It was on a lovely summer day as I toured the Robert R. McCormick Museum with my parents that Coattails and Cocktails was conceived. As I strolled through the mansion and ogled the vintage features in room after room, I realized it would make the perfect setting for a Gosford Park-type murder mystery. I decided to set my story in the 1920s, before the house's extensions would've been built, but the fictional "Belleau" that you visit in the story is very much the Cantigny you see today. I took some historical and architectural liberties, of course, but the life and home of Colonel Robert McCormick (a WWI citizen-soldier and head of the Chicago Tribune) certainly made its mark on this book.
Welcome to Belleau...
The scene of the crime in
The impressive Freedom Hall inside McCormick's Cantigny mansion became the "Liberty Library" in the novel--and the scene of the crime!
The Drawing Room is also a prominent setting in the story where the characters spend most of their time sleuthing their own murder case.
The beautiful blue Dining Room features in the story's dinner scene. As described in the book, the real Cantigny's room is wallpapered with a mural that McCormick's second wife, Maryland, bought in China. Maryland's penchant for East Asian art is evident in the decor throughout the Cantigny mansion and inspired my Edith Warne character. Edith embodies a bit of McCormick's first wife, Amy, as well, sharing her artistic talent and humor with the "skeletons in her closet" (they're real, too! Ask the tour guide!).
And at the bottom of the hidden silver stairwell is the actual Gold Theatre, where Ransom entertains his guests with films.
The rear Madison Porch sets the opening scene of the book, where Edith serves her cocktails and observes her husband with suspicion.
The Jefferson Porch also looms large just outside the Freedom Hall, just as in the story, it's located off of the Liberty Library. This eastern extension didn't exist at Cantigny until the 1930s, but, for the story's purposes, it was built at Belleau by 1929.
No longer existing at Cantigny is the Swimming Pool on the mansion's east lawn, where Rex takes an impromptu dip with Lottie and Helen. But as you can see in this photo, it was on the grounds at one point. The terraces leading down in the distance are still there, however, and are where Rex runs into Ernie Hart. I took other liberties with the landscape, of course, like adding a tennis court that probably never existed on the property, at least not where I've situated it. The beauty of FICTION!
That all being said, I am quite indebted to Cantigny and Colonel McCormick for sparking so many ideas and letting me live in his wonderful Wheaton world for a bit. :)