A Gilded Age Tale of Murder and Madness
In opulent seaside Newport, a wealthy and beloved Black businessman turns up dead. The prime suspect is his son-in-law, a dashing medical student set to become one of the country’s first Black surgeons. The resulting trial will tear the town in two.
Tuesday, October 6, 1885, was a rainy morning on bustling Levin Street in Newport, Rhode Island. Despite the rain, the day began like any other, with milkmen and delivery boys making their usual rounds. Wives and daughters carried out their household duties while keeping an eye on the small children. Horses pulled wagons and carriages noisily up and down the short artery between swanky Bellevue Avenue to the east and Thames Street, the commercial heart of Newport, to the west. On either side of Levin Street, a diverse population occupied homes that were interspersed between bars, liveries and family-run businesses. Amongst the clamor of the morning, the first gunshot from the Burton residence at 63 Levin Street went relatively unnoticed. A few neighbors would later say, upon reflection, that they’d heard that first shot. When a second shot quickly followed, folks paused their morning activities to listen. Then the screaming began.
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