By Jim Heffernan
|The Great Gatsby movie poster|
How’s that again? The Great Gatsby got his start in Duluth? How come we’ve never heard that before?
Read the book. Once Fitzgerald gets around to telling Gatsby’s backstory, we learn he grew up poor in North Dakota, the son of “shiftless and unsuccessful farm people.” His name was James Gatz, and at age 17 he fled the Dakota farm for Lake Superior where he “loafed along the beach,” and where he met an eccentric yachtsman, whom he saved from dashing his vessel on the rocky shore.
It was then that young Gatz imagined himself as the man who became Jay Gatsby. The yachtsman took him under his wing and also “took him to Duluth and bought him a blue coat, six pairs of white duck trousers and a yachting cap,” before embarking for “the West Indies and the Barbary Coast,” in Fitzgerald’s words.
|Split Rock Light House|
Fitzgerald was a native of St. Paul, where he spent is childhood and youth in the early years of the 20th Century. It is conceivable that at some point in his Minnesota years he came to Duluth, as most Twin Cities people eventually do from time to time.