Gillette Diary Donated to College
Wednesday, March 14, 2007; 8:29 AM
CLINTON, N.Y. -- The diary of Chester Gillette, whose murder of his lover in 1906 became the basis for Theodore Dreiser's classic "An American Tragedy," has been donated to Hamilton College after being passed down for generations through his family.
"He truly is a different person in the diary" than he is in the trial transcripts, said Marlynn McWade-Murray, Gillette's grandniece, who donated the book to the upstate New York college. "It's possible if they had seen that person they may have had a different outcome."
Gillette was executed at Auburn State Prison on March 30, 1908, for the slaying of Grace Brown at Big Moose Lake on July 11, 1906. His monthlong trial made headlines across the country. He maintained his innocence until the end, claiming that Brown drowned accidentally, and that he panicked and fled.
The story might have faded from public interest if not for Dreiser's 1925 novel and later a movie version, "A Place in the Sun," which starred Montgomery Clift, Elizabeth Taylor and Shelley Winters, and won six Academy Awards. The story also has been retold on TV, plays, songs, true crime books and in 2005 on stage by the Metropolitan Opera.
Gillette began the dairy in prison, with entries from Sept. 19, 1907, until the day of his execution. McWade-Murray inherited the family heirloom in 2003 after the death of her father. She said she searched for Gillette on the Internet and realized the public might be interested in the diary.
"I knew I wanted to do something with it," she told The Utica Observer-Dispatch. "It needed to be preserved."
The diary joins the college's already substantial collection about the case, which includes Brown's love letters to Gillette and memorabilia from the trial. McWade-Murray also donated 10 letters written by Gillette to a friend and to his sister, as well as Gillette's red letter New Testament.
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(An earlier version of the story gave the wrong date for the staging by the Metropolitan Opera.)