I live in St. Paul, Minnesota. My husband and I have lived here for twenty-four years. I did not grow up here, but F. Scott Fitzgerald did. The author of The Great Gatsby, the book I consider the quintessential American novel, was shaped in this romantic city. There are places in his life that intersect with mine: some merely by proximity and some by intimate acquaintance. I want to show you some of those places. Their mixture is like that of daylilies and daisies - Daisy Buchanan being the name of Jay Gatsby's paramour and a common, everyday flower; daylilies symbolic of a life burned out after a brief moment of brilliance, as Fitzgerald's was.
Plaque in front of 599 Summit Avenue
This is where Fitzgerald lived when he wrote his first novel, This Side of Paradise. The house is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Summit Avenue is truly the finest street in a beautiful city. It is where all the captains of industry lived - timber barons, railroad moguls and the like. The Governor's Mansion is on Summit, and at the very end is the State Capitol.
The Minnesota State Capitol.
Note the golden horses. My sixth-grade field trip was to this place. I remember eating bologna sandwiches on the smooth marble steps.
The Capitol, interior view. Lights like a string of pearls.
The street is laid out like an imperial pathway to the state capitol, designed by Cass Gilbert, who also designed New York's Woolworth Building and the building that houses the United States Supreme Court. When I was a child, and into my adult life, I gazed at the mansions along this elegant parkway, trying to choose the one in which I would live. I couldn't: there were too many. Fitzgerald lived in several of them. I have lived in none of them. They still provoke envy and awe.
599 Summit Avenue.
When This Side of Paradise was accepted for publication by Scribner's, he ran up and down the street, yelling and stopping friends and strangers to inform them of the news.
I once worked with a woman who lived in this house with her parents and two Himalayan cats. People rang their doorbell constantly, asking for tours, even though it is a private residence.
W.A. Frost & Co.
W. A. Frost was, in Fitzgerald's time, a pharmacy, a "smoke and Coke" place where one could meet girls. A favorite hangout of the time, it is now a much-loved restaurant; I have dined there many times. The decor is Victorian. Don't order the portobello mushroom sandwich.
One example of the elegant architecture in Fitzgerald's neighborhood. It is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Once an apartment building, it now houses office, retail and condominium space. The author and humorist Garrison Keillor owns a bookstore here.
The Saint Paul Seminary
Fitzgerald had a friend who studied - and later became a priest - here. They played golf, inventing their own course and tearing up the expansive lawn. I come here on my walks. It is within walking distance of the Mississippi River. I cringe when I look at that gorgeous swath of grass, and think of how they ruined it. What a shame.
The Commodore was once a hotel. It has been converted into condominiums. Scott, his wife Zelda and their infant daughter Frances Scott moved here after being evicted from a house they were renting in a nearby town. (The wood-burning stove that heated the place - it was winter - went out during a raucous party and nobody noticed. The pipes froze, burst, and ruined the place.) Fitzgerald lore has it that that they gave the baby vodka in her bottle so she would sleep while they went out. Before we were married, my husband and I regularly visited the elegant Art Deco bar in the building. We felt glamorous and sophisticated, drinking our gin and tonics.
As I take my walks along the river, I sometimes stop here to contemplate - and grab a sip of water. It isn't the right evocation of Fitzgerald's memory, though. A better one would be:
Daisies and daylilies.
"So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."
F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby