “Ned” Stokes
Jim Fisk was a self-made millionaire. In partnership with Jay Gould, he was a ruthless financier, railroad tycoon and stock manipulator. He was also a colorful and flamboyant character, much loved in the city of New York.
Josie Mansfield was an actress and an incorrigible gold digger. In 1867, when Jim Fisk met her, she was considered to be extraordinarily beautiful. Fisk became hopelessly infatuated; though he had a wife in Vermont, he and Josie began a torrid affair.
Fisk met Ned Stokes in 1869 and the two became fast friends. Both men liked being the center of attention and enjoyed the sporting life of saloons and racetracks. The difference was that Ned Stokes could seldom pay his own way.

The trouble began on New Year’s Day, 1870, when Fisk brought Ned Stokes to a party at Josie’s house. Stokes was smitten by Josie’s beauty and they began an affair of their own behind Fisk’s back. When Fisk found out he forced Josie to choose between them; she chose Ned Stokes.

What followed was a series of lawsuits between Fisk and Stokes. Stokes demanded $200,000 or he would release to the press, love letters from Fisk to Josie. The courts ruled against Stokes and gave Fisk custody of the letters. Stokes wanted revenge.

On January 6, 1872, Stokes knew that Jim Fisk would be visiting someone at the Grand Hotel. He waited on the landing of the hotel staircase and when Fisk came up, Stokes jumped out and shot him twice with a Colt pistol.

Fisk was carried, wounded and bleeding, to a bed in the hotel. Ned Stokes was captured before he could escape. He was taken to Fisk’s room and, before he died Jim Fisk identified Ned Stokes as his killer.

As Jim Fisk’s body lay in state in the theatre he had owned and managed, twenty thousand New Yorkers passed by to pay their respects.

Ned Stokes was held on Murderer’s Row in the Tombs prison, but Stokes had connections with Tammany Hall so his cell was well furnished and his meals were catered from Delmonico’s. After three trials he was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to just six years in Sing Sing prison.

Click here for the full story of the murder of Jim Fisk: Jubilee Jim.

Illustrations from:

Barclay, George Lippard. Life, Adventures, Strange Career and Assassination of Col. James Fisk, Jr. Philadelphia: Barclay & Company, 1872


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