Zelda Found Sanctuary And Tragic End Here - TribPapers

Zelda Found Sanctuary And Tragic End Here

Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald circa February 1920. According to Arthur Mizener's 1972 biography "Scott Fitzgerald and His World," page 43, this photograph was taken in February 1920 shortly before Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald were married. Public domain.

Ashevlle – One of the many historical markers along Broadway Street reads, “Zelda Fitzgerald: “Writer, artist, Jazz Age icon; wife of F. Scott Fitzgerald. In 1948, she and 8 other patients died in fire at Highland Hospital, ¼ mile S.

“So, we persist onward, vessels battling the relentless current, endlessly drawn into the embrace of the past.” These profound words, etched into the resting place of F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda in Rockville, Maryland, capture the essence of their lives. Once luminaries of their era, they found solace and intrigue in the landscapes of western North Carolina during the 1930s, where Zelda outlived her husband by eight years.

Zelda Fitzgerald, the iconic and enigmatic figure of the Jazz Age, is perhaps best known as the wife and muse of F. Scott Fitzgerald, the acclaimed author of “The Great Gatsby.” Yet, Zelda was much more than a literary spouse; she was a talented writer, dancer, and artist in her own right. Asheville, North Carolina, holds a unique place in Zelda’s life story, offering a glimpse into her turbulent yet compelling existence.

Born into the family of an Alabama State Supreme Court justice, Zelda Sayre entered into matrimony with Fitzgerald in 1919. The publication of “The Great Gatsby” in 1925 catapulted them into the stratosphere of celebrity. Fitzgerald himself christened the era the “Jazz Age,” with Zelda, whom he affectionately termed “America’s first flapper,” making her mark by authoring the novel “Save the Last Waltz” in 1932.

Photo by Clint Parker

In the summer of 1935, Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald found themselves in Asheville, seeking refuge from the chaos of their lives in New York. Their arrival at the Grove Park Inn, a luxurious and renowned hotel nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains, marked the beginning of a significant chapter in Zelda’s life.

For Zelda, the Grove Park Inn was more than just a hotel; it was a sanctuary. She found solace in the beautiful surroundings, with its panoramic views and fresh mountain air. The Inn, designed by renowned architect Fred Seely, was a masterpiece of Arts and Crafts architecture, offering a serene and peaceful environment that seemed tailor-made for Zelda’s fragile mental state.

However, their lives were marred by shadows. Fitzgerald grappled with alcoholism, while Zelda’s mental health deteriorated into schizophrenia after 1936. Scholars continue to ponder the intricate dynamics of their relationship and its impact on stifling each other’s creative spirits.

In 1936, during their stay at the opulent Grove Park Inn, Zelda embarked on a life-altering journey as she entered Highland Hospital, an exclusive psychiatric institution nestled in Asheville’s Montford neighborhood. Dr. Robert S. Carroll had relocated his practice to this fifty-acre expanse as early as 1909.

His unconventional treatments incorporated physical activities alongside avant-garde methods such as electroshock therapy, insulin treatments, and the injection of horse blood into the spinal column. At Highland, Zelda found an environment conducive to her well-being, allowing her to explore her talent for painting.

The death of her husband in 1940 compelled Zelda to return to Highland Hospital for three prolonged stays, each averaging six months. She embraced life, engaging in activities such as swimming, tennis, shopping, and frequent visits to her mother in Alabama and their summer retreat in Saluda.

However, tragedy would strike on March 10, 1948, when a devastating fire erupted in the facility’s kitchen, quickly engulfing all four floors through the dumbwaiter. Of the twenty resident patients, nine perished in the inferno, while the others were guided to safety.

Zelda Fitzgerald’s fate is believed to have been sealed by smoke inhalation, with her charred slippers providing the only means of identification. Disputes arose over whether the doors were locked at the time.

In 1939, Dr. Carroll bequeathed his institution to the Neuropsychiatric Department of Duke University. Ultimately, Duke shuttered the unit in the 1980s, and the grounds have since transformed into an office park and shopping plaza, where the memories of those who once sought solace and healing now intertwine with the passage of time.

Zelda Fitzgerald’s time in Asheville is a complex and poignant part of her life story. It was a time of creativity, treatment, and tragedy. Today, the Grove Park Inn stands as a testament to her presence in Asheville. The hotel’s Zelda Fitzgerald suite, named in her honor, allows guests to step into her world, with period furnishings and a sense of the past.