Eggs for Easter

Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter–tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther…. And one fine morning– So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby (1925)

“…”My green light?” said Jinzhao, who has been studying “Gatsby” in her sophomore English class at the Boston Latin School. “My green light is Harvard.”…

…I really want to go to Harvard,” she said. “But if I don’t get into Harvard, I will not die, right?”

“The journey toward the dream is the most important thing,” she said.

And, she added, “There is a green light beyond the green light.” For her that green light is China, where she hopes to use a Harvard education to help the country develop even faster.”

Sara Rimer in New York Times of 17.2.08.

“…Gatsby’s house was not ostentatious. Judgment is in the eye of the beholder, and the eyes that would have beheld Gatsby’s mansion would have belonged to the nation’s most elite subset, whose homes were equally elaborate, if not more so. Between the Civil War and World War II, an estimated 975 estates were built between Manhattan and Montauk, though this number wavers depending on the historian. Approximately one-half remain, so no one can be sure. The stretch of land was a new frontier: undeveloped farmland begging to be converted into polo fields, golf courses, country clubs and gardens—an idyllic playground in which the wealthy could recess when they weren’t holed up in skyscrapers and amassing millions.

The most desirable portion of this stretch was the North Shore, the northern coast of Long Island that borders Long Island Sound, which was nicknamed the Gold Coast (for obvious reasons) and was the de facto location of Fitzgerald’s East and West Eggs. Fitzgerald approximates Gatsby’s property at 40 acres; many estates in the area were hundreds of acres. Gatsby’s mansion was modeled after a Hôtel de Ville in Normandy; some estates literally were châteaux, taken apart on one side of the Atlantic and pieced back together on the other. Play the name game with any of America’s great families—Vanderbilt, Astor, Guggenheim—and chances are they had a Gold Coast residency and perhaps still do.

Back to the Eggs, lest they get scrambled. East and West Egg are Cow Neck and Great Neck, respectively, two peninsulas of Nassau County that border Manhasset Bay. Cruising through this body of water is a lesson in all of the things you should and shouldn’t do, should you ever design a dwelling the size of the White House. They line the water one after another—more shoulds to the east, shouldn’ts to the west—until, like open gates, the land on either side culminates in final, identical tips, marking the end of the bay and the beginning of the Sound. The point to the right is Sands Point East Egg—a village at the end of Cow Neck. This is where Fitzgerald placed Daisy Buchanan’s residence with the infamous green light. To the left: Great Neck—West Egg—Kings Point. Gatsby.

Fitzgerald describes the points as being similar enough to confuse the gulls flying above. At water level, too, they look the same, with each plot of land cascading gently downward into stockpiles of rocks. The difference is at a societal level. Great Neck has a greater number of ethnicities and newly built homes. Manhasset is only slightly wealthier, but it is much more traditional in the privatized way that often accompanies circles with longstanding histories and inheritances; according to the 2010 census, nearly half of its homes were built before 1939. Both are home to the 1 percent, but Manhasset has been so longer.

Fitzgerald moved to Great Neck with his wife, Zelda, in the fall of 1922…

Nearly one-half of the homes that once gleamed along the Gold Coast were abandoned after the Great Depression and torn down by the ‘70s. Even for American royalty, triple-digit acreage and double-digit staffs were too much to fund forever. Like Gatsby’s “huge incoherent failure of a house,” they drowned in their own sauce. But there’s something sexy about this sad fate, too. The fewer clues left, the more the moneyed mystery of the Gatsby mansion begs to be solved.

Fitzgerald, of course, drew from many sources to create a spectacle that, when pulled apart, really did exist. But the full spectrum of all that the house reflected is still revealing itself, what with the shady pool murders and state of estates continually in flux. As if Fitzgerald was in touch with our times to a psychic degree, too, the recession did not spare the Gold Coast and left many dreamlike mansions ownerless—green lights in their own right that slip back out of reach with a single change of tide. Perhaps it’s not so much which mansion was Gatsby’s; it’s which one is destined to be the next.”

Gabrielle Lipton: Where Is Jay Gatsby’s Mansion? And can I visit it? in Slate of 6.5.13.

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