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So We Beat On...

For seven years, I taught F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby to 11th graders. Before that, I had read the bulk of his work as an English major and even before that (although not before having read The Great Gatsby for the first time myself), I visited The Grove Park Inn with my family, where I stood in awe before a guest room door marked with Fitzgerald's name.

During the years when I taught Fitzgerald's work, I also talked about his life: tumultuous and boozy and brief. I told my students that his grave was only a short distance away, in Rockville. It's a strange story of how Fitzgerald, who died in Hollywood, came to be interred at St. Mary's Church, some 35 years after his death.

Fitzgerald's history in Maryland is pretty well-marked. Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald was a descendant of that famous songsmith of the Revolution (who is buried in the town where I live, Frederick). The family had a plot at St. Mary's for many years. However, at the time of his death, the Catholic Church wasn't keen on having the famously drunk and debauched Fitzgerald on Church grounds. So, Zelda (still living near Asheville), arranged for him to be buried in Rockville Cemetery nearby. For 8 years, he lay there alone. When Zelda was killed in a fire at Highland Hospital in 1948, Scott's grave was made deeper and she was placed on top of him.

They stayed that way until 1975 when Scottie, their daughter, reminded the caretakers of the Rockville Cemetery that her parents were actually supposed to be interred at St. Mary's. By then, the Fitzgeralds' literary legacy had given them legitimacy and the Church was happy to take them in. So, they were disinterred from Rockville Cemetery and placed in St. Mary's Cemetery where they remain today. In fact, their daughter is now also buried there with them.

So, I knew that the Fitzgeralds' final resting place wasn't far from where I was living, but I never had made it there to see them. That is, until yesterday. After doing some basic research online, I drove down to Rockville and parked my car in front of the small elementary school attached to the church (it was Sunday, after all, and Mass was just letting out when I arrived). The cemetery is small and it was easy to find the marker once inside the gate (if you're planning a visit yourself, just look to the right as you enter the gate and you'll see it). Scott's birthday was only a month ago and some remnants of celebration remained (a champagne bottle, a bottle of Old Crow, and the box for a bottle of Johnny Walker Black as well as some melted candles were scattered around). I left some roses myself.

The grave is marked by two stones: one that details the births and deaths of both Scott and Zelda and one that is engraved with the final line of The Great Gatsby ("So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."). I think that this is both very fitting and very sad as an epitaph. Scott and Zelda's lives were a constant struggle to return to some happier, more glamorous past--a past that wasn't as happy or as glamorous as it seemed in hindsight. Now, that struggle is memorialized forever on their grave marker.

For me, though, the most interesting thing about visiting their grave was its location: St. Mary's (which has been there a long time) now sits in the heart of Rockville on a busy street right across from a big, mirrored office building. The cemetery is small and quaint and many of the markers are old and even crumbling, but just outside the leaning gates is a frantic modern city. It's a strange juxtaposition and I wonder if it's a world Fitzgerald could have imagined?

I'm so glad I went. Scottie Fitzgerald's marker is just in front of her parents'. The cemetery is shady and I think it would be a nice place to rest for eternity. Even with all the traffic whizzing by...and the sun glinting off of the office building adjacent.

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