The city sighs unhappily at the result. No verdict is the worst verdict of all. Conviction has been preferred by those who disbelieve Stokes and Josie or, for one reason or another, admire Fisk. Acquittal suits those who find the Stokes-Mansfield version credible or who think Fisk had it coming. A mistrial yields no satisfaction whatever.
But court watchers in New York are not entirely bereft. Bill Tweed hasn’t committed any capital crimes, so far as investigators of the Tammany ring can tell, yet he has committed innumerable offenses against property and propriety. For years Tweed and the ring have been constructing a new county courthouse for New York, and the longer they have built, the further the work appears from completion and the more money the project absorbs. The projected price tag of a quarter-million dollars has swollen past thirteen million, and the building remains unfinished. Invoices for the work have gradually come to light: $8,000 apiece for windows, $1.5 million for plumbing and lighting fixtures, $500,000 paid to one plasterer for some interior work and then $1 million to the same plasterer to redo the work, $800,000 to a carpenter, lesser sums to several dead men kept on the payroll. The contractors themselves haven’t pocketed the greatest part of this money; most gets kicked back to Tweed and the ring, who have grown immensely wealthy off the public pork.
The grafting attracts attention. Thomas Nast draws pictures for Harper’s Weekly; it was Nast who created the American version of Santa Claus, with rosy cheeks, fat belly, and full beard. And it is Nast who goes after Tweed. The Tammany boss actually does look like Santa Claus, but Nast draws him darker and much more dangerous. The Times, meanwhile, has gathered the story of the courthouse fraud, employing leaks from Tammany insiders who wanted a larger share of the graft. Times publisher George Jones knows a good story when he discovers one, and he releases the tale of the Tweed scandal in several parts, to maximize its effect on circulation.
Tweed and the ring respond by offering Jones a million dollars to kill the story. Jones rejects the offer—and adds it to the story. Tweed offers Thomas Nast half a million, which is likewise spurned. Tweed takes Nast’s rejection harder. “I don’t care a straw for your newspaper articles,” he says. “My constituents don’t know how to read, but they can’t help seeing them damned pictures.”
“Tweed and his gang are doomed,” Governor Samuel Tilden, who has been elected on a catch-the-crooks platform, promises. “Before many days pass it will be made so hot for the arch robber that New York will not hold him.” A grand jury, convened amid the Stokes proceedings, delivers a two-hundred-count indictment against Tweed and the ring. Readers of the New York papers catch the latest developments in the Stokes case one day and in the Tweed case the next. Most know that Tweed consorted with Fisk before the latter’s demise; many guess that the death of the one has made the fall of the other more likely.