Barbara Noe Kennedy
I push back the golden curtains of my guest room to peer outside the floor-to-window picture window. Beneath me, the green hills of Oheka Castle roll into the distance, not a neighbor in sight. I spy a bride, dressed in a tailored lacy dress and immaculately arranged roses the color of baby’s cheeks. Her new husband sips a flute of champagne. It’s not too far a stretch to imagine this scene straight out of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 classic.
Fitzgerald is said to have based his Egg Harbor on the Gold Coast, an exclusive realm on Long Island that still retains effete beauty in its over-the-top gilded mansions, perfectly manicured gardens, and devotion to polo. He lived on Great Neck, after all, between 1922 and 1924 (in a small house, I should add—just as Nick Carraway’s own house was an “eyesore … squeezed between two huge places that rented for twelve or fifteen thousand a season”). I’m determined to soak up every last bit of those gloriously decadent, idealist, excessive Roaring Twenties, and in this corner of the world, that’s easy to do.
Oheka, to this day, remains the second-largest private home in America (after Biltmore in Asheville, North Carolina). Fashioned after Maison Lafayette, the French-style castle is a romantic swirl of sweeping staircases, triangulated roofs, and room after room of European-style elegance. It belonged to German businessman Otto Hermann Kahn, who used it as his summer home, hosting lavish parties with Hollywood celebrities, heads of state, and royalty as guests. And yes, it’s said that Oheka was one of the star inspirations for mansion.
But this isn’t the only Gatsby-esque mansion around. Back then, Long Island was a lonely stretch of farmland, on which between the Civil War and World War II an estimated 1,200 estates were built by tycoons, oil barons, and global financiers—with names like Woolworth, Astor, Guggenheim, Vanderbilt, Frick, and Marjorie Merriweather Post. To this crowd, extravagance was their middle name. This was the sort of place for rich, bored, and privileged, as Tom and Daisy are introduced in the book: “They had spent a year in France, for no particular reason, and then drifted here and there unrestfully wherever people played polo and were rich together.” For us, much of those life and times have been preserved and can be visited.
William K. Vanderbilt II’s Eagle’s Nest estate in Centerport is a prime example. Built by the architects who created Grand Central Terminal, it’s a stunning Spanish Revival abode featuring 24 rooms. Today, it’s a tribute to Jazz Age living, with rooms exactly as William and his wife, Rosamund, left them—filled with priceless art and eclectic artifacts from around the world. There’s also a planetarium with a 60-foot theater.
And then there’s Clayton, the Georgian Revival mansion in Roslyn Harbor that Henry Clay Frick bestowed upon his son as a wedding gift in 1919. Today, it’s the Nassau County of Museum Art, showcasing masterpieces within its gilded walls. As you peer at the glorious paintings, be sure to take in the dentil trim and rich wood paneling. The house is surrounded by 145 acres of landscaped grounds that include formal gardens, a wildflower walk, and an all-around aura of Gilded Age richesse.
Speaking of outdoor splendor, there’s also Old Westbury Gardens, which has been showcased in many movies, including , and It’s a floral extravaganza with rose gardens, a pond, and walled gardens. But the 70-room English country-style manor, once owned by John S. Philpps, is glorious too, with its English antiques, marble fireplaces, and grand ballroom.
And there are so many more Gold Coast mansions that take you back in time, including Coe Hall, where scenes from the remake were shot; Glen Cove Mansion, now a hotel; and Chelsea mansion inside the Muttontown Preserve, the scene of some of that era’s most decadent parties.
But it’s perhaps one unexpected place that truly sets the tone for me. I enter The Jazz Loft in Stony Brook one evening, walking past relics to the Jazz Age in the downstairs museum: brass instruments, hand-written sheet music, an early watercolor of Dizzy Gillepsie. The distant strains of music beckon me, and I follow them, up the boldly painted stairs. The entire second floor is set up as an intimate listening hall, with tables and chairs positioned to view a small stage. A bar crouches in the back corner, where I sidle for a red wine—though in this setting, I should be drinking a Sidecar or Old-Fashioned.
The Ken Peplowski Duo—deemed the greatest living jazz clarinetist in the world— is playing a joyful swing, and I sit back and sip my drink and let the sounds of bygone years envelop me. I expect Great Gatsby himself to step into the room. Or at least Scott and Zelda.
