When I was nine, my parents decided to move from the NYC boroughs to the ‘burbs for a better school system. This is a migration as common to New York as the wildebeast migration is to the plains of East Africa.
The search began in a Long Island suburb called Great Neck, which was next to our Queens community, Little Neck. I visited a few of the prospects with my parents, but only one is forever emblazoned on my brain – a Mediterranean-style home built in 1918 that sat at the end of a cul de sac. Why it stuck with me has nothing to do with its architectural style or geographic location. It has to do with a remark the real estate agent made: “F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald lived here. It’s called The Gatsby House.”
The house is called that because it’s where F. Scott began one of the most famous novels ever written. The Fitzgeralds only rented the home from 1922 to 1924, but that was long enough to get a reputation for hosting parties so wild that the couple drew up a list of half-joking rules like ” “Visitors are requested not to break down doors in search of liquor, even when authorized to do so by the host and hostess.”
I was nine when we viewed The Gatsby House. What did I know about F. Scott Fitzgerald? Not much, I have to assume. Then why are my memories of the house so vivid that when it came up for sale last year – for about $3.9 mil – the place looked exactly the same in photos as it did in my mind’s eye? We’re a family of readers, so maybe my parents talked about the Gatsby connection on the car ride home. And for some reason I’ve never explored, even as a child I was fascinated by the Roaring Twenties.
After much debate, my parents chose not to buy F. Scott’s one-time abode. They’d fallen in love with Westchester County, so we left Long Island for a home in Scarsdale. But I’ve always wondered, would my life have been different had I been raised in the home where Jay Gatsby and Daisy first came to life? Would the ghosts of nineteen-twenties artists, authors, and bon vivants found their way into my work? Would living there have made me a different writer?
“The Gatsby House” instilled in me a lifelong passion for authors’ homes. Years ago, when I visited the Lake District with my parents, we stayed at Nab Cottage, a B&B that was once the home of Hartley Coleridge. My mother and I entertained ourselves trying to figure out in which room he and pal Thomas de Quincey hung out doing opium together.
We also walked the Coffin Walk behind the B&B to William Wordsworth’s Dove Cottage in Grasmere.
The first item on my bucket list is to someday visit Haworth Parsonage and explore the moors my beloved Brontes once trod. And this is coming from a woman who’s never been to Paris.
I don’t know if walking in the footsteps and breathing the air of our literary giants makes me a better writer. But I do know that veneration of those who created some of the world’s greatest literature makes me a better human being.
Readers, have you ever visited the home of an author idol? If not, who’s on your bucket list?