Katharine Hepburn, Fenwick and the Hurricane of 1938
Katharine Hepburn’s mother, “Kit” Hepburn, insisted that the Fenwick house would withstand the rising tides and the gale-force winds. After 25 summers spent with the extended Hepburn clan filling the house, it felt like a permanent fixture in their lives, and it remained a touchstone and retreat for daughter Katharine even after her Hollywood career brought her fame and success. Katharine had spent the morning outdoors, pursuing her usual Fenwick activities, playing nine holes of golf and swimming in the swelling surf. In 1938, there was no hurricane warning system in Connecticut, and the family had no idea that this was more than a strong storm. After the laundry wing fell off the back of the house and the windows started to blow in, “Kit” was obliged to climb out the dining room window into the waiting arms of her son Dick, who was standing in a foot and a half of rising water. Katharine followed her mother. They reached higher ground just in time to turn and see the family summer home float away. It eventually came to rest about one third of a mile away, the third floor completely intact and untouched by water.
Combing the empty beach where the house had stood the morning after the storm, Katherine and her brother were able to find 85 pieces of silver flatware and their mother’s entire tea service buried in the sand. The family resolved to rebuild and replaced the cozy family summer cottage with a much larger more impressive house. Katharine returned to visit throughout her busy career and in her last years moved to the house in Fenwick full time. Remembering Fenwick in her autobiography, Me: Stories of My Life (1991), she wrote: “Fenwick is and always has been my other paradise.” The combination of swimming, diving, golf, tennis and anonymity in a small town made Fenwick the perfect paradise for a Connecticut girl and a Hollywood star.
Come learn more about Katharine Hepburn’s life in Connecticut, her extraordinary film and stage career and her iconic style when you visit Katharine Hepburn: Dressed for Stage and Screen at the Connecticut Historical Society, 1 Elizabeth Street, Hartford. CHS is offering Public Guided Tours at 2:00 pm every Tuesday and Saturday in July and August that are free with museum admission.