Book highlights Fitzgerald’s Minnesota homes, haunts

August 1, 2017 GMT

In his much-loved short story, “Winter Dreams,” F. Scott Fitzgerald didn’t bother to mention the name of his hometown, which is obviously the setting for that Minnesota-based tale.

There was no need to, since Fitzgerald never got St. Paul out of his system — or out of his writing. His books and stories are laced with references to the city, its residents, its neighborhoods and its wintry weather.

For decades, though, St. Paul seemed content to ignore the native son who went on to become a giant of American literature.

“I was really stunned back in the 1980s when all our efforts to get Fitzgerald recognized in St. Paul were met with roadblocks,” said Dave Page, a Fitzgerald expert and author of a lavish new book, “F. Scott Fitzgerald in Minnesota: The Writer & His Friends at Home.”

The book, a project of the Fitzgerald in St. Paul organization, is the latest in a momentum-gathering effort to connect Fitzgerald, his writings and his hometown. Beautifully designed, loaded with photographs and backed by Page’s prodigious research, the book takes readers to the homes and haunts of Fitzgerald and his friends and family — including many sites that show up in his stories. And if you’ve ever wondered what those Summit Avenue mansions look like on the inside, Jeff Krueger’s 400 color photos do the trick.

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Also featured are sites in Old Frontenac, in southeastern Minnesota, where Fitzgerald stayed on a couple of occasions as a youngster. “I was surprised at how many connections he had there,” Page said.

Owners of homes connected to Fitzgerald are often caught unaware, Page said. “I think some of them are surprised after they buy a Fitzgerald property,” he said. “They have groupies camping out on their front lawn. I’m exaggerating — somewhat.”

Those so-called groupies, in fact, are what led indirectly to the founding of the Fitzgerald in St. Paul organization. Richard P. McDermott, a retired University of Minnesota professor, lived the final years of his life in Fitzgerald’s birthplace at 481 Laurel Ave., in St Paul. “People from all over would show up on his doorstep and he’d let them in,” Page said.

McDermott left a substantial legacy in his estate to create an organization to celebrate Fitzgerald’s life, writing and connection to St. Paul. The eventual result was Fitzgerald in St. Paul, founded in 2012. Among the activities is an annual symposium that brings Fitzgerald scholars and fans to St. Paul.

They join the literary tourists who also arrive looking for signs of Fitzgerald. “A lot of people from all over the world come to St. Paul, and for a long time they just wandered around,” Page said. This book, and other recent efforts, will help direct them to locales associated with Fitzgerald.

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It’s unlikely the stream of visitors will dry up soon. Fitzgerald, as is well known, died in 1940 in Hollywood thinking himself a failure. Within a decade, though, his reputation began to grow and now his works, including “The Great Gatsby,” are universally admired.

This summer alone, the Fitzgerald renaissance includes a collection of previously unpublished short stories, a new biography, and an Amazon television multi-part adaptation of his unfinished Hollywood novel, “The Last Tycoon.”

There appears to be no shortage of interest in all things Fitzgerald — even in St. Paul.

“I think it’s changing,” Page said.