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Rockville celebrates its historic link to “Gatsby”

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Published on: Thursday, May 16, 2013

By Donna Broadway

ROCKVILLE - This week millions packed  movie theatres around the country to watch Leonardo DiCaprio and Tobey Maguire recreate the extravagance of the 1920s, in the latest film adaptation of Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald’s classic novel, The Great Gatsby. Many people will also flood to St. Mary’s Cemetery in Rockville to visit the author’s gravesite where he has been buried since 1975.

Many people wonder what, if any, connection this author who was born in St. Paul, Minn., traveled the world as a successful author, lived opulently, and died in Hollywood, Calif. may have to a small city in Maryland. As a child, Fitzgerald visited his father’s relatives at Locust Grove, a small farming community in northeast Montgomery County, and even served as a ribbon holder at his cousin’s wedding in 1903.

In 1931, Fitzgerald attended his father’s funeral at St. Mary’s Church on Viers Mill Road. In his 1934 novel, Tender is the Night, Fitzgerald writes “It was very friendly leaving him there with all his relatives around him..Dick had no more ties here now and did not believe he would come back.”

Mary A. van Balgooy, executive director of Peerless Rockville says the city may have influenced Fitzgerald more than history shows.

“A lot of people are surprised that he’s buried here, but they don’t realize his family is from this area, which is wonderful for us because we can draw attention to the fact his family were part of this farming community in Rockville, and he obviously grew up hearing tales of the Civil War and Francis Scott Key, who was his cousin. I think it gave him a lot of material for his writing because of the tales of his relatives and I think its wonderful people are discovering him,” said van Balgooy.  

After Fitzgerald died in 1940, he was buried at Rockville Cemetery. In 1975, The Women’s Club of Rockville successfully spearheaded a movement to have Fitzgerald moved to St. Mary’s Cemetery, where his wife Zelda, who died in 1948, was buried.

The city continues to honor Fitzgerald’s legacy with the F. Scott Fitzgerald theatre and the yearly F. Scott Fitzgerald Conference where authors read their own work but also speak about Fitzgerald’s legacy as an author.

“It seems like Rockville held a special place in his heart and we continue to celebrate his legacy,” said van Balgooy.

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