The Great Gatsby’s Gold Coast
In the nearby town of Roslyn is the William Cullen Bryant Nature Preserve, home to the Nassau County Museum of Art. Housed in the exquisite Bryce-Frick mansion (built in 1900 by General Lloyd Bryce and purchased by Childs Frick, son of steel magnate Henry Clay Frick, 19 years later), the charming museum hosts a variety of changing exhibitions featuring the likes of Catalan painter and sculptor Joan Miro and African-American painter Jean-Michel Basquiat. The real appeal, though, is the contemporary sculpture garden that stretches out across the wide lawns, with works by Mark di Suvero, Alexander Calder, Richard Serra and many more lesser-known, but no less thrilling artists. Another glorious example of the Gold Coast excess described in the novel, the house is complemented by the many trails of the preserve leading to lovely harbour views and the occasional sighting of a red-tailed hawk.
Another prime site that recalls this glamorous and unique past is the Vanderbilt Museum in Centerport, Long Island. At the eastern edge of the Gold Coast, about 25 miles from Great Neck, this 24-room Spanish-style estate was home to William K Vanderbilt II, great-grandson of the famed railroad industrialist Cornelius Vanderbilt. The Vanderbilts, one of the most prestigious families in America, were the sort of social barons that Gatsby longed to emulate. The common lineage of Fitzgerald’s antihero (born in the Midwest to working class parents) is something he could never overcome and, in some ways it led to the character’s tragic, waterlogged fate. Visitors who take the mansion tour will learn of the owner’s extravagant 1920s lifestyle, which included decadent parties attended by the most glamorous socialites of the era.
The estate has been turned into an oddball museum dedicated to Vanderbilt, and a primary attraction is his collection of native arts and fauna (such as hundreds of taxidermy birds, including some extinct ones, displayed alongside shrunken heads and exotic tools). Other notable curiosities include a real Egyptian mummy and preserved giant lobsters – some weighing as much as 35lb. Everything inside the Eagle’s Nest mansion, with its spectacular high-perched views of the sound and Northport harbour, is original from its owner – a fantastic relic of millionaires with unlimited financial resources from days gone by.
An immersive Gatsby experience
Those with a sea-faring bent might enjoy the Great Gatsby Boat Tour (on Saturdays mornings from July through September before the weather turns too chilly). It cuts through the waters of Manhasset Bay between King’s Point near Great Neck and Sands Point near Port Washington, and glides past the various historical boathouses and mansions that inspired Fitzgerald, like the aforementioned Hempstead House as well as several other private homes. While much of what you see has been built up since Fitzgerald had his characters ran amok throughout the shore, it is an interesting look at the grandiosity with which the novel has become synonymous. Today there might be more speedboats than sailboats, or Range Rovers than Rolls Royces, but the tony, moneyed communities are much the same as in the 1920s.
Fitzgerald fans should also take a trip to 6 Gateway Drive in Great Neck, where Fitzgerald and his infamous wife Zelda lived from 1922 to 1924 while he worked on the novel. At the time, the cottage was modest compared to the glitzy mansions of his wealthy characters and neighbours, but the now extravagant private home has since been remodelled. Those looking to visit the author and his wife today will need to head south to Rockville, Maryland to find their eternal resting spots.
These sites are all close enough to New York City to be day-tripper friendly. If you are looking to spend the night in Jazz Age hotel, however, the best option is Oheka Castle. A French chateau-style home and one of the largest private residences built in the US, it was home to many swinging nights in the 1920s until its owner’s death in the 1930s. Today it has 32 hotel rooms, fine dining, formal gardens, a spa and golf, and is a gorgeous place to conjure Gatsby for the night.