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Published: January 3rd 2007
An old man met me at the door and asks what I wanted. “I want to see the Robert Frost house.” The old man said: “Robert Frost was a deadbeat, he lived free in a cottage in the back. This house belonged to Jessie Porter.”
So I was straighten out on the ownership and told I could enter. “Just don’t lift anything and stick it in your pocket.” I was given a couple sheets of paper for my self-guided tour.
Captain George Carey built the house, which dates from 1834. Jessie Porter saved it from destruction in 1934. She lived-in the house until her death in 1979. The house is just as she left it. The entry hall has a Venetian glass chandelier similar to one in the Hemingway House. Jessie and Pauline Hemingway were close friends and purchased similar chandeliers while traveling in Europe.
The music, dining and living room were used a lot for entertaining. Imagine yourself attending one of Jessie’s parties with Ernest Hemingway, Robert Frost, Tennessee Williams, Gore Vidal, Gloria Swanson, John Dos Possos and other Key West celebrities.
The old man said I could play the piano so I went over and played “My
Pour Adeline.” A number I had been inspired to learn from a German Rotary Exchange Student I hosted years ago. A common man playing a piano once used by the greats of the world.
In the music room is a grand photo of Dr. J. Y. Porter, the first public health officer for Florida, credited with eradicating yellow fever from the State.
In the dining room the table is set for a party. Just as Jessie left it. On the sideboard at the end of the room is a tea service given to the Porters. This was a gift from Dr. Samuel Mudd. Dr. Mudd was the surgeon who set John Wilkes Booth’s fractured leg after he assassinated President Abraham Lincoln. He was imprisoned at Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas near Key West. The Porters had befriended him. Another gift by Dr. Mudd was a seashell-covered case he had made in prison. The panes of glass in the dining room were made by encasing live butterflys between two panes of glass.
I understand in the Captains room they used to have a display of Christmas cards and letters Robert Frost wrote to Jessie. They were so
intimate that they were pulled from the display. I can see from the setup they had they had to be very, very close friends. Maybe Frost had in mind Jessie when he wrote the poem E.T:
To E. T.
I slumbered with your poems on my breast
Spread open as I dropped them half-read through
Like dove wings on a figure on a tomb
To see, if in a dream they brought of you….
In the backyard you find a small cottage that Robert Frost used, I think free of charge.
The carriage house was used by the housekeeper I believe and had an oriental rickshaw that Jessie obtained from one of many travels. The yard was highlighted by a beautiful fishpond.
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