BBQ Sauce Jar

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Object No. 86 of 100

[The auction for this Significant Object, with story by (Slate contest winner) Matthew J. Wells, has ended. Original price: 75 cents. Final price: $54.]

Booth 106 was the regular table of Evelyn Nesbit — it’s where she was introduced to Charles Dana Gibson, who used her as the model for his famous Gibson Girl drawings; it’s where she met the young John Barrymore, who became her lover and got her pregnant twice (once in the booth itself and once in his apartment); it’s where she was introduced to architect Stanford White by fellow Floradora Girl Edna Goodrich; and it’s where she met her future husband Harry Thaw, who murdered White at Madison Square Garden on June 25, 1906.

Originally surrounded by red velvet drapes, the booth is now open and unlit. On the wall is a photo of Nesbit from her Gibson Girl days and beneath it, on a small shelf, is a little jar labeled “BAR-B-Q Sauce.” The jar was originally purchased by Nesbit as a gift for White — whenever White would meet her for dinner, he would order ribs, and she paid the waiters to always keep the small jar full of sauce at the table for White’s special use. Very special, according to suppressed trial testimony after his murder — allegedly, the ribs weren’t the only things White covered in barbecue sauce behind those drapes.

After White’s death, Booth 106 was roped off as a sign of mourning, a RESERVED sign was placed on the table, and per Evelyn Nesbit’s wishes, once a week the bartender would refill the BAR-B-Q jar, as if in preparation for White’s eventual return. The table went empty for almost two years (not even Nesbit sat at it), until the afternoon of January 5, 1908, when Harry Thaw sailed into the Naughty Pine, plunked himself down at Booth 106, ripped up the RESERVED sign, tore down the red velvet curtains, draped them around his body like a winding sheet, and demanded a shave. When told that he was in a bar and not a barber shop, Thaw cried, “Then I’ll do it myself,” whereupon he pulled out a straight razor, stropped it on his leather belt, and taking the BAR-B-Q jar, proceeded to slop sauce all over his face as if it were shaving cream. Then, pretending to stare into a mirror, he gave himself a blood-soaked shave while humming “I Could Love A Million Girls,” the song that had been playing when he shot White in the face.

“You must be a lunatic,” said one of the waiters. Thaw just smiled at him. His first trial for the murder of Stanford White had ended in a deadlocked jury; but the next day, when his second trial began, he pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.


NOTE: This story was also published at Read more about this winning entry, and the runners-up, here.


Matthew J. Wells, a playwright based in New York, triumphed over 600+ entrants in a Significant Objects fiction contest hosted by His plays have been performed at the Magic Theatre in San Francisco and the Ensemble Studio Theatre in New York, and he can be found online at A Likely Story.

9 thoughts on “BBQ Sauce Jar

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  2. Good story and very well written…but isn’t it kind of against the mission statement of this project to use actual people and events? The Significance isn’t invented through pure fiction, it’s just borrows its Significance from actual people and events in a ficticious way. You can make anything more interesting just by saying it was used by/beloged to something or someone famous or infamous, in this case.

  3. Several writers have used real people, and I definitely think it’s okay to use real events, if the object’s role is fictionalized. (Which it would have to be, given that none of what we’re selling has any verifiable Significance that we know of.) Mimi Lipson’s story involved Andy Warhol, Kurt Andersen’s involved James Dean, Lucinda Roselfeld’s included Norman Rockwell, and I’m sure there are others I’m forgetting. In this case, the sort of backdrop is historic, but I don’t think that, say, Nesbit actually bought White a Bar-B-Que Sauce jar.

    That’s my perspective, anyway…

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