Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, Saturday, April 9, 1859
A Novel Punishment.--Warning to Seducers.
-- The Bucyrus Forum gives the particulars of a romance in which the Philip Barton Key of that transaction came off second best. The facts are these: Some four months since a young merchant of Ohio had occasion to visit New York and our Eastern cities to make his annual purchases. Taking an affectionate leave of his wife and child, the latter a beautiful girl of about five summers, he departed full of hope and trustfulness in the fidelity of his beautiful Joanna. He arrived in New York, and becoming quite indisposed he hurriedly transacted his business, and in a week sooner than he anticipated he found himself at Crestline, waiting for the cars from Pittsburgh, which were to bring him to Bucyrus. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, the train from Pittsburgh was some three hours behind time, and when he did get on board he threw himself into a seat and in a few minutes was fast asleep; nor did he wake until the train reached Forest, twenty-nine miles further than Bucyrus, where he should have stopped. Much to his chagrin and bitter disappointment, did he hear the brakeman announce "Forest"; he, however, picked up his carpet sack and concluded to make the best of it. He had proceeded but a few steps, when, to his horror and consternation, he beheld his own wife in company with one he had always esteemed his best friend. He could scarcely believe his own eyes, but when he heard the gentleman direct his trunk and his wife's carpet sack to be put of[f] at H----, a place on the M.R. and L.E. RR., noted for licentious intrigue, and when he remembered an anonymous letter he had received more than a year ago, cautioning him to beware of his friend, his mind was instantly made up; he walked coolly up to his hated rival, and at one stroke severed his right ear from his head, put it into his pocket, and confronted his wife, asking her if she would go home with him, at the same time telling her that he freely forgave her on account of her youth and their child. She gladly confessed her error, and the next train brought them to their house, where they now live happily. The miserable offender is still in our midst, and when only one of our citizens continues to wear his long hair, reader, you may know who he is. His ear is preserved in spirits in the house of the injured husband.
Background: -Daniel Edgar Sickles was a Congressmen from the State of New York. He was a close friend of President Buchanan, having served as Buchanan's personal secretary when he was the Ambassador to Great Britain. Once he came back, Buchanan made Sickles his protege . . . . Sickles was also a widely respected attorney, who had his own practice established in New York. He put his law practice on the back burner upon his election into Congress, and focused on his new task in government.
-Teresa Bagioli Sickles was the wife of Daniel Edgar Sickles. She was born and raised in New York, in the house of Signor Daponti, the noted Italian musician. Daponti and Sickles were friendly, and Sickles even stayed at his house for a time. That his how Teresa and he met. She was an Italian beauty, so Sickles immediately fell in love with her. Their love was not accepted by the Bagioli family at first, but after a secret marriage, they relented and had a grand ceremony with the Archbishop of NYC presiding. It seemed their love was strong, for they had a child soon after their marriage, and Teresa accompanied her husband to Great Britain. But we will soon see that all was not well behind the scenes.
-Philip Barton Key was the District Attorney for Washington. Not only did he hold this prestigious title, but he was also the son of Francis Scott Key, author of the 'Star Spangled Banner,' and the nephew of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Clearly, he had politcal connections.
Events: -On Sunday, Feburary 27, 1859, Daniel Sickles shot and killed Philip Barton Key in LaFayette Square. Through an anonymous letter, Sickles learned that his wife had been having a year-long affair with his friend Key. This greatly angered Sickles, and spurred him into action. On that Sunday, he was chatting with Samuel Butterworth, a close friend, when he saw Key emerge from a clubhouse across the street. Butterworth immediately ran over to talk to Key, apparently on a whim. Sources differ on this point, some believing he was employed by Sickles to detain Key, others that he was in fact innocent of conspiracy to commit murder. Anyhow, Key and Butterworth began talking. From across the street, the two heard Sickles yelling, as he approached, 'You villain! You have dishonored my house! You must die!'
-Sickles pulled a gun from under his clothing and fired at Key. The shot either misfired or went wild, for Key remained unharmed. At this point, Key removed an object, later identified as opera glasses, and flung them at Sickles. Sickles pulled out another gun and fired at Key, this time hitting and wounding him. As Key crawled away, he begged for mercy. Sickles showed none, announcing once more Key's crimes and his deserved punishment. Sickles brandished yet another weapon, and fired the final shot into Key's body. At this point, Butterworth urged Sickles to leave the scene, either to go turn himself in or wait in his home for the police. Some accounts spoke of a fourth gun aimed at Key's head, but not fired. Other's that there was no last gun. Either way, no more shots were fired, and Sickles left the scene. Butterworth retrieved the glasses and gave them to Sickles rather than the police. It was later noted of the irony of the glasses, for they were Key's means of seeing Sickles wife wave a scarf from the second story of her home, signalling it was safe to meet.
