The gravesite of F. Scott Fitzgerald includes a capstone with the closing words from his novel, "The Great Gatsby."
The gravesite of F. Scott Fitzgerald includes a capstone with the closing words from his novel, "The Great Gatsby."
When you stand in the middle of St. Mary's parish cemetery in Rockville, you seem almost lost in time.

One of the city's busiest intersections - the conjunction of Rockville Pike and Veirs Mill Road - tuns right by this graveyard. Stately oak trees muffle the constant roar of traffic and shade the faded tombstones from the glare of nearby high-rise buildings.

Probably the most famous tombstone in this tiny cemetery is that of Jazz Age writer F. Scott Fitzgerald. He is best known for his books Tender is the Night, The Great Gatsby and This Side of Paradise. But today, even his grave has a story to tell.

Fitzgerald's connection with Montgomery County comes from his father, who was born in 1853 in a farm near Rockville. Although his parents settled in Minnesota, Fitzgerald occasionally visited an aunt in Rockville. He returned there in 1931 for his father's funeral.

Fitzgerald's grave has not always been at St. Mary's. When he died of a heart attack in 1940 at the age of 44, he was buried in Rockville Union Cemetery. He was allegedly denied burial near his parents in the church cemetery because he was not a practicing Catholic and his books were then on a list condemned by Church authorities.

Thirty-five years after his death, his daughter Frances "Scottie" Lanham Smith and a Rockville civic group requested that Fitzgerald's body be joined with his parents at St. Mary's.

Fitzgerald's daughter gleaned from her father's writings that he wished to be buried near the rest of his family. A letter to his secretary in Baltimore reads, "I belong here, where everything is civilized and gay and rotted and polite. And I wouldn't mind a bit if in a few years Zelda and I could snuggle up together under a stone in some old graveyard here. This is really a happy thought and not melancholy at all."
And, in his novel Tender is the Night, the protagonist says after his father's funeral, "The next day at the churchyard his father was laid among a hundred drivers, dorseys and hunters. It was very friendly leaving him there with all of his relations around him." This excerpt, often considered autobiographical, was published two years after Fitzgerald attended his father's funeral.

Late in October of 1975, the bodies of F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald (who had been buried next to her husband in 1948) were dug up and reinterred in the family plot at St. Mary's.

Approval of the reburial came from then-Archbishop William Baum of Washington. In a written statement, he described Fitzgerald as "an artist who was able with lucidity and poetic imagination to portray the struggle between grace and death. His characters are involved in this great drama, seeking God and seeking love."

Now the pages are closed: Fitzgerald's only child, "Scottie" was buried with her parents in 1986. She once described St. Mary's cemetery as "a quaint oasis in this otherwise turbulent world."

A polished gray capstone covers the ground over the Fitzgerald gravesite, which is inscribed with the closing words from The Great Gatsby: "So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."

Today a large banner hangs on a streetlight visible from Veirs Mill Road pointing out the cemetery where the well-known author is buried. Recent visitors to the site have placed mementos on or near the inscribed capstone including an empty bottle of wine, a small silk bag with a drawstring, and a single tobacco pipe.

According to the parish, the grave is maintained by the city of Rockville's historical society. More information is available at www.peerlessrockville.org, including how to request a self-guided walking tour, "F. Scott Fitzgerald's Rockville: Rockville in the 1920s."