LLR Books

A Daisy of a House

Ginevra King, the model for The Great Gatsby’s Daisy Buchanan, spent her youth in this Lake Forest house that is now for sale.


One of Chicago’s significant literary landmarks, the Lake Forest home of the self-possessed society belle who was F. Scott Fitzgerald’s first love and the model for the radiantly self-centered Daisy Buchanan in his novel The Great Gatsby, is for sale for the first time in more than 50 years.
The house dates back to 1905, when the architect Howard Van Doren Shaw, who designed many North Shore manors, built the place as a summer getaway for Charles B. King, a prosperous Chicago banker. Shaw gave the house broad overhangs to shade the four family bedrooms and a curvaceous main staircase that winds around the perimeter of a grand foyer. Eventually the place passed on to King’s son, Charles G. King, a wealthy stockbroker, who called the house and its 50 acres Kingdom Come Farm.
In 1915, King’s daughter Ginevra was a 16-year-old beauty, one of Chicago’s “Big Four” debutantes, visiting St. Paul, Minnesota. There she met and became, in her words, “dipped about” Scott Fitzgerald, then a student at Princeton. Their romance, conducted primarily through their letters to each other, lasted about two years, according to The Perfect Hour, a book about their relationship by James L. W. West III, a professor of English at Penn State.
Although the pair got together mainly on the East Coast, where they were both in school, Fitzgerald visited Lake Forest twice, in June 1915 and in August 1916. West couldn’t say definitively that Fitzgerald set foot on Kingdom Come Farm, only that he “stayed with a wealthy relative who lived in Lake Forest, but it seems reasonable he would have visited Ginevra in her house.”
Regardless of whether he saw the house, Fitzgerald went on to immortalize Ginevra—who abruptly broke up with the middle-class Minnesotan to marry a rich Chicago boy—in The Great Gatsby. She is widely acknowledged as a significant inspiration for Daisy Buchanan, the fragile goddess from Louisville who tossed over the striving Jay Gatsby to marry the rich Chicagoan Tom Buchanan.
Toward the end of his life, Fitzgerald—who died of a heart attack in 1940, only 44 years old—continued to refer to Ginevra as “the love of my youth.” Ginevra died in 1980, when she was 82. (Coincidentally, the mansion where Ginevra lived with Bill Mitchell, her first husband, is also for sale; the 14-room house, where Ginevra lived from 1918 until her divorce in 1939, sits on five acres in east Lake Forest and is listed at $6.5 million with Koenig & Strey GMAC.)
In 1954, the Chicago businessman Frank Reilly and his wife, Antoinette, bought the Kingdom Come Farm property from its third owners, at about the same time that littérateurs anointed Gatsby, initially only a modest success, a Great American Novel. The Reillys knew of the connection to Fitzgerald, but “they didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about it,” says their son, Dennis, a 68-year-old retired physicist now living in Boston. With both parents now dead, he and his two siblings have decided to sell the house and the surrounding eight and a half acres. The house is listed with Houda Chedid of Baird & Warner, with an asking price of $6 million.
The house, which Shaw made wide and shallow to catch cross breezes, has remained largely unchanged since 1954. There is molding in a Grecian key pattern carved in the plaster of the living-room walls, murals on the dining-room walls, four light sconces in the dining room that past owners told the Reillys were Baccarat crystal, brightly colored panels of vitreous tile on the walls of five bathrooms, and a green onyx mantel over the fireplace in the master bedroom. The small kitchen needs an upgrade, but because it sits amid a cluster of butler’s and cook’s rooms, an expansive modernization would not compromise the integrity of the living spaces.
“It’s a rare, rare property,” says Chedid, who notes that a servant’s house and a stable (with another two acres) are also for sale separately, at a price to be negotiated. Dennis Reilly says his family kept as many as eight polo ponies in the stable when he was young.

