In these three snippets, we meet the childhood and teen-aged friends of F. Scott Fitzgerald in St. Paul, Minnesota. The first piece appears in the book F. Scott Fitzgerald in Minnesota (2017). The final two have not been published previously.
BY DAVE PAGE
|Photograph by Jeff Krueger.|
96 VIRGINIA STREET
Clark residence (1884)
In 1908 Charles A. Clark, treasurer for the Northern Pacific Railroad, lived at 454 Holly Avenue with his wife, seven children, and five servants. The oldest boy was Robert D., and his sister Caroline M. was just one year younger. By 1919 the Clarks had moved to 96 Virginia Street. Over Thanksgiving in 1919, they hosted a dance for Caroline at the University Club for “seventy-five members of the younger society.” It is possible F. Scott Fitzgerald was among them since Caroline was in Fitzgerald’s dancing class, and Robert had appeared in a couple of Fitzgerald’s juvenile plays.
Although Fitzgerald wrote Robert Clark a reproachful missive in 1920 in response to a letter Clark had sent telling the author he should write for “real people,” Clark remained one of Fitzgerald’s strongest supporters, telling those who asked that Fitzgerald was not an outsider, but a valued member of their social circle. A couple of years after the postal spat, Clark, along with Fitzgerald, was a member of the Cotillion Club.
In a letter to Marie Hersey Hamm in 1936, Fitzgerald confessed that he still considered Saint Paul his home, “but the people who make it so are not only such a few—the Kalmans, Nonnie [Norris Jackson], Bob Clarke and a scattering of others.”
|Joe McKibben II.
14 July 1918 Pioneer Press, 3rd sec., p. 2.
83 VIRGINIA STREET
McKibbin residence (1887)—razed 1927
Soon after F. Scott Fitzgerald arrived at Princeton University in the fall of 1913, he visited his St. Paul friend Norris Jackson in the latter’s room at 13 Little Hall. Another St. Paulite, Joe McKibbin, who had grown up at in a duplex at 83 Virginia Street in St. Paul, stopped by Jackson’s room to welcome his two hometown acquaintances. A couple classes ahead of Fitzgerald, McKibbin had attended Hill School with his next-door neighbor Laurence Noyes, whose father had built 83-85 Virginia. McKibbin had brought along a classmate and suggested the group go for a stroll. “We walked down through the campus and along a canal, a nice sort of place to walk,” Jackson recalled. Fitzgerald was acting a bit odd. According to Jackson, “ He sort of skipped around….”
A day or two later, Fitzgerald burst into Jackson’s room and asked, “Do you know who that was we were with on Sunday?” Jackson said, yes, it was Joe McKibbin. “But do you know who the senior was?” Jackson responded affirmatively. “Well,” Fitzgerald added, “he’s the…captain of the football team, and I acted just like a damn fool.”
McKibbin’s friend and Princeton football captain for 1913 was Hobey Baker. Fitzgerald’s meeting with Baker is noted in his Ledger. In This Side of Paradise, Fitzgerald presents an admiring snapshot of Baker, who loved singing, as “Allenby,” the football captain:
Now, far down the shadowy line of University Place a white-clad phalanx broke the gloom, and marching figures, white-shirted, white-trousered, swung rhythmically up the street, with linked arms and heads thrown back [singing “Going Back to Nassau Hall”]. Amory closed his eyes as the ghostly procession drew near. The song soared so high that all dropped out except the tenors, who bore the melody triumphantly past the danger-point and relinquished it to the fantastic chorus. Then Amory opened his eyes, half afraid that sight would spoil the rich illusion of harmony. He sighed eagerly. There at the head of the white platoon marched Allenby, the football captain, slim and defiant, as if aware that this year the hopes of the college rested on him, that his hundred-and-sixty pounds were expected to dodge to victory through the heavy blue and crimson lines. Fascinated, Amory watched each rank of linked arms as it came abreast, the faces indistinct above the polo shirts, the voices blent in a paean of triumph—and then the procession passed through Shadowy Campbell Arch, and the voices grew fainter as it wound eastward over the campus.
Not coincidentally, Fitzgerald named the hero of the novel Amory Blaine, an obvious homage to Hobart Amory Hare Baker. Even had McKibbin not brought Baker by Jackson’s room that October day, Fitzgerald may have still honored the athlete, who was just a couple inches taller than the five-foot-seven-inch Fitzgerald and weighed 165 pounds. However, the encounter certainly was seared into Fitzgerald’s hero-worshipping mind—at least according to Jackson.
McKibbin, Jackson, and Fitzgerald continued to cross paths at Princeton. At one meeting, Fitzgerald told his two hometown friends “that he wanted five good principles to live up to.”
