Crime Of The Century Ragtime

admin 11/22/2021
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  5. Crime Of The Century Ragtime Broadway

2/1/18 – 3/1/18

Here, for your orchestra, are the high points: RAGTIME, YOUR DADDY'S SON, BUFFALO NICKEL PHOTOPLAY, INC., THE CRIME OF THE CENTURY, and WHEELS OF A DREAM. With a national company tour already begun, millions will share the excitement. Here is Lauren Teruya's performance from the musical Ragtime 'The Crime of the Century'. Performed at DHT's Sneak Peek of the 2017-2018 Season.

“Because like all whores you value propriety. You are creature of capitalism, the ethics of which are so totally corrupt and hypocritical that your beauty is no more than the beauty of gold, which is to say false and cold and useless.” (Doctorow Ch. 8)


Ragtime by E.L. Doctrow opens with an introduction to a generic, white, upper class family in the early 1900s, consisting of members such as Mother, Father, Grandfather, Little Boy, and Mother’s Younger Brother. Doctorow writes,

“Trains and steamers and trolleys moved them from one place to another. That was the style, that was the way people lived. Women were stouter then. They visit the fleet carrying white parasols. Everyone wore white in summer. Tennis racquets were hefty and the racquet faces elliptical. There was a lot of sexual fainting. There were no Negroes. There were no immigrants.” (Ch. 1)

It is introduced that Mother’s Younger Brother has become infatuated with Evelyn Nesbit, a woman who is the center of a scandal involving her husband and her late lover. Harry Houdini is dissatisfied with his social standing and yearns to be accepted into the upper class. Houdini’s car breaks down and he pays a short visit to the family. The Little Boy tells Houdini to “warn the duke!” Father is leaving to go on an expedition to the North Pole with Peary, and is leaving his firework business in the care of Mother and Mother’s Younger Brother.

The next storyline that the reader is introduced to is that of an immigrant family from Eastern Europe. The family members are identified as Mameh, Tateh, and the Little Girl. The family passes Father’s ship as they enter Ellis Island, and quickly find themselves as residents of a tenement house. The family quickly becomes disenfranchised with the American dream, living in conditions of extreme poverty. Mameh decides to engage in prostitution in a desperate attempt to help her family, but is exiled when Tateh learns what she has done.

The Little Girl becomes sick, and Tateh becomes frustrated that his silhouette business cannot support them. Evelyn Nesbit is driving through the Lower East Side when she notices the Little Girl, and she immediately becomes obsessed with the Little Girl’s beauty. Evelyn begins making regular visits to Tateh, who refuses to talk to Evelyn unless she is paying for her portrait out of pride. Mother’s Younger Brother begins following Evelyn without her knowledge, and Evelyn cares more closely for the Little Girl.

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Tateh invites Evelyn to attend a socialist meeting where Emma Goldman is scheduled to speak. Goldman is an anarchist, and identifies Evelyn in her audience and insults Evelyn’s use of sexuality in order to gain status in regard to her infamous marriage. Tateh separates himself and the Little Girl from Evelyn upon hearing this, and Evelyn is soothed by Emma Goldman later in Tateh’s vacant apartment.

Evelyn begins a sexual relationship with Mother’s Younger Brother, and back in New Rochelle, Mother saves a black baby whose mother attempted to bury him alive. Mother decides to take the baby as well as his mother, Sarah, under her care. Tateh and the Little Girl decide to leave New York, taking the trains as far as they possibly can. Houdini learns how to fly planes, demonstrating his new skill to the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Countess Sophie. Father returns from his expedition, and begins to feel separated from his family members that seem to have changed considerably since his departure. Mother’s Younger Brother loses Evelyn to another man, and finds new meaning through the building of explosives.

Tateh and the Little Girl take part in a worker’s strike in Massachusetts, but when the strike breaks out in chaos and law enforcement, the two board another train and head to Philadelphia. In Philadelphia, a store owner offers to buy a book of Tateh’s silhouettes.

A black man named Coalhouse Walker drives into New Rochelle in a Model T Ford. He approaches the family in New Rochelle and asks to see Sarah, the black woman that Mother has taken in. Sarah tells Mother that she doesn’t want to see Coalhouse.