-Sickles was apprehended by the police, and brought to jail. He recieved a number of visitors, both from Congress and from general society. He even recieved a note from the President wishing him good luck. The papers followed the story with great detail, both for the content of the story itself but also the key players (no pun intended) in the event. It was a national hit. Everyone was reading about it and hanging on every word. In almost every case, the newspapers sided with Sickles. Pictures of him on his knees in jail begging for remorse and forgiveness won him the sympathy of his peers and the general public. The newspapers said his actions were the 'American' thing to do, that being both his revenge on Key and his kindness toward his wife. He didn't harm her, just took back the wedding ring. This was later restored to Teresa, for her family claimed she was disraught without it. Sickles returend the ring, but the sanctity of the marriage was forever destroyed in his eyes.
Aftermath: -Sickles' case was won from the outset. Not only did he have the papers working on his side, what with presenting him as the broken husband who was merely avenging his name's dishonor, but also the fact that he had Key's own reputation working against him. Key was known in Washington as a ladies' man, one who would rather gamble and ride horses then attend to his law practice. He was regarded as intelligent, but riddled with laziness. He was well-liked, but nonetheless known to be a shady character. When the case finally came to court, there was a good deal of bias already accumulated.
-However, as the case became more sensationalized, it was learned that Sickles lived the life of a rich man, even though he was not. He threw lavish parties, owned a magnificent home, and spent incredible sums of money. It was not possible for him to do so on a Congressional salary and attorney's fees, so it was rumored he was influencing the outcomes of cases for a price. He was accused . . . of using his political connections to rig the outcomes of trials for rich clients in return for a nice fee. In addition to this, the belief arose that his marriage to Teresa was solely because she was pregnant, and that her family suddenly consented so as to prevent shame in the public eye. It seemed as though the battlelines were evening as the case went to trial.
-But, the fact that Sickles was an innocent husband whose wife betrayed him saved him in the end. Between his tears during questioning, the plea of temporary insanity with which the jurors readily agreed, and his wife's written confession to her wrongdoing, the defense had an airtight case. The jury found him not guilty of his crimes, and he was released as a free man. The audience cheered at this announcement, and Sickles was 'the man of the hour.' A simple act of violence to avenge his honor turned him into a national celebrity, and even to his dying day, he refused to admit remorse for killing Key.
Julie's Notes: After having looked at all the available documentation concerning the case of Mr.Sickles, there were still many questions left unanswered. Such questions dealt with the effects that the murder of Mr Key had on his lover, Mrs. Sickles. She was of Italian descent, raised in a Catholic family, and she was quite young when she married Daniel E. Sickles who was at the time in his early thirties. Granted that people were married much younger in the 19th century but what does one know about Mr. Sickles and poor Teresa's love affair before they got married?
In the following site in which The New York Daily Tribune prints facts about the unheard evidence one can only be left to ponder whether or not Mr. Sickles was not trying to get through this affair because he himself had performed just as immorally, dating a 16 year old without her parents' permission and then perhaps finding her pregnant which would suffice to say that her parents had no choice but to allow their marriage, so that no scandal would break out at that point in time. This evidence, however, is of no importance to the jury who at this point in time is comprised of "males" only.
What about Teresa's well-being? Yes, she committed adultery but is that the reason for cold-blooded calculated murder? There is no morality that comes into play here, and this is particularly amusing because the site from which I took a lot of information is titled "A Nation Morality Play." A Morality Play is one in which the immoral acts are made right by doing what is virtuously right. Virtue is not acting on your passions and killing your wife's lover.
The mother of Teresa finally is heard when she pleads with Mr. Sickles to give back Teresa's wedding ring, that they still have a child to care after. Teresa might not make it through this whole ordeal. This situation -- because it involved so many people of high status, such as Teresa's family or Mr. Key's family (his father had written the Star Spangled Banner") and Mr Sickles who had played an important role as friend to Buchanan -- this story flares interest in the humdrum lives of the citizens now living in the United States. Mr. Sickles was a big man; he later went on to serve in the Union Army with U.S.Grant and then as U.S. Ambassador to Spain. This was after his wife had died and he had displeased the new president, President Johnson.
Questions worth discussing: Why was the blame placed entirely on young Teresa? People seemed to think the outcome of her little girl would be effected more by her affair than the fact that her father had cold-bloodedly killed Mr. Key, another man. Things needed to change for women.