The Death of Fred Marsden, the American Playwright

A pathetic tragedy I will relate,
Concerning poor Fred. Marsden’s fate,
Who suffocated himself by the fumes of gas,
On the 18th of May, and in the year of 1888, alas!

Fred. Marsden was a playwright, the theatrical world knows,
And was highly esteemed by the people, and had very few foes;
And in New York, in his bedroom, he took his life away,
And was found by his servant William in his bedroom where he lay.

The manner in which he took his life : first he locked the door,
Then closed down the window, and a sheet to shreds he tore
And then stopped the keyholes and chinks through which air might come,
Then turned on the single gas-burner, and soon the deed was done.

About seven o’clock in the evening he bade his wife good-night,
And she left him, smoking, in his room, thinking all was right,
But when morning came his daughter said she smelled gas,
Then William, his servant, called loudly on him, but no answer, alas!

Then suspicion flashed across William’s brain, and he broke open the door,
Then soon the family were in a state of uproar,
For the room was full of gas, and Mr Marsden quite dead,
And a more kind-hearted father never ate of the world’s bread.

And by his kindness he spoiled his only child,
His pretty daughter Blanche, which made him wild;
For some time he thought her an angel, she was so very civil,
But she dishonoured herself, and proved herself a devil.

Her father idolised her, and on her spared no expense,
And the kind-hearted father gave her too much indulgence,
Because evening parties and receptions were got up for her sake,
Besides, he bought her a steam yacht to sail on Schroon Lake.

His means he lavished upon his home and his wife,
And he loved his wife and daughter as dear as his life;
But Miss Blanche turned to folly, and wrecked their home through strife,
And through Miss Marsden’s folly her father took his life.

She wanted to ride, and her father bought her a horse,
And by giving her such indulgences, in morals she grew worse;
And by her immoral actions she broke her father’s heart;
And, in my opinion, she has acted a very ungrateful part.

At last she fled from her father’s house, which made him mourn,
Then the crazy father went after her and begged her to return,
But she tore her father’s beard, and about the face beat him,
Then fled to her companions in evil, and thought it no sin.

Then her father sent her one hundred dollars, and found her again,
And he requested her to come home, but it was all in vain;
For his cruel daughter swore at him without any dread,
And, alas! next morning, he was found dead in his bed.

And soon theatrical circles were shocked to learn,
Of the sudden death of genial Fred Marsden,
Whose house had been famous for its hospitality,
To artists, litterateurs, and critics of high and low degree.

And now dear Mrs Marsden is left alone to mourn
The loss of her loving husband, whom to her will ne’er return;
But I hope God will be kind to her in her bereavement,
And open her daughter’s eyes, and make her repent

For being the cause of her father’s death, the generous Fred,
Who oft poor artists and mendicants has fed;
But, alas! his bounties they will never receive more,
Therefore poor artists and mendicants will his loss deplore.

Therefore, all ye kind parents of high and low degree,
I pray ye all, be advised by me,
And never pamper your children in any way,
Nor idolise them, for they are apt to go astray,

And treat ye, like pretty Blanche Marsden,
Who by her folly has been the death of one of the finest men;
So all kind parents, be warned by me,
And remember always this sad Tragedy!

Leaving the Knowable

Fred Marsden Takes his own Life

Unable to Bear his Daughter’s Miseeds, he breaks a “Contract” with Nature

Death brought to a close yesterday the earthly troubles of Fred Marsden, the playwright. The end was self-inflicted. For a month past he had changed fast. A quarrel with his only child, a daughter, first unsettled his mind. It had been his habit to occupy of late for sleeping a small room off his study, on the third floor of his house, at 318 West One Huudred and Twenty-sixth-street. When he went to that room about midnight on Friday he took a sheet from the bed and tore it so that it could be securely fastened over the shade of the single window at the end of the room. A strip that was left was used to cover the keyhole of the door that opened from the hall. Then, half stupefying himself with a strong dose of bromide, he locked his door, turned on the gas, and lay down to die.

At 11 o’clock yesterday morning his wife went to his study with some fruit. She expected to find him up and had planned for a chat over the morning meal, as she knew that the two letters Burgoyne had carried up were from his dramatic agents. The letters lay on his desk. Beside them was a sealed envelope addressed to herself. In dread and wonder she opened it. At the second line its frightful import dawned upon her and, shrieking, she fell to the floor. The servants found her prostrate, with the letter in her cold, limp hands. They bore her to her room on the floor below. Then Burgoyne put his shoulder to Marsden’s bedroom door. The rush of gas from the room was stifling. Marsden lay on the bed in an easy attitude, his features quiet and his limbs in a natural position. Not even the pillow in which his head sank was disarranged.

