“American Castle: One Hundred Years of Mar-a-Lago” by Mary C. Shanklin, Diversion Books $29.99, 304 pages
If these walls could talk.
If only the floors could identify who walked across them carrying towels, suitcases or boxes. Will the doors remember who closed them or why? Can windows tell who is looking out of their glass sides? If the walls of a building could talk – say the ones in Mary C. Shanklin’s novel The American Castle – imagine the issues that could be put aside.
In a way, it all started with the Spanish Flu.
If Blanche Houghton had not fallen ill and died, her husband, investment banker EF, would not have become a widower. Had she been alive, Hatton would not have had the opportunity to be captured by the beautiful cereal heiress, Marjorie Meriwether Post on the evening of Valentine’s Day 1920.
Picture this: two very wealthy, single people having an evening on a luxury houseboat near Palm Beach. He came to Florida to get a taste of what the elite up-and-coming field has to offer. Shanklin says she was there to enjoy their post-divorce romance.
So one thing led to another, and they got married. They honeymooned in the Adirondacks, then settled in many luxurious homes in many delightful places. The new Mrs. Hutton was particularly enamored, not of the “little” house in Palm Beach that her husband loved best, but of the house she had begun to build. Marjorie spent millions on the mansion, which she named Mar-a-Lago, Spanish for “sea to lake.”
Unfortunately, after a while, Hatton’s marriage was doomed.
The settlement was generous with Marjorie, who received her Mar-a-Lago home, among other homes – but the bloom was far from the rose and she almost abandoned her mansion in favor of other interests. Determined to preserve Mar-a-Lago, she tried to donate it to the US government in the 1960s, but while it was accepted into the last-minute paperwork by one presidential administration, it was not listed by another. The mansion built by the cereal company was repeatedly put up for sale, remaining barely used, until a New York real estate mogul finally bought it in 1985.
Reading “American Castle” is like having a tabloid newspaper in front of you and a history book on its side. Or the other way. Or both; Interwoven with so many important historical events, there’s enough here to satisfy both genres alike.
Author Mary C. Shanklin reports on the scandalous behavior of the rich and famous a century ago in a disparaging way that evokes gentle hilarity, reminiscent novelty and a lot of clutching of pearls. However, the long story of the big house is a serious one redolent of real money, lavish perks, government bureaucracy, and the aura of a white elephant. That Mar-a-Lago is now and forever linked in an invariable way to politics and accusations. The indictments are the part you should read, even if you think you know what Shanklin is presenting.
You want the rest of the story, you’ve got it here, so don’t miss it. If you love franchise history, politics, or current events, American Fortress is a book you won’t stop talking about.