Here is the video version of the blog post I did for associatedcontent.com about Roxalana Druse. I uploaded this to YouTube around Halloween which in fact turned out to be timely because it isn't Halloween without a scary story, especially if it is a true story. I am planning to do a couple of videos on Chester and Grace in the near future so keep your eyes out for that. So, enjoy.
Saturday, November 13, 2010
Sunday, October 10, 2010
I know it's been a while since I posted on here, but since this story is kind of relevant to the Chester Gillette case, I decided to post this story that I wrote on associatedcontent.com on here. It is the somewhat forgotten story of Roxalana Druse, the Herkimer County woman who was hanged for murdering her abusive husband over twenty years before the Gillette case. Roxy's story is important because her execution actually paved the way for the electric chair. So without further ado, I hope you enjoy this.
Roxalana Druse: The Forgotten Central New York Murder Case
A true story of a historic but forgotten Herkimer County murder case: The trial of Roxalana Druse, whose conviction and execution for murder would soon be eclipsed by the legendary Chester Gillette ("American Tragedy") case.
Sunday, March 30, 2008
Went to bed at 12:30 and was asleep in a few minutes. Slept soundly until called at 3:45. Feel refreshed and calm. I am surprised that I can look at this matter so calmly. Had communion for the first time. I feel that I am fully prepared to go and meet Jesus. I shall watch for the others.
Was so glad when "Mac" told me that Paul had taken a stand for Christ. This makes me happier than anything else could have done. May the rest be comforted as I have been in these last moments.
Had a very nice little breakfast and appreciate everyone's kindness. They have all been so kind and courteous. I am very grateful to each one. Good morning All.
P.S. If it isn't any extra expense or too much trouble please have "Taps" played at the last.
'Gone to be with Jesus.'
The following passage contained the last words that were written one hundred years ago today by Chester Ellsworth Gillette. He finished the entry just ten minutes before two guards arrived at his cell on Death Row at Auburn State Prison to lead him to the chamber that held the electric chair where he paid the ultimate price for the murder of Grace Brown nearly two years earlier.
Those words can still be read today in the recently published book, "The Prison Diary and Letters of Chester Gillette" by Craig Brandon and Jack Sherman. The diary book basically told the story of Chester's redemption as he acknowledged the pain he caused his family and friends because of his actions and begged for a chance to repay them for everything that they did for him.
It also describes how Chester was able to accept his fate so calmly, even though he remained blindly confident that some miraculous legal act would come into play and he would be granted a new trial and released. Even when he walked into the chamber and sat down in the chair, he was able to accept his fate with dignity.
Unlike the centennial commemorating Grace's death in 2006, the question here is, how do you commemorate an execution, even if is the execution of a murderer whose actions spawned a classic novel, two movies, and an opera? That's probably one question that is very hard to answer. Hopefully, he may finally have found the peace he was looking for.
Friday, January 11, 2008
Well, here we are for another year on the Chester and Grace site and this year officially kicks off with the release of the latest Gillette book, "The Prison Diary and Letters of Chester Gillette," as written by Craig Brandon and Jack Sherman and it is based on the diary that Chester kept while awaiting his execution in Auburn Prison and also contains letters that he wrote to family members.
This book is significant from the previous Gillette books mainly because for the first time, we experience the case through Chester's own words and it depicts a Chester that die-hard Gillette buffs didn't know existed. Even though the diary did not contain a confession or an account of what happened to Grace on July 11, 1906 at Big Moose Lake, it does deal with Chester's transformation from a careless, thoughtless individual into a more mature young man who cared about the well-being of his family.
As you know last March, the diary, along with the letters were donated to Hamilton College and were added to its extensive Gillette trial collection that also includes Grace's letters. And also this year is significant because March 30 marks the 100th anniversary of Chester's execution in the electric chair for Grace's murder.
