A Daisy of a House

Ginevra King, the model for The Great Gatsby’s Daisy Buchanan, spent her youth in this Lake Forest house that is now for sale.

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Ginevra King

In 1915, King’s daughter Ginevra was a 16-year-old beauty, one of Chicago’s “Big Four” debutantes, visiting St. Paul, Minnesota. There she met and became, in her words, “dipped about” Scott Fitzgerald, then a student at Princeton. Their romance, conducted primarily through their letters to each other, lasted about two years, according to The Perfect Hour, a book about their relationship by James L. W. West III, a professor of English at Penn State.

Although the pair got together mainly on the East Coast, where they were both in school, Fitzgerald visited Lake Forest twice, in June 1915 and in August 1916. West couldn’t say definitively that Fitzgerald set foot on Kingdom Come Farm, only that he “stayed with a wealthy relative who lived in Lake Forest, but it seems reasonable he would have visited Ginevra in her house.”

Regardless of whether he saw the house, Fitzgerald went on to immortalize Ginevra—who abruptly broke up with the middle-class Minnesotan to marry a rich Chicago boy—in The Great Gatsby. She is widely acknowledged as a significant inspiration for Daisy Buchanan, the fragile goddess from Louisville who tossed over the striving Jay Gatsby to marry the rich Chicagoan Tom Buchanan.

Toward the end of his life, Fitzgerald—who died of a heart attack in 1940, only 44 years old—continued to refer to Ginevra as “the love of my youth.” Ginevra died in 1980, when she was 82. (Coincidentally, the mansion where Ginevra lived with Bill Mitchell, her first husband, is also for sale; the 14-room house, where Ginevra lived from 1918 until her divorce in 1939, sits on five acres in east Lake Forest and is listed at $6.5 million with Koenig & Strey GMAC.)

Photograph: Arnold Genthe/Office of Communications, Princeton University