All That Jazz: How F. Scott Fitzgerald Wound Up in a Catholic Cemetery

All That Jazz: How F. Scott Fitzgerald Wound Up in a Catholic Cemetery May 17, 2013

Some days back, I wrote about the Fitzgerald grave, which rests just outside the church where I was married 27 years ago. The Washington Post recently revisited the churchyard, and offers more about the fabled author’s final resting place:

Things have changed for Scott and Zelda. “We usually see a handful of people visiting the cemetery in a given week,” said Rev. Monsignor Robert Amey, who has been with St. Mary’s since 2009. “That number has tripled in the last week.”

Some visitors leave mementos, most commonly flowers, spare change and liquor. Aspiring authors leave pens, and admirers occasionally write handwritten notes. A top hat, adorned with a martini glass ribbon, is the most recent addition.

Although he was born in St. Paul, Minn., Fitzgerald has deep roots in Maryland. His father was born in 1853 on a small farm near Rockville and married his mother in Washington in 1890. Maryland-born Francis Scott Key — composer of “The Star-Spangled Banner” — is Fitzgerald’s namesake and distant cousin.

In 1940, Fitzgerald suffered a fatal heart attack at age 44, while living in Los Angeles. By all accounts, he wanted to be buried with about 15 of his relatives interred at St. Mary’s.“I belong here [in Maryland], where everything is civilized and gay and rotted and polite,” he wrote in a 1935 letter to his friend and secretary, Laura Guthrie. “I wouldn’t mind a bit if in a few years Zelda and I could snuggle up together under a stone in some old graveyard here.”The church initially rejected the family’s burial request; Fitzgerald was a lapsed Catholic at the time of his death. His risque and provocative Jazz Age writings, alcoholism and marriage to a Protestant did not improve matters.

He was initially laid to rest at the Rockville Union Cemetery — a Protestant graveyard located a mile and a half away. His funeral, much like that of his title character Jay Gatsby, attracted little fanfare. About 25 people attended, including the six pallbearers hired by his editor. Zelda joined her husband eight years later, after dying in a fire at a North Carolina asylum.

The Fitzgeralds’ only child, Frances “Scottie” Fitzgerald, successfully petitioned to have the couple moved to St. Mary’s in 1975. “The church believed it important,” Amey said, “to consider his God-given talents and literary genius.”

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