Hopefully this year will also be significant for the fact that my book will also be out. The book will mainly be another retelling of the whole case and contains some new material, including Grace's diary from 1902 and the events that came after the publication of Craig's first book, "Murder in the Adirondacks", including the centennial commemoration of Grace's death in 2006 and the book "A Northern Light". I still have six chapters left to complete but I am hoping to have them completed within the next two months or so.
So, anyway, here was the latest from the Gillette front.
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
So far there hasn't really been much going on in the world of Chester and Grace but I haven't really been idle as far as they go. As I continue to write the book, I have received some new documents that pertain to Grace from her grandnephew, Robert Williams on July 11 of this year. Among the new pieces of information is a detailed account of Grace's ancestry that dates back to the Mayflower. This information will be in my book, which at press time is called The Murder That Will Never Die: The Murder of Grace Brown. I am still hoping to get the book done and out by the end of the year.
On August 25, almost a year to the day that I went down to Cortland and South Otselic, I finally went up to Big Moose Lake for a day trip. I went on a tour boat ride and went out to the scene where Grace was murdered and it was really lovely up there. The road up to the Adirondacks appeared to be virtually unchanged from when Chester and Grace went up there by train 101 years earlier. I wrote an account of my trip on my other site. And just for the record, I did not see Grace's ghost up at the lake, even though there is a photo of her on this page. The photo of Grace's ghost comes from the famous Unsolved Mysteries episode from 1996.
I am still waiting on several pieces of information but otherwise, as far as the book goes I am in pretty good shape.
Tuesday, June 26, 2007
In 1951, Theodore Dreiser's classic novel, "An American Tragedy" was remade into a movie that was destined to become one of the greatest Hollywood movies ever made. The movie's name was "A Place in the Sun."
The movie, which was directed by legendary film director George Stevens served as a contemporary (by 1951 standards that is) retelling of Dreiser's novel as well as another retelling of the famous Chester Gillette murder case that happened 45 years before this movie was made.
The movie centers on a character named George Eastman (Montgomery Clift), a young drifter who is taken in by his rich uncle and given a job at his bathing suit factory in California (a scenery change from both the novel and the Gillette case, both in which took place in Central New York.) Although he pines for the beautiful Angela Vickers (played by Elizabeth Taylor), he soon falls for fellow co-worker Alice Tripp (Shelley Winters), in contrary to the factory's no-fraternization policy. All goes well for George until he finally meets and falls in love with Angela while at the same time, he learns that Alice is pregnant and demands that he marry her or else. Sound familiar?
From there, the movie more or less follows the story written by Dreiser and, to some extent, the Gillette case. After Alice threatens to tell all to his family, George brings her to a secluded lake with the intention to kill her, but like Clyde Griffiths in "An American Tragedy," he fails to go through with it.However that doesn't stop the boat from tipping over accidentally, killing Alice.
After several days of freedom with Angela and her family, George is arrested for murder and is forced to confront the fearsome district attorney (a pre-"Perry Mason" Raymond Burr) who is really intent on destroying George to further his own political ambitions. And of course if you've seen the movie and/or followed both the original story and Dreiser's novel, you can guess what happens after that.
I had seen the movie six times and I thought that it was pretty well done. The performances by Monty Clift as George (Chester) and Elizabeth Taylor as Angela (modeled after Harriet Benedict, one of Chester's rumored lovers) are so wonderful and so believable that you actually sympathize and care about them. Raymond Burr also gave a very powerful and convincing performance as the volatile district attorney. He was based on George Ward, the Herkimer County District Attorney who prosecuted Chester in 1906 despite the fact that the real Ward was nothing like the character in the film.
Shelley Winters was believable as Alice, the poor factory girl who was modeled after Chester's lover/victim Grace Brown. However, Alice's character follows the characterization of Roberta Alden (Grace in "An American Tragedy") and is portrayed as too whiny, too easy, and too unsympathetic, all of which the real Grace wasn't.