John A. Harrington and George W. Wilton, friends and neighbors, were called in. Mrs. Marsden, who had sufficiently recovered to see them, handed them the letter which had conveyed to her the terrible truth, but which she could not read beyond, the opening sentence:

May 18, 1888.

My Darling Wife: When you read this I shall have found rest, or have passed from the knowable to the unknowable. I have always claimed that no man can be hold bound to any contract to which he is not a party, and nature is simply impertinent when it demands that a man should go and endure when he feels that life has no future for him. Although I have no doubt about myself, yet I feel certain that I have no right to take the life of any more, but God knows it has been very closely.

You know the terrible confession you made to Dr. J. W. Romney about a girl and a man, [meaning his daughter and one of her companions.] You know how I have searched, found letters, memoranda, marked books, ciphers, and enough matter to implicate many people. I cannot keep it off my mind a moment. I feel that work is gone and life without work simply stagnation.

Oh, know how hard this will hit you in the morning, but be brave and stern. Good-bye, my darling.


You know her statement in the Country, and what she has said here. Now a dying man does not dare to lie, and l on my immortal soul swear both her statements to be infamous lies.


11 P. M.— Oh, my darling, the hour is rapidly approaching, and as you are sleeping so calmly, I am preparing to make a final departure. Good-bye again, and with a deep love.

Dreading publicity and scandal Mrs. Marsden begged her two friends to act for her, doing what they could to spare the family name dishonor. Dr. S. Ranney, the family physician for 20 years, was summoned. When he arrived in the afternoon he explained that the police and the Coroner must be notified. When this was done the news soon spread, but until the arrival of Deputy-Coroner O’Meagher, which was at nearly evening, only three or four intimate friends, including those already named, were admitted to the house. A crowd gathered across the street and stared at the desolate house. They knew why a death had occurred there and gossiped about it.

Mrs. Marsden was quite willing to answer Dr. O’Meagher’s questions. She Said that ever since the trouble with her daughter Mr. Marsden had. worried constantly. Bromides enabled him to calm his nerves to some extent, but his suffering was so plain that she had been sitting with him late several nights during the last week for fear he would collapse. Friday night her husband begged her to retire early, saying that she was entitled to a good rest, and that he intended to take such a rest himself. She left him at 7 o’clock. At about 11:30 he went to her room to ask for the bromides. She rose and got them for him. Then he kissed her and went up stairs.

Marsden’s depressed condition which, culminated in his suicide dated from the time when his only daughter, Blanche. a young woman of 21, left her father’s house in anger a short time because he objected to her intimacy with a married man. Letters found in her desk after her departure fully justified her father’s action. The girl went to live with a friend and soon after disappeared. Her present whereabouts is unknown. Marsden brooded over the matter, and. it is believed at one time intended to kill the man with whom his daughter associated. From this his mind turned toward suicide as the only means left open to escape from what he considered his disgrace and the notoriety thrust upon his family by his daughter’s conduct. These facts Mrs. Marsden communicated. to the Coroner and Dr. Ranney corroborated her story with the statement that Marsden had been under his treatment for some time for nervous troubles. A certificate of death in accordance with the facts was granted.

Fred Marsden was the stage name of William A. Sliver, the son of Abraham Sliver, a Baltimore merchant. Young Sliver chose the law as a profession and Philadelphia as a residence when he came to manhood. In 1872, while waiting for a chance to draw a brief he wrote a play. It succeeded, and he tried the stage for a venture and did well. He was in his thirtieth year when he assumed the name Marsden, by which he was ever after known. As a playwright he soon had profitable employment. He has written for Lotta, “Joe” Murphy, Scanlan, Annie Pixley, and other popular actors. He leaves an unfinished play for Scanlan and had contracts for $30,000 of work yet to be turned out. Among the more familiar of his plays are “Zara” and “Elly,” for Pixley; “Shaun Rhua” and “Kerry Gow,” for Murphy; “The Irish Minstrel,” for Scanlan; “Cheek,” ‘Humbug,” and “Quacks,” for Roland Reed, and “Zip,” “Musette,” and “Bob,” for Lotta.

New York Times, 20th May 1888

Related Gems

Comments »

No comments have been entered yet.

Leave a comment