A photo may have captured the spirit of the socialite who inspired F. Scott Fitzgerald’s character Daisy Buchanan.
Private chef Kristie Ranieri took a photo recently at the now-dilapidated former summer home of Ginevra King in Lake Forest, Illinois, and in the chilling picture is an image that appears to look like the owner.
King was a former lover of the acclaimed American author and is said to be the basis of Daisy in Fitzgerald’s 1925 masterpiece “The Great Gatsby.” Daisy was Gatsby's love interest in the book.
King and Fitzgerald were involved in 1915 when she was just 16, but two years later she left the author and married into a wealthy Chicago family.
Ranieri is convinced the image in her picture is King, who she said continues to haunt her former home after her 1980 death.
“I walked around it with my husband [Michael] and took some pictures,” she told SWNS. “Michael was going through the pictures that night, zooming into the windows to see if he could see the interiors and that’s when he spotted her face.
"We definitely got chills. Neither of us believed in ghosts, but we were really freaked out. I knew what Ginevra King looked like because I’m interested in local history and she grew up in this area. When I saw that picture, I immediately Googled her and we both agreed it has to be her.”
The couple went back to the mansion, which was built in 1905 and has 14 rooms, to see if King was still there.
“We rushed back to see if we could spot her again but of course she was gone,” Ranieri recalled. “I want to talk to some experts in this field and I want to let the local ghost hunters know. I imagine this will now become a spot on the ghost hunting trail. I was a skeptic before, but seeing that image, I know that it is her ghost looking down.”
The mansion was part of a 47-acre estate belonging to the King family and was used as their summer home. The estate, known as Kingdom Come, was sold to a developer in 2016, who hopes to find a buyer for it. The home has sat vacant for more than a decade.
By Ethan McLeod
October 25, 2018
In January, someone reached out to the Mid-Atlantic Regional Moving Image Archive, Hagan’s film-preserving nonprofit, searching for footage of their grandfather, who’d worked at one of the estates of famed literary couple F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. The duo, who lived in Baltimore for five years during the 1930s, were the subjects of the posthumous biographical documentary “Marked for Glory,” produced and screened by WJZ-TV in 1963.
As the inheritor of the station’s archives, MARMIA might have the record somewhere. Hagan knew about the documentary but had never seen it herself, as copies are rare and far-flung. She sent a volunteer in to dig around.
They never did find footage of the requester’s grandfather, Hagan said, but in March, after about 30 minutes of searching, her volunteer did locate a curious, lone canister of nitrate film, an early (not to mention dangerously combustible) medium not in mass use since the 1940s.
“Return to Mrs. Lanahan Scott Fitzgerald,” read a label on the can, an apparent reference to Scott and Zelda’s daughter Frances Scott, known also as “Scottie.” Scottie Fitzgerald’s first husband was named Jack Lanahan. Also inside: a paper referencing B-roll (supplemental footage without sound) scenes, and both Zelda and Scott by name.
Hagan took the footage to Rockville-based Colorlab to have it digitized. The clips on it are short scenes: a smiling woman strides toward the camera; another flirtingly picks up and strums a ukulele, with palm trees and greenery in the background; a pair of smartly dressed ladies scold a taxi driver and appear to steal his car (almost certainly staged) in front of two men who’ve just walked out of a nearby building. One of the men flashes a grin at the camera.
Hagan noticed one of the women appearing across multiple clips. Could it be Zelda? she wondered.
“I’ve been poring over photos of her being like, Is that her? There are definitely moments when I’m like, Oh, that could be her, and other moments when I look at a photo like, It could not be.”
If it is, MARMIA’s discovery could be a big find.
“There’s very little footage of Zelda,” said Alaina Doten, historian and curator of the F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald Museum in Zelda’s birthplace of Montgomery, Alabama. Some of the only other known video of her comes from the French Riviera, sitting with Scott at a table, or at the home of their friends, the wealthy expats Gerald and Sara Murphy, the historian said.
After Colorlab and MARMIA recently posted the footage, included below, to Instagram, a friend forwarded it to me–and so began a seemingly endless effort to pin down whether this could really be her. I reached out to what wound up being roughly a half-dozen scholars, along with Scott and Zelda’s granddaughter, to weigh in on the discovery.