“Mother went back downstairs and found the fellow not at the back door but in the kitchen where, in the warmth of the corner near the cookstove, Sarah’s baby lay sleeping in his carriage. It was a wicker carriage on four wooden tapered spoke wheels and it had a faded upholstery of blue satin with a plush roll. Her own son had slept in it and her brother before him. The black man was kneeling beside the carriage and staring at the child. Mother, not thinking clearly, was suddenly outraged that he had presumed to come in the door. Sarah is unable to see you, she said, and she held the door open. The colored man took another glance at the child, rose, thanked her and departed.” (Ch. 21)

Coalhouse returns to New Rochelle the following Sunday with the same request, and Sarah rejects him again. Soon, the family begins to expect Coalhouse’s regular visits to see Sarah. Father feels a degree of indignation at Coalhouse’s visits, but Mother finds the whole affair romantic. Finally Sarah agrees to see Coalhouse, and Coalhouse promptly proposes marriage, to which Sarah accepts.

Later, one day as Coalhouse is driving to New Rochelle, Coalhouse is stopped by volunteers from the firehouse.

“The volunteers…advised him that he was traveling on a private toll road and that he could not drive on without paying of twenty-five dollars or by presenting a pass indicating that he was a resident of the city. This is a public thoroughfare, Walker said, I’ve traveled it dozen of times and no one has ever said anything about a toll.” (Ch, 23)

Coalhouse decides to leave his car and find aid for himself by foot. He tells a couple of black children playing nearby to watch his car while he is gone. When Coalhouse returns he finds his car utterly demolished.

“The fire engine and horses were withdrawn. The road was empty of volunteers and his car stood off the road in the field. He made his way to the car. It was spattered with mud. There was a six-inch tear in the custom pantasote top. And deposited in the back seat was a mound of fresh human excrement.” (Ch. 23)

Coalhouse begins a quest to find justice. Coalhouse quickly becomes frustrated as lawyers refuse to represent him and the police remain complacent. Coalhouse tells Sarah that he won’t marry her until the matter is resolved justly. Sarah, in an act of desperation, choses to approach Taft’s vice president at a public event in an effort to plea on Coalhouse’s behalf. But, when Sarah approaches Taft’s vice president, she is hit down by the secret service and soon dies.

Coalhouse vows revenge, and turns to murder and arsonry. Coalhouse and a group of his followers blow up the firehouse, killing four people. Mother’s Younger Brother leaves the family to join Coalhouse, dressing in black face to blend in with the rest of Coalhouse’s gang. Father finds himself respected in the police investigation of Coalhouse, but the family ultimately decide to leave New Rochelle to avoid public scrutiny from the press.

The family moves to Atlantic City, and Mother finds herself more sexually liberated and less traditional the more time that she spends on the beach. Mother and Father drift farther apart, and Mother becomes enamored with a Baron who is revealed to actually be Tateh.

Ragtime Movie

Coalhouse breaks into JP Morgan’s library, with the original intention of holding Morgan as hostage, only to find that Morgan is overseas at the time of the attack. The police send in Booker T. Washington in an attempt to convince Coalhouse to give up his criminal activities. Coalhouse, who respects Washington, agrees to change his demands to simply the restoration of his car, rather than additionally demanding the life of the police chief. Washington doesn’t recognize this modification to Coalhouse’s demands, but Father, who has returned to New Rochelle, does. Coalhouse and the police agree the safe escape of Coalhouse’s followers, and Coalhouse gives himself up to the police and is then shot.

Father dies aboard the Lusitania,and Mother and Tateh marry a year later.


Mother: The matriarch of the family in New Rochelle, initially very traditional.

Crime of the century ragtime lyrics

Father: The patriarch of the family in New Rochelle. Traditional throughout the novel. Interest in exploration.

Little Boy: Son of Mother and Father. Very intelligent.

Mother’s Younger Brother: Obsession with Evelyn Nesbit. Later affiliation with explosives and Coalhouse Walker.

Tateh: Jewish immigrant who struggles to find success in America.

Little Girl: Tateh’s daughter. Very beautiful.

Coalhouse Walker: Ragtime pianist who is in love with Sarah.

Sarah: An african american woman who is taken in by Mother.

Overall Thoughts & Review

The opening of the Ragtime Musical is immediately what I think of when I think about this novel. Ragtime is one of the few novels that I’ve read with a distinct rhythm and almost musical quality to the language. Doctorow masterfully intertwines the pacing of the time period into his writing style, and one feels the beat of ragtime music in the story without having to look up Scott Joplin at all.