Here Daisy Buchanan Lived
In a 1940 letter to his daughter written six months before his death, F. Scott Fitzgerald said, “Once I thought that Lake Forest was the most glamorous place in the world. Maybe it was.” Sixty-six years later, as I drove through the Illinois suburb that sits thirty-two miles north of the heart of Chicago’s Loop, I kept looking around and wondering to myself what exactly it was that Fitzgerald found so great. I thought about him as I drank a coffee at a Starbucks that wasn’t there the last time I’d visited, and I noticed that the McDonald’s drive-through near the Metra train station seemed to be buzzing. All the suburban trappings I recalled from a childhood spent on the North Shore of Chicago were still there. To me, Lake Forest was a place I’d gotten to know by peeking through frosted car windows on my way to early morning hockey practice as a kid. Cozy, definitely, but not exactly the sort of place I associate with the Roaring Twenties decadence and wild parties conjured by Fitzgerald’s name.
Founded in 1861, Lake Forest, Illinois, was originally built as a college town by Presbyterians. After the Civil War, the city attracted residents whose last names were synonymous with the building (and a decade later, the post–Great Fire rebuilding) of Chicago. Thanks to its tranquility and natural beauty, as well as its isolation from main roads, Lake Forest became the Chicago metropolitan area’s most desirable neighborhood, attracting Rockefellers, Armours, Medills, and Marshall Fields. Lake Forest was the Greenwich of the Midwest: a haven for robber barons and meat packers far from the strikes, riots, and muckrakers that threatened the wealth and safety of the early twentieth century’s 1 percent. By the city’s 150th anniversary, in 2011, Lake Forest had served as the setting for a best-selling novel (A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, by native son Dave Eggers) and Oscar-winning film (Robert Redford’s Ordinary People). But the city’s first true claim to literary fame came in 1925, as a passing mention in the first chapter of The Great Gatsby, in which we learn from narrator Nick Carraway that Tom Buchanan has bought a string of polo ponies from Lake Forest. Carraway is amazed that a man of his own generation is wealthy enough to have done so.
Fitzgerald’s repeated mentions of Lake Forest in his work is not much commented on; it isn’t associated with him the way Princeton University, Long Island, and the South of France tend to be. Indeed, the casual mention in Gatsby might lead one to believe that it was just a city he’d read about or a place he saw on a map. But it’s something more than that. The reason Lake Forest became such a significant place to one of America’s great writers is simple: his first love was from there.
Ginevra King met Scott Fitzgerald for the first time on January 4, 1915, while visiting a school friend in Minnesota. The two began a romance that consisted primarily of written correspondence, until it was broken off in 1917. While a two-year letter writing campaign might not seem like much by today’s standards, it clearly made an impression. Several of Fitzgerald’s best-known female characters were based on a composite partially inspired by King and her letters: from Judy Jones in the short story “Winter Dreams” to Isabelle Borge in This Side of Paradise. The poor boy losing the rich girl is a common theme in Fitzgerald’s work, and the original model was surely his relationship with King. King’s influence is also present in the iconic character of Daisy Buchanan—Jay Gatsby’s obsession and one of Fitzgerald’s most memorable creations.
In the years leading up to World War I, King and her three closest friends—Margaret Carry, Courtney Letts, and Edith Cummings—were considered celebrities in Lake Forest and, indeed, throughout the Chicagoland area. Collectively known as the Big Four (a name they bestowed on themselves), they were the socialites of their era. The exclusive group didn’t allow new members, and each wore a rose-gold pinkie ring with The Big Four 1914 engraved on the inner band. They rarely went out in public without each other, were either loved or reviled by everyone who knew about them, and, with the brashness of the young and rich, didn’t care about what anybody thought. As if Gatsby’s one tie to Lake Forest wasn’t enough, Cummings, who in 1924 became the first golfer and female athlete featured on the cover of Time, is a reasonable culprit for the inspiration behind the sassy and dishonest golfer, Jordan Baker.
As with any truly great book, everybody who loves Gatsby comes away with certain ideas of what the novel is really about. You can’t help but attach meaning to parts of the book in an attempt to understand things: Was Gatsby a Jew? What’s the deal with the green light? Is it a book about the American Dream or is it mocking the very concept? Gatsby is the type of classic that deserves to have conclusions drawn about it by scholars and casual readers alike. And as soon as I learned about Fitzgerald’s Lake Forest past, I was reading a book about him and Ginevra King. Fitzgerald wrote the chunk of the book that takes place on Long Island while living on Long Island with Zelda by his side, but it seemed to me that The Great Gatsby could have just as easily have been set in Lake Forest.
According to King’s diaries and letters to Fitzgerald (which are available to the public at Princeton University), the young writer first visited her in Lake Forest late in June 1915. The trip was brief, but Fitzgerald surely admired the beauty of the affluent city. He wouldn’t have missed Edith Rockefeller McCormick’s Villa Turicum—the lakefront estate (situated on three hundred acres) designed by Charles Platt and inspired by Edith Wharton’s Italian Villas and Their Gardens—and surely visited the public lawns manicured to resemble English gardens that he would later recall, in another  “Ginevra story,” “A Nice Quiet Place,” as “immaculate.” He returned again the following summer. This time he had a bit more time to see Lake Forest and observe the culture. Since Fitzgerald’s own hometown in Minnesota mostly comprised the nouveau riche, his time spent in Lake Forest was perhaps his first exposure (not counting rowdy days at Princeton) to old money’s natural habitat. If that is indeed the case, the city that stretches out along Lake Michigan shaped the writer’s view of how the other half lived, and any fan of Fitzgerald knows that the lifestyles of the rich (both old and new) were fixations in his work. And it could be mere coincidence, but Lake Forest is part of the group of Chicagoland lakefront cities known as the North Shore; Gatsby’s West and East Egg, based off the Long Island cities of Great Neck and Sands Point, are also on a part of the island referred to as the North Shore.

