Gillham statue’s model, a tale of murder, scandal and madness (and nudity)

We promised you more details on the statue in yesterday’s contest, so here you go.

The model for the female figures in the Eagle Scout Memorial fountain featured in Monday’s contest winner story was herself a story – one of astounding success ruined by murder, scandal and madness.

Audrey Marie Munson was 15 when a photographer saw her on a street in New York City in 1906.

Wikipedia tells her story:

She lived with her mother who had moved to the big city following a divorce. That photographer so stricken with Munson introduced her to a sculptor who persuaded the girl to model for him.

For the next decade she was “the” model for many sculptors and painters in the city and by 1915 Alexander Stirling Calder chose her as a leading model for the Panama-Pacific International Exposition.

In 1916, she moved to California, got involved in the emerging film industry and starred in four silent movies. “Inspiration,” the first of those, was the story of a sculptor’s model and it was the first time a woman appeared fully nude on film.

Audrey Munson. The model for the Eagle Scout Fountain, was also the model for numerous New York statues and was also the first woman to appear nude in a film. Munson is seen here in the 1921 film Heedless Moth. Photo courtesy Wikicommons,

In 1919, Munson returned to New York City with her mother and they were living in a boarding house owned by Dr. Walter Wilkins. The doctor fell in love with her and murdered his wife so he could try to marry Munson.

Munson and her mother had left the city before the murder but police wanted to question them and launched a nationwide hunt. They found them in Canada and the two said they had moved out because the doctor’s wife had asked them to move.

That satisfied the police, but not the public. The scandal ended Munson’s career as a model and actress. By 1920, she could not find work and returned with her mother to the small town where they used to live – Mexico, New York.

Munson sold kitchen utensils door-to-door there for awhile, and in 1922 she swallowed a mercury poison in a suicide attempt. Mercury had been used in making hats and its effects triggered the saying “mad as a hatter.”

It apparently caused that reaction in Munson, who from then on suffered from mental illness and paranoia.

In 1931, a judge ordered her into a mental institution. She was 39 years old then and remained in the institution until she died at age 104, in 1996.

As for Dr. Wilkins, he was sentenced to the electric chair but hanged himself in prison before he was executed.

The public soon forgot about Munson, unless someone told her story as part of her likeness on statues, paintings or murals. Only a single print of one of her films has survived.

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