I saw the Ragtime Musical when I was in eighth grade, and distinctly remember the opening number leaving me nearly breathless. I actually was only able to see the first half of the play at the time, but always remembered the profound effect of the larger than life music and characters. Resultantly, I was very excited to pick up the book by E.L. Doctorow that the musical was based on.

Ragtime follows a large cast of characters, interwoven with historical figures. The novel paints a vivid picture of America during the turn of the century, and captures a wide breadth of perspectives that existed in the time period. The novel is very plot heavy, with many things happening in each chapter and many different storylines for different characters, so if you are a reader that really likes fast paced novels with intricate plots and succinct prose, this novel may be for you.

I enjoyed reading Ragtime, but the novel personally felt a bit overwhelming at times in the number of things that were happening at once on top of the historical context. As someone who is currently studying American History, I thought that Ragtime really enriched my understanding of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era, and for it’s elaboration of history, I really enjoyed it.

I also appreciated Doctorow’s musings on the nature of American success and whether it is really possible, a theme he demonstrates through the characters of Tateh, Coalhouse, and Houdini. All three struggle with acceptance and ambition as they work for an equal seat with the upper class, Tateh being the only one who really manages it successfully, and only after nearly giving up on it all completely. Coalhouse’s crusade for justice was specifically interesting as it raised many important questions on the nature of African American protest, and whether or not racial justice is even possible.

Ragtime is a full of explicit sexual content, so if that is something that might deter you as a reader, I might not recommend this novel. Also, if you are a reader who enjoys longer prose and flowery descriptions, you might not like Ragtime.

Rating: 3.5/5


This one’s late too, but the SAT is finally over so I hope to get back to posting on schedule.

Like for like. Comment for Comment.

I hope you have an amazing week and tune in next week for my next review. Happy reading!


Ragtime is a musical with a book by Terrence McNally, lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, and music by Stephen Flaherty. The music includes marches, catwalks, gosepel and ragtime and the production is mostly sung-through.


Crime Of The Century Ragtime Lyrics

  • 'And although the newspapers called the shooting the Crime of the Century, Goldman knew it was only 1906'
    '...and there were 94 years to go!'
  • 'But what of the people who stay where they're put,
    Planted like flowers with roots underfoot?
    I know some of those people have hearts that would rather
    Go journeying on the sea.'
    • Mother
  • 'There was a time
    Our happiness seemed never-ending
    I was so sure
    That where we were heading was right
    Life was a road
    So certain and straight and unbending
    Our little road
    With never a cross road in sight
    Back in the days
    When we spoke in civilized voices
    Women in white
    And sturdy young men at the oar
    Back in the days
    When I let you make all my choices...
    We can never go back to before '
  • 'Two men finding, for a moment, in the darkness,
    They're the same.'
    • Father and Tateh
  • 'You and your music, singing deep within me, making nice to me, saying something so new. Play that melody, your sweet melody, calling my heart to you.'
    • Sarah
  • 'He wanted to say, I am sick of the injustices. He wanted to say, give me something to believe! In my sould I am your brother, we are bound to one another, angered by the darkness in light, and the lies we perceive.'
    • Emma
  • 'And her words rang out
    like arrows
    and they pierced him.
    He felt flushed and
    overheated as a boy
    as she filled and
    overwhelmed him
    with a fierce and sudden joy!'
    • Mother's Younger Brother
  • 'This is not the America he came here for. None of us did. None of us!'
  • 'In the gutters of the city
    I have tried to find some meaning
    In the arms of fallen women
    In the thought of suicide
    Like a firework, unexploded,
    Wanting life but never knowing how...'

Crime Of The Century Lyrics Ragtime

  • 'And say to those who blame us for the way we chose to fight
    That sometimes there are battles that are more than black or white
    And Icould not put down my sword when justice was my right.'
  • 'There are people out there
    Unafraid of revealing
    That they might have a feeling
    Or they might have been wrong
    There are people out there
    Unafraid to feel sorrow
    Unafraid of tomorrow
    Unafraid to be weak..
    Unafraid to be strong!'
  • 'With guns and dynamite, you are destroying everything I have fought for, sir.'
  • 'Your situation is hopeless. And you will be responsible for the death of these young men.'
  • 'You can't change your demands. You are betraying us. You said we would all go free or we all would die!'
  • 'Then they will see me come out with my hands raised, and no further harm will come to any man from Coalhouse Walker, Jr.'

External links[edit]

  • Encyclopedic article on Ragtime (musical) at Wikipedia

Crime Of The Century Ragtime Broadway

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