Was Ginevra King the real Daisy Buchannon?

Ginevra King was an American socialite, and debutante and was the inspirational muse for several characters in the novels of F. Scott Fitzgerald.
She was born in Chicago in 1898, the daughter of Ginevra and Charles Garfield King. (She, as with her mother and grandmother, was named after Leonardo da Vinci's painting Ginevra de' Benci.
Charles G. King was a wealthy Chicago businessman and financier. She was the eldest of three sisters and grew up amidst the Chicago social scene, even being a member of the elite "Big Four" Chicago debutantes during World War I. She attended the Westover School in Middlebury, Connecticut.
Ginevra first met Fitzgerald on January 4, 1915, while visiting her roommate from Westover, Marie Hersey, in St. Paul, Minnesota. They met at a sledding party and, according to letters and diary entries, they both became infatuated.[2] They sent letters back and forth for months, and their passionate romance continued until January 1917. In August 1916, Fitzgerald first wrote down the words, thought to have been said to him by Charles King, that would later recur in the movie adaption of The Great Gatsby: "Poor boys shouldn't think of marrying rich girls."
On July 15, 1918, King wrote to Fitzgerald, telling of her engagement to William Mitchell, the son of her father's business associate. They married later that year and had three children. Then in 1937, she left Mitchell for businessman John T. Pirie (of the Chicago department store Carson Pirie Scott & Company). That year she also met Fitzgerald for the last time in Hollywood; when she asked which character was based on her in The Beautiful and Damned, Fitzgerald replied, "Which bitch do you think you are?"
King later founded the Ladies Guild of the American Cancer Society. She died in 1980 at the age of 82.  King is thought to have exerted a great influence on Fitzgerald's writing, perhaps as much as his relationship with his wife, Zelda. His work abounds with characters modeled on King. These characters include:
Judy Jones in "Winter Dreams"
Isabelle Borge in This Side of Paradise
Most notably, Daisy Buchanan in The Great Gatsby
Fitzgerald also recreated their meeting in "Babes in the Woods," from the collection Bernice Bobs Her Hair and Other Stories; this was reused in This Side of Paradise.

Love Notes Drenched In Moonlight; Hints of Future Novels In Letters to Fitzgerald