The first expert I contacted was hopeful, but dismissive.
“I wish it were [Zelda], but it doesn’t really look like her in the face,” wrote Kirk Curnutt, a professor and chair of the English department at Troy University in Montgomery.
Curnutt put me on an email thread with two other Fitzgerald experts to weigh in. Both were equally dubious, saying the woman’s facial features or physical build discount her from being Zelda.
But just to be certain–few experts are, I found–I reached out to others with expertise on the literary celebrities’ lives. Some were excited upon spotting who they believe to be Zelda as one of the cab “thieves,” or among the two women standing and posing toward the end of the footage. A few even theorized others depicted in the film are gilded Hollywood company during the 1920s.
The enigmatic literary couple’s granddaughter sees it.
“That first clip of a woman walking toward the camera certainly looks like Zelda,” Eleanor Lanahan, a filmmaker, artist and writer living in Vermont, wrote in an email. “And Zelda did have slender ankles. I even recognize her rosebud mouth.”
She pointed also to the last clip showing two women, one wearing a striped blouse and holding a hat. Zelda’s seen with the same two articles in this 1927 photo of her, Scott and others in Hollywood, Lanahan noted.
“She is probably Zelda,” she said, with a caveat: “But it’s impossible to tell.”
Several of the scholars I talked to see traces of Zelda in the cab-commandeering scene. (Lanahan notably does not, making the case that the woman’s nose is too straight and her cheeks too round to be her grandmother).
Park Bucker, professor of English at the University of South Carolina-Sumter, spots “a very strong resemblance.” And the behavior–giddily telling off a cab driver and pretending to steal his car–seems like that of Zelda: “It certainly is the type of thing that she would have done, staging this type of thing.”
“I’ve seen lots of pictures of Zelda, obviously, and that woman could very easily be Zelda,” added Jackson Bryer, professor emeritus at the University of Maryland’s Department of English.
Doten pointed also to the golf dress and beret that the woman is wearing as she climbs in and out of the passenger seat, and in a subsequent clip in which she’s posing. “Zelda was a very avid golfer at that time and competed in golf tournaments,” and the attire makes it “entirely plausible” it’s her, she said.
The Fitzgeralds first visited Europe in 1921, and later moved there for nearly two years from 1924 to 1926, spending much of their time in France. MARMIA’s found footage suggests warmer climes, however, given the palm trees in the background.
The edge code on the nitrate film, along with details from Scott’s ledger, hints that this may be a record of the Fitzgeralds visiting Hollywood. The code says the film was manufactured in 1926, and the material was expensive enough at the time that someone would typically use it within a year or two, Hagan said.
Scott wrote in his ledger, which he used in part to catalog people and places he’d visited, that they went to California in January and February of 1927–his first stint attempting screenwriting in Hollywood, which Fitzgerald scholar Anne Margaret Daniel has described as “a fiasco.”
Bucker noted this was the same trip where Scott met actress Lois Moran, who inspired Rosemary Hoyt in his later novel, “Tender is the Night,” and whose relationship with Scott sowed bitter tension in his and Zelda’s marriage. He also met Irving Thalberg, a heralded film producer who co-founded MGM, where Scott went on to work briefly a decade later.
“It’s a really, really important two months,” Bucker said.
The names Scott calls out in the ledger are brag-worthy for Hollywood at the time: Hitchcock; the Barrymores; Richard Barthelmess; Patsy Ruth Miller; Morans; and Lillian Gish and Carmel Myers.
It’s possible that those last two, both famous silent film actresses in the genre’s heyday, made cameos in the found footage. Gish resembles the playful ukulele performer, and Myers the driver in the “stolen” cab.
Bucker noted also that both Zelda and Scott called out to Gish in their co-authored 1934 short story “Show Mr. and Mrs. F to Number—”: “A thoughtful limousine carried us for California hours to be properly moved by the fragility of Lillian Gish, too aspiring for life, clinging vine-like to occultisms.”
Independently of one another, Bryer and Doten ventured the same guess as to the identity of the bespectacled man seen walking out of the house before the cab “theft.”
“The man that they’re saying goodbye to, it almost looks like Louis B. Mayer,” said Bryer, referring to the other co-founder of MGM Studios.
