It was here in the Garden, 16 years after the opening, that White played out the last act of his full life. He and Harry K. Thaw, an eccentric Pittsburgh millionaire, both admired Evelyn Nesbit, a chorus girl. Thaw took the trouble to marry her. White, however, continued his attentions to the girl. The husband finally cornered White on the roof of Madison Square Garden and shot and killed him.
A dandy in disgrace
"Scandal" tainted even the exclusive horse show. Berry Wall, a society dandy and the horse show's self-appointed master of ceremonies, disgraced himself by getting into a fight with a hack driver and a policeman, and had to officiate with his hand in a cast. Hoi polloi also gained admission, ogling the society ladies. The height of frustration for Berry Wall occurred when Peter Jackson, a popular West Indian boxer, entered the main arena in a dress suit and a shiny silk hat and was mobbed by socialites seeking to fraternize with him.
Harry Stevens, who began his career as a program seller in the Garden and progressed to caterer, had a hand in something called the Irish Fair in the 1890s. With sod transplanted from Ireland to appeal to the immigrants from the Old Country, the Fair ran on and on, filling the Garden every night. There were murmurings among the elite that most of the spectators were being taken right off the boats from Ireland and brought to the Garden without pausing to go through customs. The Irish Fair ran for a month and launched Stevens as a concessionaire.
The Garden's money troubles increased. Even though such stars as Sarah Bernhardt and Richard Mansfield appeared on its stage, the theater never caught on. The more practical members of the board began to agitate for attractions other than social. The circus and the Irish Fair had broken the barrier, and now the horse show found itself competing with other garish events, such as prizefights. One of the first of these was not a real fight but almost a sentimental affair. Ten days after John L. Sullivan lost his championship to James J. Corbett on Sept. 7, 1892, the two men climbed through the ropes of the Garden ring in a benefit for the ex-champion. After a bit of halfhearted sparring, the Boston Strong Boy and Gentleman Jim called it quits.
Tex takes over
Tex Rickard, newly arrived from the West and the Yukon, made his first appearance in New York when he promoted the Jess Willard-Frank Moran fight at the Garden on March 25, 1916. Subsequently, Jack Dempsey took on Bill Brennan, a supposed setup, in the Garden and almost lost. For 10 rounds Brennan had much the better of it, but Dempsey rallied and in the 12th finished off his opponent. Wrestlers, like the great Hackenschmidt, the Terrible Turk, Stanislaus Zbyszco, and Strangler Lewis also competed at the Garden.
More genteel diversions were staged from time to time: a sportsmen's show, flower, cat and dog (on different days), boat, industrial and automobile shows. Some of these exhibits were the first of their kind in the world. When it arranged for its first show in 1900, the Automobile Club of America intended the affair for "society devotees of the motor vehicle." The Times noted haughtily, though, that "mere sightseers" outnumbered the socialites in inspecting the horseless carriages.
Promoters brought in live pigeon-shooting matches, six-day walking races, six-day bicycle races. Originally, the bike riders were on their own for six days, sleeping on, but not leaving, the bicycle when they had a safe lead.
Then, for humane purposes, a limit of 12 hours a day in an endurance test was enforced, and this led to two-man team contests which became even more popular. The two-man setup no longer left the racers haggard, and the contestants, despite the rigors of the grind, appeared to be in better condition than the spectators, most of whom were not used to staying up all hours. Each pair of riders now had its own "camp," situated in various parts of the Garden, with three masseurs and a cook as part of the entourage. The rules permitted a rider to stay in his camp unless his partner became involved in a jam (an attempt by a team to circle the track, leaving the rest of the pack behind). Stealing a lap was the main scoring element in gaining a victory but jams were rare, almost by mutual consent, since they took a lot out of the riders. Off the track, the cyclists spent much of their time eating.