Broadway Butterfly: Behind The Scenes
If you've found your way here, you're a fellow mystery and true-crime fanatic looking for more. You're in the right place. Welcome, friend! This is for the real ones.
I've shared cool facts, videos, pictures, clues, and the backstory that I found, saw, and learned over the nine years that I researched and wrote the book.
*I'll keep adding new information, so stop by often!*
**When there is a spoiler, I'll be sure to note that too.** Dive in!
Dot King is our fascinating central character. And while the story opens with Ella Bradford arriving at work and discovering her dead, I hope she felt very much alive as a character and driving force of the story.
Julia Harpman is our heroine. While she is one of 4 points of view in the book, she's the lead character in my mind. This is absolutely HER story. And wow--what an INCREDIBLE human being! Julia's courage is almost beyond comprehension. Just the courage to pick up and move from her native Memphis to New York City--by herself, with $60 and one suitcase--is amazing. But the incredibly brave things that she did in pursuit of justice and while chasing the story (when you get to the end of the May section and into the August chapters, you'll know what I mean!) are the sort of jaw-dropping, mind-blowing acts of courage that I can barely wrap my brain around. Think about your job. Would you put your life on the line for it? She did. Because she believed deeply in what she was doing and the importance of journalism and justice. Julia Harpman deserves to be acknowledged for her work and to take her rightful place in history as a pioneering woman of journalism. I hope that bringing her story and her courage to light does that.
Julia Boarding Airplane
A bit later in life. This looks like some sort of press junket for an airline. Julia is at the top of the stairs, closet to the door. This photo was in Westbrook's personal papers collection at the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library.
Julia on an Airplane
A bit later in life. Inside what looks to have been some sort of press junket for an airline. Julia is in front of the standing couple. Imagine how nice in-flight service was! They definitely got more than a pack of peanuts!
This photo was in Westbrook's personal papers collection at the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library.
Julia Moves to NYC: Jan 1920
Newspapers were the primary form of news back then...people's movements were often included (something we can't imagine now!)
Here we see the notice in a Memphis paper that Julia is moving to NYC to test her mettle in the Big Apple. It turns out she wouldn't get that job at The World, but she would land a gig at the New York Daily New where Phil Payne would give her a shot...and the rest, as they say, is history.
Julia & Westbrook Wedding: 1922
Isn't this the sweetest wedding announcement? I love them and I love how they loved each other.
Julia Bylined Article
Very few reporters had bylines back then--it was a "best of the best" sort of status, and Julia earned hers just two weeks before this case. It's such a thrill to see her name in print and know her fingertips typed this article (HER WORDS!) on her typewriter to cover this story!
John D. Coughlin
Inspector John D. Coughlin was the head of the NYPD Detectives Unit. He was the son of an Irish immigrant who was also a police officer in Ireland and New York. He was very close to his only sister, Mary, called "Mamie," and eventually moved back to Yorkville (a neighborhood on the Upper East Side in New York City), where they both eventually died within a block of where they had been born. After Coughlin's death, on September 30, 1951, The New York Times ran an obituary, praising his ability as a detective.
Ella Bradford was born Nellie Anderson in Jacksonville Florida. She made her way north to New York City, met and married James Bradford, and got a job working for Dot King. She was Dot's closest friend, confidant, and the keeper of all her secrets. Due to racism and sexism of the time, it was very challenging to find any historical records about the women in this story, and especially about Black women. I treasure these two photos that I was able to eventually find of Ella after 5-6 years of searching.
Frances: CONTAINS SPOILERS
Warning: THIS SECTION CONTAINS SPOILERS! Do not read this paragraph before you've read the March 24th chapter in the book.
Frances Butcher Stotesbury was the younger daughter of E.T. Stotesbury. And this entire story sprang from imaging what it must have been like to be her on March 24, 1923. I couldn't stop thinking about that moment and how many other women have suffered that same terrible moment...and how much harder and more humiliating it would be to suffer it publicly.
With Her Father and Daughter
The casual cruelty in the caption, mocking the (normal-looking!) size of Frances's feet is really offensive in that it once again places the blame for a man's bad behavior on his wife. Now, 100 years later, we can still see and feel this inherently sexist dog whistle behavior today.
Iloved learning about and writing about Hilda Ferguson! How can you not love this sassy, fierce young lady?
