News Updates

 
Diary now available!

Chester Gillette's prison diary and letters that he wrote from prison have been published by the Richard W.Couper Press in Clinton, N.Y. The 193-page book is being distributed by North Country Books in Utica and should be in book stores soon. If you need a copy right away I would be glad to send you one. The price is $25 plus $4 shipping and handling. Send your check along with your name and address to Surry Cottage Books, 25 Roxbury St. Keene NH, 03431. I can't do credit cards, but I can do Paypal, if you have an account. Just send $29 to cbrandon@keene.edu and I will send one out right away.

Jack Sherman and I plan to do some book signings in the spring. I will update you on this as soon as we have some dates nailed down.

added Dec. 29, 2007

  Diary to be published in November

The recently unearthed diary of Chester Gillette will be published in November 2007 by Hamilton College. The editors working on the project are Judge Jack Sherman, Librarian Randy Erickson and author Craig Brandon. The three are currently tracking down the obscure references to people, places and books and this information will be included in an introduction and in footnotes to the diary.

The letters from Chester to Bernice Ferrin and his sister, Hazel, will also be a part of the package, which may also include the first publication of Grace Brown's diary as well. Plans are to produce an inexpensive edition in time for Christmas and to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Chester's death on March 30. There are also plans to publish a more elaborate deluxe edition that would include photos of every page of the diary.

Stay tuned for more information. 

added April 23, 2007

  More on Chester's diary

The information in Chester's diary has already led to some new discoveries about his life. The Bernice Ferrin, who came to visit him in Auburn Prison, was a resident of Zion City, Illinois, where the Gillettes once lived. Census records researched by Sue Perkins of the Herkimer County Historical Society show that she married Joe Cramner and moved to South Dakota.

Chester also refers to someone named "Lloyd" who he says is is going to be with after he dies. Research done by Randy Ericson at Hamilton College shows that this was Chester's brother, a year older than Chester, who died when he was a baby.

Also, Chester writes that despite the fact that he is a devout Christian, he believes in Darwin's theory of evolution. This is quite remarkable in that most Christians in 1906 had serious doubts about this and many ministers insisted it was heresy.

added March 16 2007.

 

 

 

  Craig Brandon and Marlynn Murray, Chester Gillette’s grandniece, who donated Chester’s  prison diary to Hamilton College on March 6.

 

Chester Gillette’s prison diary made public

Chester Gillette’s Auburn Prison diary, which contains entries from September 1907 right up to the hour of his death on March 30, 1908, has been donated to Hamilton College by Hazel Gillette’s granddaughter, Marlynn Murray of Tallahassee, Florida. The diary was kept by Hazel, Chester’s sister, then given to her son, who passed away in 2003. It then became the property of his daughter, Marlynn.

 

   The book is about 8 ½ inches wide and 10 inches tall with a plain black cover, with stapled signatures glued into the cover. It has ruled pages inside and was probably purchased in Auburn in 1907 for a nickel. There are about 90 pages in the book

 

    There are three parts to the book. Chester’s diary entries are at the beginning, starting in September, when he had been in Auburn almost a year. These entries end on the day of his death. After that there are two pages in which someone else has written quotations from John Alexander Dowie, the faith healer who organized the Zion City religious community in Illinois. These were probably written by Hazel. Then there are some blank pages followed, at the very end of the book, with quotations that Chester has written from his prison reading. They include poems by Robert Browning and others and aphorisms from Plato, Aristotle, Victor Hugo and others. Hamilton College plans to restore the diary by removing the acid from the paper and putting the pages back into the cover. All of the pages have torn along the fold where they attach to the cover and have come loose from it.

 

Details about the diary.

Added March 7, 2007

 

Gillette diary found  

     The diary that Chester Gillette kept in Auburn Prison while awaiting his execution has been found and will be donated to Hamilton College in a ceremony on March 6, 2007. The diary and some of Chester’s letters were passed down through the family of Hazel (Gillette) McWade, Chester’s younger sister.  Marlynn Murray, the current owner of the diary, is the granddaughter of Hazel Gillette. She says the diary doesn’t contain any startling new information. Chester maintained his innocence and the diary details his spiritual conversion from  January 1907 to March 1908, when he died in the electric chair. Murray will come to Herkimer and Hamilton College to tour the sites of the famous trial and will stay at Ward’s Pond Bed and Breakfast, the former home of the prosecutor in the case, George Ward.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Historical Marker Unveiled

  A new historical marker in front of the 1834 Herkimer County Jail on Main Street in Herkimer, N.Y. was dedicated at 12:30 Saturday, November 18.  The date marked  the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the Chester Gillette murder trial of 1906.  Gillette was a prisoner in the jail from July to December 1906 and his trial was held in the court house directly across the street. The marker was donated by Herkimer County Sheriff Chris Farber in honor of his family.

