F. Scott Fitzgerald is associated with the glittering, romantic and dissipated excesses of the Jazz Age—a phrase he coined—and venues such as Princeton’s rarefied halls of ivy, the glamour of New York, Paris, the French Riviera and Hollywood. Yet Fitzgerald’s Maryland roots were so deeply embedded that when he died suddenly in Hollywood, there was little question that Rockville would be his final resting place.
Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald was born on September 24, 1896, in St. Paul, Minnesota. His mother, Mollie McQuillan, was the daughter of a prosperous wholesale grocer there. While his mother’s family had the money, he carried his genteel Maryland pedigree in his name. His Maryland connections were his father’s. Edward Fitzgerald was from a well-established Montgomery County family. Young Fitzgerald regularly visited his father’s relatives at Locust Grove, their farm in Montgomery County, returning home fascinated with family and Civil War stories. The 6-year-old was a “ribbon holder” at his cousin Cecilia Delihant’s wedding at Randolph Station, south of Rockville, on April 24, 1903.
Even as a youngster, Fitzgerald led a nomadic life. His father’s unfulfilled search for success in business took the family to Buffalo and Syracuse, New York. Eventually they returned to live with his mother’s family in St. Paul. Fitzgerald dropped out of Princeton, enlisted in the army, and in Montgomery, Alabama, he met Zelda Sayre. The two were married in New York City following the publication of his first novel. They never owned a house; after their marriage, they lived in Europe and in numerous locations in the United States. From 1932 to 1937, the Fitzgeralds lived in Baltimore while Zelda was undergoing treatment for mental illness.
He completed Tender Is the Night (1934) in Baltimore. People, places and experiences in Rockville found their way into that novel and his other writings. The author’s life-long connection to Rockville was maintained through correspondence, family ties and visits and, ultimately, his final resting place. As an adult, Fitzgerald may have visited Rockville more than research has revealed. We do know that he returned from Paris in 1931 to attend his father’s funeral at Saint Mary’s Church. A passage in Tender Is the Night describes his feeling: “It was very friendly leaving him there with all his relations around him… Dick had no more ties here now and did not believe he would come back… ‘Good-bye my father—good-bye, all my fathers.’”
Fitzgerald did come back. He died at age 44 on December 21, 1940, in Hollywood, California, and was buried in Rockville Cemetery. When Zelda died in 1948, she was buried with him beneath a common headstone. In 1975, they were reinterred at Saint Mary’s Church cemetery on Veirs Mill Road. In 1986, their daughter Scottie was buried in the family plot. Today, 15 members of the family—Fitzgeralds, Delihants, Scotts and Robertsons—are interred at historic Saint Mary’s Church.
When Fitzgerald died, he believed himself a failure. He had written five novels—This Side of Paradise (1920); The Beautiful and Damned (1922); The Great Gatsby (1925); Tender Is the Night (1934); and The Last Tycoon (1941; left incomplete at his death). While he worked as a contract screenwriter in Hollywood, he had only one credited screenplay. Fitzgerald churned out short stories to pay the bills—first to support an expensive lifestyle and later to provide for Zelda’s medical treatments and Scottie’s education. Of more than 150 short stories, 46 were published in four collections. He was an early success—his writing spoke to a time. At the time of his death, there was little market for his writing, perhaps because during the Great Depression, the glamour and wealth of his characters seemed less relevant.
Following World War II, his work and exquisite craftsmanship gradually received the appreciation and acclaim that it has today. The Great Gatsby, a tale that chronicles the corruption of the American Dream, is not only a staple of English classes but also, in two recent surveys of the best 20th-century English-language novels, was rated as No. 1 and No. 2.
Each year on his birthday, visitors find their way to Fitzgerald’s gravesite at Saint Mary’s Church cemetery. They leave flowers, packs of cigarettes, martini glasses, and gin bottles in silent homage to F. Scott Fitzgerald, the romantic legend and chronicler of the Jazz Age.
Used with permission of Peerless Rockville