During February, I have been highlighting the love stories connected to John D. Fitzgerald's work on the Great Brain Facebook page. Today feels like a perfect day to love home, wherever home is.
Readers of literature the world over, love to visit the homes of their favorite authors or characters. They happily plan entire trips with the home in mind, whether it is in Concord, Massachusetts or London, England or Prince Edward Island, readers can't wait to connect with a living piece of their favorite story. Great Brain fans are no different. A year does not go by when a fan asks for the address of the little white two-story house on the corner of 200 N. Ironically, the City of Price, Utah barely realizes the treasure they have in that tiny building. For Price, it has been the happy home of many amazing present day friends. For Fitzgerald fans it is a mecca of sorts. A destination of their reading dreams. However, that house is a story unto itself. It's tale makes the origin of the house John D. grew up in a bit more mysterious.
Party Central -
The history of Fitzgerald homes is as rambling as the burgeoning west. Between news clippings, home owner deeds, and individual's remembrances the exact home of the Fitzgerald's winds like a canyon river, at times slow and languid, while at others deep and eddied. During all of its days it was the center of joy and merriment. The Eastern Utah Advocate and The Sun Advocate both spilled plenty of ink over the parties, weddings, and card games hosted by Mrs. Fitzgerald and her family.
When they weren't hosting, Papa Fitzgerald could be found building in it or around it.
Missing in Action
Our first glimpse into the Fitzgerald home was a small sentence in the Advocate on January 4, 1900. Papa and Mamma had married a few months earlier. No records show where they lived at this time. Was it above his saloons? Was it in an adobe house, as John writes about in Papa Married a Mormon? No one knows.
Two years later in June 1902, Eastern Utah Advocate published this gem.
The quote appears to fit the family home narrative John wrote in Papa Married a Mormon,
A few days later, Papa took Mamma for a walk. He showed her the place in West Adenville where they would build their new home.
In my mind the book description and the newspaper clipping cemented the deal. The little white house must be the one Papa built.
In fact, two-months later, the Advocate printed the following. Papa was even complimented as a "pretty fair wood butcher." That is a quote to monogram on your shirt.
However, a few weeks later, there was a turn of events.
For some unexplained reason, the wood butcher, who would eventually build a barn for his roadster in 1907, could never get his first house project off the ground. During that time, he did paint, upgrade, and renovate his businesses/saloon buildings, but a family residence just wasn't happening.
Anyone who has read, Papa Married a Mormon, has seen the family home photo in the center of the book. When the picture was taken is unclear, however, if you look close enough, there are more kids in that photo than in the book. It is a delightful home. It fits the multiple descriptions John used in all his books.
Looking at the picture it is easy to imagine the front porch turned into a stage for the play The Fallen Women and again later for T.D.s shows and antics. The small side porch just begs to have homemade ice cream churned on it. But this house doesn't look the like present-day house on 200 N.
This is the 200 N. house in Price. I had the privilege of dining with its owners over a decade ago.* We had never met. I wasn't looking at this house as the potential Fitzgerald home. I was looking at the home, just across the street. The white one-story with the wrap around porch. In my eyes it looked more like the black and white photograph from the book. So certain was I that this was the Fitzgerald home, I boldly left a note explaining that I had taken photos of the house for my research project. That tiny note got me a dinner invitation. It was at that dinner that I was introduced 200 N.
Surprisingly, the Fitzgerald home on 200 N did not always reside at 200 N. A ninety-year-old man, named Elgen Grames, wrote a letter to the editor of the Sun Advocate to clear up some Fitzgerald related misconceptions that a nice teacher from Pennsylvania had written about. Specifically, he wrote about the Fitzgerald house.
I was not in possession of Mr. Grames letter at the time of my initial research. I only had an article from the Sun Advocate about a mom who had found the Fitzgerald house and nothing more. As I sat down to dinner in what I thought was the Fitzgerald home, I was stunned to learn the house I was looking for was across the street. My hosts had invited three of their neighbors. Two of the neighbors were the owners of the 200 N. house. The other was another longtime resident of Price, much like Mr. Elgen Grames. Between the three of them I began to shift my vision.
Deeds and Maps
Dot and Perry Fry were the owners of the Fitzgerald family's final home. That night at dinner they brought me the deed to the house. Below are my typed notes after having read through the deed. My heart broke a bit at first glance. I had yet to acquire the newspaper clippings that told me the events of the original unbuilt Fitzgerald home. I was fixed on the Papa Married a Mormon vision of the hand-built house. Yet, as I kept reading the deed and taking notes, I found a new mystery to the house. Mamma Fitzgerald was the initial owner of the house. Why and how, in 1921, could Mrs. Thomas Fitzgerald purchase the house? It would take me a while and a large piece of conjecture for me to come to any plausible answer for it. It would niggle at me for some time.
Deeds though were not the only surprises of the night. As I finished reading the house document, Howard Pitts, the other guest at dinner, began to explain in greater detail the move the house made from Main Street to its present foundation. Including the fact that the house was put backwards on its present foundation because the horse teams couldn't turn around on the street. Like Elgen Grames, he had watched the entire event. It must have been a town spectacle.
eLikely, no less enjoyable to the town citizen's than when Papa "Fitz" Fitzgerald gets his newly purchased water closet paraded through town in the opening chapter of The Great Brain. I was spellbound by the story. Three days later, Howard gave me a hand-drawn map of the early town layout complete with images of the house move. It is among my most treasured research acquisitions.
Value of 200 N
It took some years for me to process the value of the Fitzgerald house on 200 N. Then one day it hit me, that was the house that held the five trunks filled with all the memorabilia Mamma had carefully stored over the years. Those keepsakes were the key to unlock the stories John needed to tell. The stories we needed to read.
Whoever purchased the house, then had it moved, left us a great landmark. Recently, Great Brain fan, Boyd Christensen, made a trip through Price. He wrote, "I could stand there for hours and just try and imagine how it looked back then. I was trying to picture where the barn and the corral might have been." For fans that is the best gift. A white two-story monument to our favorite books.
The mystery of John's homes will likely last forever. It is a fun puzzle to try to piece together. In a strange way, they all exist. For the love of home cannot be defined merely by walls and roofs. Love of home emanates through any abode where caring, support, protection and hope exist. The Fitzgerald home(s) appear to have embodied hiraeth for John. Lovingly he passed it along to us. Over the decades since the Fitzgerald's left Price, readers have sought the home that brought us T.D., J.D., and S.D. Fitzgerald. Because of John D., each of us fell in love with a home in which we never lived.
P.S. Fun Side Note
Elgen Grames, the man who wrote the letter about the Fitzgerald house move above, began his life here. If you ever visit Price you can drop by and see them, too.
*If you want more details about my Great Brain discoveries or how I came to some of my conclusions feel free to order Finding Fitzgerald