The Rose Man of Sing Sing: A True Tale of Life, Murder, and Redemption in the Age of Yellow Journalism

The Rose Man of Sing Sing: A True Tale of Life, Murder, and Redemption in the Age of Yellow Journalism

The Rose Man of Sing Sing: A True Tale of Life, Murder, and Redemption in the Age of Yellow Journalism

The Rose Man of Sing Sing: A True Tale of Life, Murder, and Redemption in the Age of Yellow Journalism


Today, seventy-three years after his death, journalists still tell tales of Charles E. Chapin. As city editor of Pulitzer's New York Evening World , Chapin was the model of the take-no-prisoners newsroom tyrant: he drove reporters relentlessly--and kept his paper in the center ring of the circus of big-city journalism. From the Harry K. Thaw trial to the sinking of the Titanic , Chapin set the pace for the evening press, the CNN of the pre-electronic world of journalism.

In 1918, at the pinnacle of fame, Chapin's world collapsed. Facing financial ruin, sunk in depression, he decided to kill himself and his beloved wife Nellie. On a quiet September morning, he took not his own life, but Nellie's, shooting her as she slept. After his trial--and one hell of a story for the World's competitors--he was sentenced to life in the infamous Sing Sing Prison in Ossining, New York.

In this story of an extraordinary life set in the most thrilling epoch of American journalism, James McGrath Morris tracks Chapin's rise from legendary Chicago street reporter to celebrity powerbroker in media-mad New York. His was a human tragedy played out in the sensational stories of tabloids and broadsheets. But it's also an epic of redemption: in prison, Chapin started a newspaper to fight for prisoner rights, wrote a best-selling autobiography, had two long-distance love affairs, and tapped his prodigious talents to transform barren prison plots into world-famous rose gardens before dying peacefully in his cell in 1930.

The first portrait of one of the founding figures of modern American journalism, and a vibrant chronicle of the cutthroat culture of scoops and scandals, The Rose Man of Sing Sing is also a hidden history of New York at its most colorful and passionate.

James McGrath Morris is a former journalist, author of Jailhouse Journalism: The Fourth Estate Behind Bars , and a historian. He lives in Falls Church, Virginia, and teaches at West Springfield High School.


Charles Chapin’s life story is so extraordinary that it could have been a novel. in fact, a best-selling author wrote one while Chapin was still alive. the present book, however, is based on years of research that began in the 1980s and took me to libraries in small towns of Kansas and upstate New York, to manuscript collections in Washington, Chicago, St. Louis, Albany, and New York, and to Sing Sing itself. As with any biography, I have sifted through a mountain of evidence in preparing a literary portrait. However, I have purposely chosen not to clog the text with discursive remarks on my methods or sources. All of that is reserved for the extensive notes.

This book could never have been written had writer Basil King and publisher George Putnam not talked Chapin into writing his memoirs while confined at Sing Sing. the memoirs, along with his two volumes of published letters, provided both an outline to Chapin’s life story and a running commentary. But having been trained as a skeptical journalist and historian, I have accepted none of Chapin’s versions of events without considerable research.

Chapin turns out to be quite truthful. To make that determination, I looked first to see if anyone contested Chapin’s account. the book was published while many of his contemporaries were still alive. It was widely reviewed, but no one made any claim that any part of it was inaccurate. Further, when other witnesses to the events portrayed in the book read it, they did not dispute Chapin’s account.

Second, all of Chapin’s accounts were subjected to a battery . . .

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