F. Scott Fitzgerald in Baltimore

The author’s five years in Charm City were more cursed than charmed—but he loved Baltimore anyway

By Deborah Rudacille (Baltimore Style, 12/2009)

In the dark, a man paces. He gazes out over the city, but a gray mist obscures all landmarks. Suddenly, a specter appears. “Like a broken-stringed bow upon a throbbing fiddle— I see the real horror develop over the roof-tops, and in the strident horns of night-owl taxis and the shrill monody of revelers’ arrival over the way. Horror and waste. Waste and horror— what I might have been and done that is lost, spent and gone, dissipated, unrecapturable.”

Asked which writer penned these despairing words in Baltimore, most would probably guess Edgar Allan Poe. But the ghostly echoes of pleasure-seeking gone sour point to the true author: F. Scott Fitzgerald. The laureate of the Jazz Age was only 36 when he came to Baltimore in 1932. But like the country, he had crashed. His wife and muse, Zelda, was mentally ill. He was drinking heavily. His income had plummeted. He hadn’t published a novel since “The Great Gatsby” in 1925, and he was struggling to finish “Tender is the Night,” a book he hoped would pull him out of debt and re-establish his reputation as the greatest writer of his generation. As it happened, neither of the tenuous hopes Fitzgerald nurtured on his arrival in Baltimore— that Zelda would be cured, that his new book would be a critical and commercial triumph— would be fulfilled.

Even so, Baltimore gave the peripatetic Fitzgerald family something they’d never really had before: a home. The nearly five years that Scott, Zelda and their daughter, Scottie, lived in Baltimore was the biggest chunk of time the family ever spent together in one location, says University of Maryland professor emeritus Jackson Bryer. “Five years in one place is a pretty long time for them,” he points out. Though Zelda was a patient at the Henry Phipps Clinic at Johns Hopkins and the Sheppard-Pratt Hospital for much of that time (with a short stint at Craig House outside New York City in between), “they had a stable life here,” says Bryer. “And the relative stability of Baltimore and having his family all in one place may have given Fitzgerald what he needed to finish ‘Tender is the Night.’”

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