   One of the highlights of the ceremony was a short note from Marlynn Murray, the granddaughter of Hazel McWade, Chester’s younger sister. She was unable to attend the ceremony but said in her note that she was grateful that so many people remembered the event and asked those present to pray for both Chester and Grace.

    This is the fifth historical marker dedicated to the Gillette case. The others are outside George Ward’s former home in Gloversville, one at Big Moose Lake and two in South Otselic, Grace Brown’s home town.  Added Nov. 26, 2006

 

Grace Brown’s early diary

     Robert Williams, Grace Brown’s great grandnephew, has transcribed her early diary from 1902, which was passed down from his grandmother. He has generously allowed me to post it here in its entirety along with a photo of it. He brought the diary along with Grace’s cradle to the centennial commemoration at Big Moose last July.  You can take a look at it by clicking here.

 

Did Grace Brown's doctor know about her condition?
   
When I was doing the research for Murder in the Adirondacks I came across a local legend that Grace Brown's family doctor, J. Mott Crumb, had been aware that she was pregnant. This is significant because Grace stayed with Crumb and his wife, the former Maude Kenyon, on the night before her fatal trip to the Adirondacks. The nearest I could come to any proof of this was an article in one of the Syracuse newspapers from the 1950s in which a reporter went to South Otselic and tried to interview the Crumbs about this question. The Crumbs refused to talk publicly about Grace, as they did all their lives, but the rumor that they knew about her pregnancy was said to be common knowledge.
     This seemed like little more than a rumor to me when I wrote the book, but now another piece of evidence has emerged in a story passed down through the descendents of Mary Landesman, Grace Brown's younger sister.  The family of Sue and Bob Williams sent me the story that according to their family tradition, Grace's doctor, who was not named in the story, knew about Grace's pregnancy but for ethical reasons declined to perform an abortion.
    If this story is true, which I now think it probably is, it means that on the night of July 8, the Crumbs knew that Grace was running away with Chester and probably gave their consent. But both of the Crumbs apparently took this secret to their graves. It does nothing to clarify where exactly Grace thought she was going. Was her destination a wedding or a home for unwed mothers?
   
Added Aug. 18, 2006

 

 

 

    The marker on Stage Road near Grace

     Brown's home in South Otselic.


 

       The marker on Route 26 just south of the   village of  South Otselic.    Photos by Jean Winter

South Otselic historical markers unveiled

     While the memorial wreath was being laid at Big Moose Lake on July 11, residents of South Otselic were marking the date in their own way by setting up two historical markers in honor of Grace Brown. Previously the town had honored her by naming two roads after her: Grace Brown Lane for the small dead-end road in front of her house and Billy Brown Road just off Route 26 south of the town.
    The markers were set up in a quiet ceremony and as far as I know  the ceremonies were not covered by any news media.
     The first maker was set up on Stage Road just west of the intersection with Grace Brown Lane. The other is on Route 26 just below the Valley View Cemetery on a small piece of land just south of the village from which you can see the former Gothic Hotel, the center of town.
     The first marker reads: "Grace Brown, Mar. 20 1886 - July 11, 1906. The Family Home. Her untimely death at Big Moose Lake and resulting trial captivated the nation."
      The second marker reads: "Grace Brown whose life and death inspired Theodore Dreiser's An American Tragedy. Her final resting place in the valley she loved."
      I think these markers, especially the second one, capture Grace's spirit and the feelings that residents of South Otselic have for her today.
    When I did my research for my book there was only one historical marker about the case. That was in Dolgeville outside George Ward's mansion. It seemed a strange place for the only officially designated site.
   Now there are four markers, including the new one at Big Moose Lake.  The number will increase to five this fall when Herkimer places one outside the jail and across the street from the court house where the trial took place. This will be a double-sided marker with different text on each side, according to Jeff Steele, the president of the Herkimer County Historical Society.
    The wording of historical markers is not as easy as it might seem. I have been in on the negotiations for a couple of these and there are restrictions on the number of words and how many letters in a line. There's no way you can write complete sentences but you have to be careful about hidden meanings. So far I think everyone has done a great job with this!