Doten highlighted the resemblance to Mayer, comparing photos with the still. She even speculated that the man walking with him could be Scott himself, albeit with little other detail than this: “You can’t see the man’s face, but it bears a strong resemblance to how he would hold his cigarette up with one hand, and his other hand in his pocket.” (For what it’s worth, Lanahan said she thinks he’s “just a little too stoutly built to be him, unfortunately.”)
“This might be reel from them visiting MGM,” Doten said. “My best guess is this is possibly Hollywood footage.”
Still from footage, courtesy of Mid-Atlantic Regional Moving Image Archive
Scott and Zelda returned to the East Coast from Hollywood in March of 1927, according to his transcribed ledger. They settled briefly in Delaware, renting a mansion called Ellerslie along the Delaware River, near Wilmington, for two years until they moved abroad once again to Europe.
The pair returned to the States again in 1931, first moving to Montgomery, and thereafter here to Baltimore with their daughter, Scottie, in 1932. Since diagnosed with schizophrenia, Zelda entered into the Johns Hopkins Hospital’s Phipps Psychiatric Clinic. Their first home was in Towson, but it caught fire (rumored to have been started by Zelda) and the Fitzgeralds wound up at 1307 Park Avenue in Bolton Hill. It was there that Scott finished and published “Tender is the Night” to poor reviews, albeit with posthumous success.
Joan Hellman, who taught English and developmental reading at the Community College of Baltimore County for 30 years, specializes in the Fitzgeralds’ “Baltimore years.” Hellman also received the lone copy of WJZ’s documentary on the couple from the station’s former editorial director, the late Gwinn Owens, and had it transferred to videotape. She said she made copies and sent one to Princeton University’s special collection on F. Scott Fitzgerald. She also kept one for herself, and sent one to Owens’ family. I’ve asked if she would allow me to view her copy.
Hagan, who’s tried multiple times to reach the Fitzgerald estate and is now in touch with Lanahan via email, said she hopes the found footage can help MARMIA to eventually recreate the WJZ documentary on film. Right now, the nonprofit only has pieces of “Marked for Glory” in its archives.
“I’m still so curious who took the film,” she told me. “Was it for a news reel? Was it because they’re in Hollywood hanging out with a bunch of filmmakers, maybe they have a bunch of 35 mm hanging around? I still have questions about the purpose of the film.”
Hellman, who’s seen the documentary, is convinced it’s not Zelda in the footage.
“I have seen actual film of Zelda (before her illness) and she did not act like these ladies in my estimation,” Hellman said in an email. Zelda’s build would be “a bit ‘hippy'” at that point compared to the more slender woman shown in the footage, Hellman added, as she would have already had Scottie.
Margaret Galambos, a Fitzgerald Society member and former Johns Hopkins University Press staff member, agrees.
“I would say this is definitely not Zelda,” Galambos wrote. She nodded to the attire that Doten had highlighted, noting the “only resemblance being possible clothing style.” However, the woman is “too perky for Zelda at that time,” and her facial features aren’t a match, she said.
Curnutt, of Troy University, concurred in a follow-up message. “I feel very confident in saying that’s not her,” he wrote to Baltimore Fishbowl. “She had a much more distinctive face than the woman in the passenger seat, even when her face was fuller before she lost so much weight in the early 30s.”
All of the academics who believe it’s Zelda hedged that it’s impossible to know 100 percent so many years later, even if they can see her in the images. Still, Bucker of USC-Sumter points to the documentation that came with the found canister as an assurance. “You can very strongly say that this is probably, certainly from Scottie Fitzgerald’s archives.”
And it’s not always that simple with old images, particularly of Zelda, he noted. “The weird thing about Zelda Fitzgerald, she looks different in every picture. It’s hard to pick her out sometimes.”
Tucked away a few blocks from Alabama State University sits a brown paneled house dotted with red brick. A large magnolia tree roots itself in the front yard and you can hear the songbirds chirping away. Serene and peaceful, this home played a large part in modern American literature as the home of Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald in 1931 and 1932. And because of Airbnb, you too can experience a night in the home of one of our time’s greatest authors.
For only $150 dollars a night, guests can stay in the apartment above the F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald Museum in Montgomery, Alabama.