Like Fitzgerald, McKibbin joined the armed services during WWI. In 1923, McKibbin met Dorothy Ann Scarritt, a 1919 graduate of Smith College, in Dellwood, Minnesota. She came from a well-to-do Kansas City family and was visiting friends in in the posh community nestled up against the northeast corner of White Bear Lake. Joe and Dorothy became engaged, but broke their engagement in 1925 after she contracted tuberculosis, a disease which also afflicted Fitzgerald. She went for a cure at a sanatorium near Santa Fe, and after eleven months recovered. Joe and she were married in 1927 and settled down in St. Paul, where he worked for his father’s fur company, McKibbin, Driscoll, and Dorsey, founded in 1886. Joe died from Hodgkin’s disease in 1931, leaving Dorothy with an eleven-month-old son.
Having enjoyed the time she spent in the southwestern United States, Dorothy returned to Sante Fe, where she eventually was offered a job by Robert Oppenheimer. She earned the title of “Gatekeeper to Los Alamos” and became one of the key players in the Manhattan Project.
Coincidentally, Joe’s sister, Allison, who was eleven years his senior, married Charles H. Bigelow, Jr., in 1911 when she was 29. She thus became step-mother to Alida Bigelow, one of Fitzgerald’s great friends, and Joe would become her step-uncle.
|Image courtesy of Penzeys Spices, c. 1950s.|
678 Grand Avenue
Crocus Hill Pharmacy (1906)
Throughout the years, several people have indicated to me that Edward Fitzgerald, father of F. Scott Fitzgerald, patronized Crocus Hill Pharmacy, a drug store located at the corner of Dale and Grand, for his cigars. However, from the available records, it’s clear that at the time the Fitzgeralds lived in St. Paul the pharmacy was located at the corner of Grand and St. Albans. The 1920 St. Paul City Directory listed the pharmacy at 678 Grand Avenue, as did the January 1922 Northwestern Druggist. Louis Lockwood designed the building at 674-678 Grand Avenue in 1906 as Crocus Hill Market.
In 1915, Wesley St. Clair became sole owner of the pharmacy. According to Joe Watson, who worked at the pharmacy, St. Clair wore a “Billy Goat beard” and was called “Doc.” Watson also indicated that Edward came in regularly to purchase Tom Moore cigars. One day after Scott married Zelda, the author entered the pharmacy with his father. Scott was driving a 1920s Buick touring car, red with a tan top.
“‘Dad, I’m going to buy you a box of cigars,’ Scott told his father,” said Watson. “Edward replied, ‘Forget it. You have a wife and child to support.’ Scott forgot it.”
F. Scott Fitzgerald scholar and historian Dave Page has been writing about Fitzgerald for years, focusing on his youth and early career in St. Paul. He is author of F. Scott Fitzgerald in Minnesota: The Writer and His Friends at Home (Minnesota, 2017). He is coauthor of F. Scott Fitzgerald in Minnesota: Toward the Summit and coeditor of The St. Paul Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald, both of which were nominated for Minnesota Book Awards. He is editor of The Thoughtbook of F. Scott Fitzgerald (Minnesota, 2013).
This piece draws upon the following sources:
-Year: 1910, Census Place: St. Paul Ward 7, Ramsey, MN. The 1910 Census mistakenly says 454 Summit, but the St. Paul City Directories of 1909 and 1912 list 454 Holly Ave. as the Clark family’s address.
-“Society,” Minneapolis Morning Tribune, Nov. 26, 1919, p. 10.
-Bruccoli, ed., A Life in Letters, p. 45.
-Clark, letter to Jack Koblas, May 17, 1976.
-“Cotillion Cub Will Give Fancy Dress Ball,” St. Paul Pioneer Press, Apr. 2, 1922, sec. 6, p. 1.
-Turnbull, Letters, p. 546.
–The Dial, 1910, Volume XIV, p. 168.
-St. Paul Building Permits
-Norris and Betty Jackson. Interview of Lloyd Hackl. November 1982, St. Paul, MN. Minnesota Historical Society Library, St. Paul.
-John Davies, The Legend of Hobey Baker (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1968), p. 68.
-Matthew J. Bruccoli, Some Sort of Epic Grandeur: The Life of F. Scott Fitzgerald, 2nd revised edition (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2002), p. 58.
-Dorothy McKibbin. Interview with Martin Sherwin, Santa Fe, NM, 20 July 1979. Voices of the Manhattan Project.
Crocus Hill Pharmacy
–St. Paul City Directory. St. Paul, MN: R.L. Polk & Co., 1920, p. 282.
-“Twin Cities,” Northwestern Druggist, Vol. 30, No. 1. January 1922, p. 56.
-Minnesota Historical Society. “Crocus Hill Market.” mnhs.org.
-Hugh Craig, ed. National Association of Retail Druggists Journal, Vol. 20. April 1915, p. 27.
-Watson, Joe. Interview by Jack Koblas. Telephone. 7 July 1976.