The novel memorably begins, "It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs..." Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were killed, by electric chair, on June 19, 1953, 56 years ago today. It was major news making event, as Esther Greenwood relates in the novels second sentence, "The idea of being electrocuted makes me sick, and that's all there was to read about in the papers -- goggle-eyed headlines staring up at me on every street corner..."
The day of the execution, Plath typed a journal fragment (likely while working). Strangely, her Mademoiselle schedule was completely open that day: no meetings, tours, events, etc. The journal begins, "All right, so the headlines blare the two of them are going to killed at eleven o'clock tonight." (541) She discusses reading journalist reports about the electrocutions and what happens, so much so that she is "sick at the stomach." (541)
The day after the execution, June 20, Plath would have seen these images below staring at her from the front page of the New York Times.
The headline read:
ROSENBERGS EXECUTED AS ATOM SPIES
AFTER SUPREME COURT VACATES STAY;
LAST-MINUTE PLEA TO PRESIDENT FAILS
Also on June 20, Plath saw the Detroit Tigers play the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium, where she was photographed with Mel Allen, and attended a dance at a tennis club, probably the West Side Tennis Club, in Forest Hills, Queens.
By the way, on Thursday, June 11, Sylvia Plath met disc jockey Art Ford (aka Lenny "This is your twelve o'clock disc jock...with a roundup of the tops in pops" Shepherd).
Image courtesy of Life.
The Sylvia Plath materials held at the Lilly Library, Indiana University, Bloomington, contain Plath's letters, schedules, and other important documents from this experience. They also hold letters written to her that month from people like Richard Norton, as well as calendars that detail what she did.