Added Aug. 18 2006
  

 

   Grace Brown remembered
At 5:30 p.m. on July 11, 2006 a  memorial wreath for Grace Brown was placed in South Bay of Big Moose Lake at the spot where her body was found. Placing the wreath are Bob and Sue Williams, great nephew and niece of Grace. Their grandmother, Mary Brown, was Grace's next youngest sister. That's me in the blue shirt at the right holding the rope. See below for the story.
Photo by Mike Doherty of the Utica Observer-Dispatch.


The memorial marker at the far western end  of Big Moose Lake that was unveiled July 11,   2006.  (AP photo)

July 11, 2006
A few years ago, when I first thought about 7/11/06, the centennial of Grace Brown’s death, I knew I wanted to be there on South Bay at 5:30 p.m. I figured I would paddle out  in my kayak alone and contemplate the moment.  

What actually happened was much less lonely and much more significant. Charlie Adams, the skipper of the “Grace” tour boat that has taken thousands of tourists around the lake over the past decade, can be credited with scripting and organizing the commemoration activities, along with the members of Herkimer County’s “Grace Committee,” who worked for over a year planning the event.

  The day began just before 10:30 with the unveiling of a historical marker at the site of the Glennmore Hotel’s boat house at the far western end of Big Moose Lake. The marker reads “Glennmore Hotel  On July 11, 1906, Chester Gillette and Grace Brown left here for a boat trip ending in her death and his execution for murder. Basis of “An American Tragedy.”  This careful wording avoids whether Chester was actually guilty or not.

Charlie worked diligently with Assemblyman Marc Butler to get the state to approve the marker and then to come up with wording that would fit the small space on the sign. It's a long-overdue tribute that officially recognizes the death as an important part of the region's history. Even though many residents of Big Moose Lake are less than pleased that their beautiful part of the Adirondacks has been tainted from its association with an infamous crime, Charlie was able to secure all the permissions and smooth over the objections to get the marker approved. Everyone who understands the significance of this story owes him a round of thanks.

During the afternoon there were displays of historical artifacts, a special stamp cancellation and books signings by Joe Brownell and myself. I signed books continuously for over four hours! 

Then at 5:15 the “Grace” left its dock at Dunn’s Marina and headed out to South Bay, accompanied by a police boat and jet ski provided by the Herkimer County Sheriff’s Department. In the boat was a large wreath that Charlie had had made by a local florist. The flowers were selected so that they would last a long time out there on the bay after the ceremony was over.

  Charlie also had to select from a large number of people who wanted to be on the boat when the wreath was laid. Among those who were on the boat were Robert and Susan Williams, the great nephew and niece of Grace Brown. Their grandmother, Mary Brown, was Grace's sister, who was 19 when Grace died. Also on the boat were Frank Carey, whose grandmother heard what may have been Grace’s last call; Jennifer Pokon, the actress who plays Grace in re-enactments; Denny McAllister, the grandson of James McAlliser, who drove Grace and Chester from the train station to the Glennmore Hotel; the minister of the Big Moose Chapel; descendants of Roy Higby, who found the body in the lake; Charlie Adams; Gail Murray of the Town of Webb Historical Association, and me.

The ceremony itself was brief but meaningful, with the minister saying a few words about the tragedy and how it was never welcomed by many at the lake. Then came the most emotional moment as Jennifer read Grace Brown's last love letter to Chester. Then the Williams family attached  the wreath to an anchor and allowed it to float at the spot where Grace’s body was found. 99 years and 364 days before.

 There were a number of spectators on other boats that were anchored around the site, including a press boat. In a few minutes it was over and the boats headed back to the marina, leaving only the wreath behind in South Bay, where it will be seen by tour boats for the rest of the summer.

 

    I think it was a fitting tribute to the young woman whose life was cut short a century ago, but whose memory has never been allowed to fade away and now probably never will.
Added July 16, 2006

   

 

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Last updated March 2007