She was in nearly every girl F. Scott Fitzgerald ever saw in moonlight: rich, beautiful, forever unattainable. She was Isabelle in ''This Side of Paradise,'' ''under moonlight and pale starlight,'' and Daisy Buchanan in ''The Great Gatsby,'' humming a melody on the steps of Gatsby's mansion, ''sweetly, following it.''
''Each change tipped out a little of her warm human magic upon the air.''
Her name was Ginevra King, and she was a celebrated Chicago debutante whom Fitzgerald met in 1915 when she was a 16-year-old at the Westover School and he was a 19-year-old at Princeton. They were smitten. Ginevra wrote about him in her diary, and for two years they corresponded. When they broke up, Fitzgerald asked her to destroy his letters, and she did. But he kept hers and had them typed up and bound with the title ''Personal Letters: Property of F. Scott Fitzgerald (Not Manuscript.)'' Fitzgerald died in 1940, and some 10 years later his daughter, Scottie, returned them to Ginevra.
Ginevra died in 1980 at 82, but the letters remained in her family. Now her daughter and granddaughters have donated them, along with Ginevra's diary and an unpublished short story written by her, to Princeton, the repository of Fitzgerald's papers.
''Ginevra is arguably the most important romance Fitzgerald ever experienced, more than Zelda,'' his wife, said James L. W. West III, a professor of English at Penn State University and editor of the ongoing edition of Fitzgerald's works published by Cambridge University Press. ''He lost her, but his ideal of her remained throughout his life.''
Ginevra's diary has never been seen by scholars, except Professor West, an expert on Fitzgerald, who is preparing an essay on the Princeton donation. ''There, she lets her emotions show,'' he said. ''She says she loves Scott. In her letters she was more guarded.''
He added: ''The letters help us understand the fictional process by which he transferred this ideal creature into an interesting literary character. He gave her some edge and some flaws.''
Fitzgerald's early biographers, Arthur Mizener and Andrew Turnbull, saw the letters, though they barely mention them. For nearly 40 years they have been unavailable to scholars. ''We can now examine the letters more carefully,'' Professor West said, ''and we can trace details from them that Fitzgerald adapted for his stories and novels.''
The papers provide a window into the world of the wealthy elite of pre-World War I America, a world of unlimited privilege and a strange innocence, of moonlit mansions, dances, football weekends. Through it, Ginevra moved like a blithe spirit, carefree and cosseted. In many ways her writings are typical teenage musings, but in them can be heard the voices of Daisy Buchanan, Isabelle and other of Fitzgerald's female characters: breathy, coy, wistful.
Ginevra was born in Chicago in 1898, daughter of Charles Garfield King, a wealthy stockbroker, and his wife, also named Ginevra. The younger Ginevra -- dark-haired, petite, with large eyes -- was the third daughter in five generations named after Leonardo's painting ''Ginevra de' Benci.''
Fitzgerald met her at a sledding party over Christmas break in his hometown, St. Paul, where she was visiting her Westover roommate. He was one of St. Paul's most eligible bachelors, though his family was of modest means. His father had lost his furniture business, and the Fitzgeralds were supported by his mother's family. But he lived among the rich on Summit Avenue, attending their parties, part of their world yet always outside it.
''Scott perfectly darling,'' Ginevra wrote in her diary on Jan. 4, 1915, after meeting him. ''Am absolutely gone on Scott!'' she wrote the next day. And the following month, ''I am madly in love with him.''
Her letters are filled with underlinings, exclamations, misspellings and fanciful punctuation. In her first letter, on Jan. 11, 1915, she asks for his photograph: ''I have but a faint recollection of yellow hair and big blue eyes and a brown corduroy waist-coat that was very good-looking!'' She signs it ''Yours Fickely sometimes but Devotedly at present -- Ginevra,'' setting the tone for their relationship in which she alternately beckoned him to her and pushed him away. ''I know I am a flirt and I can't stop it,'' she tells him in another letter.
Fitzgerald habitually saved letters and sometimes used material in them for his writing. It appears from her responses that Fitzgerald constantly begged her to reveal her inmost thoughts and details of her past.
''He used to irritate people -- Sara Murphy, Hemingway, with his insistent questions,'' Professor West said. ''We see it here when he was only just a teenager, the incipient writer.''
Fitzgerald's interest sometimes seems voyeuristic. Ginevra writes, ''You ask 'Describe your last affair.' I'm inclined to say -- 'None of yoyr affair' but thats too snitty!! The last one was -- let me see I dont know -- the last real one was last summer and then it wasn't horribly heavy.''
At another point it seems that she and Fitzgerald have planned, perhaps not seriously, to elope. ''Don't forget our plan of elopement -- That mustn't fall through.''
She dreams of him: ''Last night I dreamt you were calling on me, but it went off all right. Only you had purple hair, and would insist upon strutting around and tapping on all the walls.''

Fitzgerald it seems doesn't trust her: ''Why wont you believe what I said about your standing first,'' she writes. ''I cant tell you any better or any more truthfully.''

Too much

Winter Place

By Kelly Kazek

Are you a romantic? Would you enjoy having tea in the very room where the beautiful and vivacious Montgomery native Zelda Sayre met the dashing, soon-to-be-famous author F. Scott Fitzgerald?
For the right price, you can. The home where the famed Jazz Age couple met, Winter Place, is for sale.
Joseph Winter Thorington, a former owner of the home, claimed Scott and Zelda were introduced by his aunt at a tea in the mansion's gallery. Zelda lived with her family up the street at 6 Pleasant Ave. at the time, according to a story on HuffingtonPost.com.
Winter Place was built in 1855 for Joseph Samual and Mary Elizabeth Winter, presumably by architect Samuel Sloan of Philadelphia, who designed Winter's first home. The complex also housed the first offices of the Confederate Army.
The property was listed on the Alabama Register of Landmarks and Heritage in 2005 and the National Register of Historic Places in 2006.
The conjoined homes on the property were listed on Alabama's Places in Peril in 2005. Today, the homes are unoccupied but were purchased in 2006 by Craig Drescher who had hopes of restoring the Italianate manor, the "North House," and its "fraternal twin" Second Empire-style home on the property, called the "South House."