Hilda had just turned 20 when her former roommate Dot King was murdered. She was earning a living doing the hula shimmy at the Music Box and would later take up with Nucky Johnson (of Boardwalk Empire fame). He would build the Silver Slipper Supper Club for her to star and hostess at and keep a suite ready for her at the Ritz. Eventually, she quit Nucky, moved back to New York, dated "Tough Willie" McCabe, and later opened her own speakeasy in Harlem. She died in 1933 at the age of 30. I am pretty sure she crammed more living into her short life than most people do in 90 years.
In Full Costume
I found this photo at the University of Washington collection. She's so glamorous!
In 1925, Hilda graced the front cover of Theater Magazine.
Come with me to the ruins of Whitemarsh Hall! Once known as the Versailles of America, its destruction remains one of the largest losses in American architectural history. This is was the suburban Philadelphia home of Frances's father, E.T. Stotesbury, and his wife, Eva.
When my Uncle Ed told me there was once a great estate that he and my Uncle David used to sneak over to after school to smoke cigarettes, and there were still ruins standing, I had to know more.
When we caravanned over, this is what I saw: very normal suburban homes...and these GORGEOUS ruins in their backyards. I knew there was a story here...and that I had to tell it. Little did I know, I would find a murder.
J.P. Morgan Library and Museum
I applied for and was granted a research pass to J.P. Morgan Library and Museum Reading Room. I had learned that they held boxes of antique materials (letters, notes, telegrams, and who knew what else!) from E.T. Stotesbury, Frances's father. I hoped that I might find letters, diaries, or any other references to the "embarrassing situation" that they found themselves in.
I happened to go on a day when the museum itself was closed, but the research room was open. The research librarians had pulled the Stotesbury Box for me and had it waiting when I arrived. I got to go through all the contents...and tehn found out that my research pass gave me free access to the entire (EMPTY!) museum! HOW COOL WAS THAT? So after I was done researching, I wandered around the museum practically by myself, soaking in the incredible surroundings and priceless treasures.
J.P. Morgan Library & Museum
When I got inside, I got to choose a desk to work at and they gave me this foam book prop. It's so that a book doesn't open too far and crack or damage its spine.
I was able to actually HOLD telegrams, notes, and photos from E.T. Stotesbury, Frances's father.
E.T. Stotesbury's Papers
It's interesting to think about what people save and what they don't.
Clearly, E.T. Stotesbury's birthday invitation was worth saving...
E.T. Stotesbury's Papers
...I've definitely wondered what these guys had to discuss so urgently that they sent a telegram about it...but so secretly they couldn't reference the subject of the conversation. Remember how many people HAD to see a telegram in order to send it. It was not a secure mode of communication.
E.T. Stotesbury's Papers
A telegram sent from sea! The Stotesburys went to Paris every spring to do their shopping. As the celebrities of their time, newspapers covered what they wore: colors, style, designers. They set the trends...and ordinary, average, everday American women followed them.
Above are photos I took of the East Room, the North Room, and the West Room (which was Mr. Morgan's private study that he spent a lot of time in toward the end of his life. You can take a free virtual tour on the museum's website here! And you can go visit it in-person at 225 Madison Avenue when you are in New York City!
The New York Public Library
I spent a lot of time in the Milstein Microfilm Room at the New York Public Library. When I first started researching this book, the archives of the New York Daily News weren't available online--so I had to go in-person. There (as you can see in the video below), there were giant drawers filled with yellowed boxes of rolls of microfilm (photo below). I would feed the tape into the microfilm machine and scroll through images of each page of the newspapers, looking for headlines about Dot King, or bylines by Julia. Note: at the time, it was rare for anyone to get a byline. It was a HUGE accomplishment when Julia got her own byline about two weeks before she started covering the King case. Not all of her articles featured her byline (and you'll know why in the August chapters!), but for her to have any articles--let alone as many as she did!--with her name on them was truly HUGE in terms of being acknowledged in her career and in her field. To stake your claim to your work, to be publicly acknowledged and heralded for your work...it must've been a big moment for her. I wonder where she and Westbrook went to dinner to celebrate!?
The microfilm room is now located in this bigger, brighter, airier, and light-filled space a few doors down from where it used to be (room 118) and where I worked.
The microfilm machines are the same! Althought you now have to ask a librarian to get a roll of microfilm from a climate-controlled storage room, the process of winding the film through the machine and then scrolling through to look for information or articles is the same! I love it!
The Reading Room
It was such a thrill to take my book to the NYPL after years of working on the manuscript here! What an incredible thrill to bring this fully bound REAL BOOK to these halls that hold so many famous books. And look at the ceiling! Those chandeliers! PURE MAGIC!!