Sarah McCullough, trail director of the Southern Literary Trail shares that it’s the only home open to the public for overnight says and “It’s a wonderful opportunity for travelers”. The rentals began back in April, and while the Fitzgerald Museum director Sara Powell was worried guests would throw “Gatsby-style” parties, most guests are visiting and spending the night with great love for the writer and respect the accommodation.
The house, which was built in 1910, was where writer F. Scott Fitzgerald penned “Save Me The Waltz” and “Tender Is The Night,” while living in the home. They stayed in the home, which was only a mile from Zelda’s childhood home, for a short while before she was hospitalized for the second time. After moving out the home was converted into four separate apartments, one of which guests have the chance to rent.
The home is decorated in casual 20th-century style and includes two bedrooms, a full kitchen and bath, living room, dining room, and spacious sun porch. There are little bits of the jazz age couple throughout the home, including pillows embroidered with quotes from Zelda. But don’t worry, the former home has all modern amenities, including wi-fi.
All the couple’s historic artifacts can be found in the museum downstairs, which guests get a complimentary tour of.
Before you go make sure to check the listing over at Airbnb since dates tend to sell out quickly.
By Bethany Davis |
MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - In the midst of renovations, leaders at the F. Scott & Zelda Fitzgerald Museum uncovered wallpaper, still on the walls, that dates back to the early 1900′s.
“We found up to 10 different patterns,” said Sara Powell, Executive Director of the museum.
The museum recently completed renovations to one of the upstairs apartments, and put it up for rent on Airbnb. It was in the process of renovating the other upstairs apartment, when a reporter from the New York Times stopped by and the discovery was made.
“She asked us to remove a picture from the wall, and it just happened to peel a little piece of paint. Behind the paint we noticed a little hexagon pattern, so that started the process,” Powell explained. “We ended up peeling the whole wall and finding a whole wall of historic wallpaper.”
In the midst of renovations, leaders at the F. Scott & Zelda Fitzgerald Museum uncovered wallpaper, still on the walls, that dates back to the early 1900′s.
The house on Felder Avenue in Old Cloverdale was built in 1909, and some of the wallpaper is believed it could have been original to the house.
“The fact that we’ve been able to uncover this amount and the way it’s been preserved over this amount of time is really incredible,” remarked Powell. “We’ve gotten repeating patterns on all of them, we’ve gotten enough out of each one that we’re able to digitally have a visual of that, so we’re hoping we can digitally reproduce them as well even if we’re not able to restore all of the pieces that we found so far.”
Powell expects this discovery will ramp up the preservation efforts. This is just the first step in more than a million dollars in restoration ahead of the museum.
“We’ve got structural issues that we’re starting to have challenges with. We’re starting with the roof, that should be coming up in the next few months. Then we go to harder things like the foundation. But our goal is the preserve the downstairs floor as it was when Scott and Zelda lived here. And to maintain the apartments as they’ve been, but to keep doing airbnb and residencies primarily. We’d love scholars and writers to be able to come and stay in this space.”
This discovery also ramps up the effort to get the F. Scott & Zelda Fitzgerald Museum on the National Historic Registry. Getting the museum on a national registry will open up national funding for the F. Scott & Zelda Fitzgerald museum.
The F. Scott & Zelda Fitzgerald Museum recently completed renovations to one of the upstairs apartments, and put it up for rent on Airbnb. (Source: WSFA 12 News)
F. Scott Fitzgerald, perhaps best known for writing "The Great Gatsby", lived in the home with his wife Zelda. It’s believed he wrote portions of two other novels, "Tender is the Night" and "Save Me the Waltz", inside the house. The couple led something of a "gypsy" lifestyle. Their average residence in any of their "homes" was only about 5 months.
The F. Scott & Zelda Museum is regularly open to the public, and holds an open house every year around Christmas. Fans have the opportunity to visit, and then stay the night.
To learn more, and book a stay, visit thefitzgeraldmuseum.org/airbnb.html
“To be a space that you can actually experience Montgomery, walk through the neighborhoods, live as Scott and Zelda lived in the 30′s, is really fantastic,” Powell described. “We have records and books in the apartments. People kind of unplug and unwind, and that’s our goal, is just to kind of disconnect.”