When the movie came out in 1951, legendary silent film star Charlie Chaplin called the film "the best film Hollywood ever made." It was a big hit and went on to win several Academy Awards including Best Director for George Stevens. Out of the four major stars of the film, Elizabeth Taylor is the only one who is still alive today. Shelley Winters died in January 2006.
Although the 1931 film is not yet available on DVD, this movie is available on DVD and can be found either at your local video store, local department stores or online at either Amazon.com or eBay.
Saturday, June 23, 2007
When acclaimed author Theodore Dreiser released his classic novel, An American Tragedy, no one could have predicted the overwhelming impact that the story had on the world, and no one would predict how it would alter the true story of the famous murder case upon which it was based.
The novel, based on the legendary Chester Gillette/Grace Brown murder case that occurred in 1906, was so effective that within a few years after its release, the novel slowly started to become confused with the actual facts of the case, especially in the areas where the story took place. Among the facts that were taken from the novel were the fact that Grace and her family were poor; that Chester killed Grace so that he could marry a rich girl; and that there was only one "other girl" in the Chester/Grace triangle instead of several. And that other girl in the novel's eyes was none other than Harriet Benedict.
In truth, Harriet had only gone out with Chester a few times. But the New York City papers (with the exception of the Times) blew everything out of proportion by saying that the relationship between the two was a full-fledged romance and wrote articles saying that they were engaged to be married and that she sneaked into Chester's jail cell during the trial and so on. Seeing potential in those articles, Dreiser took it a step further and turned the Chester/Harriet relationship into a full-fledged romantic relationship so that way readers could sympathize with them better than they could sympathize with Grace, especially after Chester was convicted of murder.
Harriet, who married a Cortland lawyer sometime after Chester's execution in 1908 and gave birth to a son who became a World War II hero, was never able to shake the notoriety that Chester's trial and Dreiser's novel had imposed on her.
In 1931, Paramount Pictures released the feature film version of Dreiser's masterpiece. It was released at a time when movies were coming out of the silent film era and it was notable for the fact that it was one of the first "talkies" to be released into theaters. When it debuted at the Liberty Theater in Herkimer, some of the surviving trial participants such as Judge Irving R. Devendorf and retired sheriff Austin Klock came out to see the film. The lobby also had some of the trial artifacts including Grace's letters and the tennis racket (the murder weapon), on display. It would be the last time the tennis racket would be seen in public until last year when it was on display during the "Chester, Grace, and Dreiser" conference at Herkimer County Community College. It was and still is in the custody of an person who wished to remain anonymous.
However, the film would not go without some controversy. Dreiser unsuccessfully sued the film's director, Johann von Sternberg for plagiarism and tried to have the film's release blocked. However, Dreiser's case was thrown out, but that would not be the only legal block that the movie would face.
In Chenango County (Grace's home county), its residents did not receive the film warmly, especially since it portrayed the Browns in a bad light. Grace's mother Minerva Brown, by then a 73-year-old widow, promptly sued Paramount for libel and defamation of character. The trial was originally held in Norwich, the county seat of Chenango County, but it was later relocated to Ithaca because the defendants felt that the jury would side with Mrs. Brown. Fearing that Minerva would not survive the civil trial, the studio settled out of court for an undisclosed sum that was probably close to a few thousand dollars.
Despite the controversy, the movie was a success and during the 30's, the novel also led to a play called "The Trial of Clyde Griffiths." In the program which explained the origins of the novel and of the Gillette case, it was clear that fiction was actually becoming fact. In fact, local Adirondack legend Roy Higby, the boy who found Grace's body in Big Moose Lake, wrote his account of the case in his memoir, "A Man From the Past." Although his account of finding Grace's body was accurate, the rest of his version of the Gillette case was Dreiser's story. And it would take another 60 years for the truth to finally come out.
But before that could happen, twenty years later, another movie by Paramount would be released. It too would be based on Dreiser's novel and on the Gillette case. But this one would end up being considered one of the greatest movies of all time.
The movie's name? "A Place in the Sun."