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The woman whose love was worth more than the throne of England

Happy Valentine’s Day! Thanks to everyone who showed up for the Mount Vernon Valentine’s Tour this past Sunday. One of our favorite stories from the tour was the story of Baltimore’s Wallis Simpson and her marriage to Edward VIII: a man who gave up the throne of England to be with the woman he loved. Nathan Dennies, one of our volunteer writers and a student at the University of Baltimore, has finished writing a great story on Wallis’ time living with her mother and stepfather at 212 East Biddle Street:

Wallis Simpson's home during the time it was a museum. Image courtesy of "That Woman" by Anne Sebba.
Wallis Simpson’s home during the time it was a museum.
Image courtesy of “That Woman” by Anne Sebba.

The house on 212 East Biddle Street had three bedrooms: one for Wallis, one for her mother,and another that Wallis assumed was a guest bedroom. Little did she know that her mother was planning on remarrying and the extra bedroom would soon become the room of her new stepfather, John Freeman Rasin, son of the head of the Baltimore Democratic Party, Carroll Rasin. Wallis was crushed. She had envisioned a life of independence with her mother, free from relying on the financial help of others. Wallis threatened to run away, but reluctantly came to terms with her mother’s decision.

The marriage was held in the parlor of their home on June 20, 1908. The climax of the wedding came when Wallis, perhaps out of spite, snuck off to the kitchen and dug her hands into the cake in search of the good-luck tokens hidden inside. When her mother and stepfather came into the kitchen and saw the ruined cake, they stood speechless. Suddenly, Mr. Rasin laughed, picked Wallis up, and twirled her in the air. This act of forgiveness touched the young Wallis, and she never gave her stepfather any more trouble.

Read the full piece on Explore Baltimore Heritage. Don’t forget to download our free Explore Baltimore Heritage app for iPhone and Android!

Take a look at F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Bolton Hill rowhouse this Sunday

Francis Scott Fitzgerald 1937 June 4
F. Scott Fitzgerald, photographed by Carl van Vechten in 1937. Image Courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, LC-USZ62-88103.

Here is an exciting opportunity for anyone who loves Baltimore’s literary history: F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Bolton Hill rowhouse is now for sale! F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald lived in the home in the 1930s through several tumultuous years. The four bedroom, four bath house is going for $450,000. Take a look at the listing or stop by the open house before the Ravens take on the 49ers this Sunday, February 3 from 12:00pm to 2:00pm.

University of Baltimore student Nathan Dennies, a new volunteer working on Explore Baltimore Heritage, just finished a great story detailing Fitzgerald’s time at 1307 Park Avenue. Read on for an excerpt or find the full piece on Explore Baltimore Heritage. Don’t forget to download our free Explore Baltimore Heritage app for iPhone and Android!

In August 1933, F. Scott Fitzgerald moved with his family to 1307 Park Avenue. Fitzgerald had been forced out of his previous home in Towson due to a house fire attributed to his mentally ill wife, Zelda. Their rowhouse, a ten minute walk from the monument of Fitzgerald’s famous ancestor, Francis Scott Key, quickly became a place of turmoil, and was the last place where he and Zelda lived together.

Fitzgerald couldn’t get back on his feet at his new home. His first published novel in ten years, “Tender is The Night,” tanked after its April 1934 release, selling only 13,000 copies to mixed reviews, and left Fitzgerald under immense financial strain. Everyone in the house was affected. Zelda and Fitzgerald’s daughter, Francis Scott “Scottie” Fitzgerald, acted as a go-between for their landlord, forced to constantly ask her father for rent money.

Zelda, who spent her weekdays hospitalized at Sheppard Pratt in Towson, had a brief period of wellness during the first few months at 1307 Park Avenue and was allowed to go home and take painting classes at the Maryland Institute College of Art. However, her mental illness soon worsened and she was moved to the expensive Craig House sanitarium in New York, only to return to Sheppard Pratt in May 1934 in worse shape than ever.

While Zelda was in the hospital, Fitzgerald’s dependency on alcohol grew. Writer H.L. Mencken, a friend of Fitzgerald who lived nearby in Mt. Vernon at the time, wrote in his journal in 1934, “The case of F. Scott Fitzgerald has become distressing. He is a boozing in a wild manner and has become a nuisance.”