Ginevra King Mitchell, whose storybook life would continue.
By Megan McKinney
John J. and Louise Mitchell left a handsome legacy in their children. It was their eldest son, William H. Mitchell II, who married Ginevra King, long celebrated as the muse who inspired many of the heroines of F Scott Fitzgerald’s fiction, including The Great Gatsby’s Daisy Buchanan.
The Blue Devils
This Mitchell son followed his years at Harvard by enlisting in the Navy during World War I and joining America`s first stunt flying team, the Blue Devils.
The financial genes inherited from his father and grandfather inspired Bill’s 1919 co-founding of the investment and banking firm Mitchell, Hutchins & Co. with James C. Hutchins. Ten years later he “moved it away from banking and investment shortly before the stock market crash of 1929.” Mitchell Hutchins would be acquired by Paine Webber in the late 1970’s and by UBS at the beginning of this century.
Apart from non-Chicago area columnists with Scott Fitzgerald items that were ignored by Bill and Ginevra Mitchell, the couple and their three children lived quietly at Lake Forest’s 901 Rosemary Road—until the rainy night of November 21, 1931.
901 Rosemary Road
It was about 10:30 p.m.—backgammon time—which the Mitchells and a half dozen or so their guests were playing toward the end of a small dinner party. Guests included Mrs. E.A. Cudahy, Jr., Mr and Mrs Leslie Wheeler, Mr. and Mrs. William McCormick Blair, Mr. Ralph J. Hines and Mrs. Louise DeKoven Bowen.
Louise DeKoven Bowen
Outside, at the cottage of the Mitchell’s chauffeur, Bill Matheson, five masked men, waving pistols, appeared, rounding up Matheson and Arthur Metzger, the night watchman and marching them to the big house.
“After taking money from all guests and removing jewelry worn by Mrs. William McCormick Blair and the other women, three members of the gang held pistols on Ginevra while escorting her upstairs to her jewelry. Meanwhile, Bill Matheson managed to telephone the police, who arrived in time to exchange shots with the robbers as they fled. Happily, the following day, an overcoat with jewelry stuffed pockets was found on the estate. The robbers were rounded up, tried amid immense publicity, sentenced to one year in the Illinois State Penitentiary, and any hope of a quiet life vanished for the William Mitchells.” Although this was a rare night of this sort in Lake Forest, hence part of the local legend for nearly a century, we are indebted to Edward Arpee’s Lake Forest, Illinois: History and Reminiscences, 1861-1961 for the above details.
Department store heir John T. Pirie, Jr. then entered the Mitchell story.
On the surface, the Mitchell marriage had remained a smooth, proper alliance for almost 20 years. Then, suddenly, in a novelistic twist—a life-altering romantic moment that not even F. Scott Fitzgerald could have imagined—everything changed.
The following event is anecdotal, never verified in print; however, it is too charming to be left out of this account. During a 1937 North Shore fox hunt, a horse balked at a fence, throwing its rider, John Taylor Pirie Jr., to the ground in an unconscious heap, and then bolted across a field. The errant horse that morning was not an ordinary runaway but an equestrian metaphor for a dramatic event that was in the process of revising the remainder of Ginevra’s life—and John’s. She had been following closely behind Pirie, and it took only the sight of him lying on the grass motionless for her to leap to the ground and prepare also to bolt. She hovered over him until the ambulance arrived, climbed into it after him, and remained with him not merely until he healed—but for the next 40 years.
In what appears to have been a genuine love match between two fully formed adults, both dissolved their respective marriages, and the couple wed quietly on April 7, 1942, continuing a quintessential storybook romance that had eluded even Scott Fitzgerald’s pen.
General Robert E. Wood
Following his divorce from Ginevra, Bill Mitchell’s second wife would be Anne Wood, daughter of long-time Sears president General Robert E. Wood.
Another image of John Taylor Pirie Jr
When John Pirie left this life on November 10, 1980, Ginevra followed within little more than a month, on December 13.
Author Photo: Robert F. Carl