The House at Lobster Cove, by Jane Goodrich; Benna Books, $24.95, 388 pages.
George Nixon Black (1842-1928) was a Boston-based heir to a real estate fortune, philanthropist, and collector, and in Jane Goodrich's fictionalized biography, violence and unhappiness give way to secret romance. Born in a rough-and-tumble timber town in Maine, Nixon's privileged childhood is marked with turmoil. His family moves to Boston, and Nixon's nascent homosexuality requires stealth and secrecy while navigating a world filled with buttoned-up Brahmins.
After the death of his infirm sister, Nixon (as he was called to distinguish from his father) taps architect Robert Peabody to build a summer home in the seaside resort town of Manchester-by-the-Sea. Dubbed Kragsyde, the shingle-style home becomes Nixon's private pleasure grounds where he retreats from Boston with his lover, Charles Brooks Pittman. Nixon and Pittman carve out nearly forty years at Kragsyde, pursuing an unconventional life of domestic bliss. Since so little is known about Nixon's private life, here the author has crafted a persuasive rendering of what happened behind closed doors.
As one of the wealthiest men in Boston, Nixon also used his fortune to amass a magnificent collection of antiques and paintings, and ultimately became one of the largest benefactors of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. The iconic portrait of George Washington by Gilbert Stuart, for example, came from Nixon.
Goodrich first learned about Kragsyde and its owner as an art-history student. When she discovered that the house had been demolished 1929, she vowed to resurrect it on Swan's Island, Maine, which planted the seed for this project.
The book itself reflects Goodrich's other formidable talent as a letterpress printer. The cream-colored cover and title pages were both hand-printed at the author's studio, while the illustration is Peabody's own hand-drawn sketch of Kragsyde.
A beguiling examination of life and love in the Gilded Age, The House at Lobster Cove is an ode to a man, his house, and their respective secrets.
All images courtesy Jane Goodrich. Library photo: Bret Morgan.