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CHAPTER 2 Oakington The guest room where Jack Kennedy slept when he stayed at Oakington , the one with the ceiling that featured a raised ornamental plaster image of Cupid pursuing a half-naked nymph, was at the southern end of the house in what our family loved to call the Wicked Wing. Two beautiful wings to the old stone manor house were designed in the early 1900s by the renowned New York architect Stanford White.1 He was commissioned to design them by his friend, James L. “Jimmy” Breese, a millionaire investment banker from New York who purchased the central portion of the Chesapeake Bay estate in 1905.2 How much of the rest of this little story is true, and how much is simply Tydings family legend, is hard to sort out. But I have substantiated the general gist of this tale from a number of sources, and, in any event, this is how that part of the house became known to us as the Wicked Wing. During the fall and winter each year, Breese would come down to Oakington, ostensibly to shoot canvasback ducks that, in those days, were so plentiful they would almost blacken the sky over the Susquehanna Flats at the northernmost end of the Chesapeake Bay. 3 Breese— as the story goes—would bring with him not only a number of his wilder gentleman friends but also a bevy of young NewYork chorus girls. I have on reliable sources that he would leave standing orders at the Aberdeen livery stables that if Mrs. Breese were to show up unexpectedly, they were 1. White was admired for his design of structures such as the triumphal arch at Washington Square in New York City, the Lovely Lane Methodist Church in Baltimore, Fifth Avenue mansions for the Astors and the Vanderbilts, and the “cottage” known as Rosecliff in Newport, Rhode Island. 2. Caroline H. Keith, “For Hell and a Brown Mule”: The Biography of Senator Millard E. Tydings (Lanham, MD: Madison Books, 1991), 283–85. 3. Just north of Oakington is the mouth of the Susquehanna River, which accounts for about half of the fresh water that enters the Chesapeake Bay. 10 CHAPTER 2 to take her by mule the slow way around to Oakington while simultaneously sending word directly to the estate by a shorter route across the bridge at Swan Creek to move their female guests back to New York. Among those who allegedly came down was the beautiful model and chorus girl Evelyn Nesbit. For a time, Nesbit was reputedly White’s mistress, and it was their alleged fling in the room where Kennedy would sleepmorethanhalf acenturylaterthatpromptedustolabelthat section of the house the Wicked Wing. The White-Nesbit relationship became immortalized in a 1955 movie, The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing, a reference to a swing that hung from ivy-twined ropes in the Manhattan apartment where White was reputed to take his young female conquests.4 Buying Oakington Growing up at Oakington was one of the great influences in my life. There has been a farm named Oakington on that site where the Susquehanna River empties into the Chesapeake Bay since an original land grant recorded in 1659, although a series of different families have owned it. At the time my adoptive father, Millard Tydings, became interested in buying the property, he was forty-five, halfway through his second term in the US Senate, and considered one of the most eligible bachelors in Washington. He had been a decorated hero in tough fighting in France during World War I and later became Speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates, a member of the Maryland Senate, a member of Congress, and, beginning in 1926 at the age of thirty-six, a US senator. My mother, Eleanor, came from a prominent and financially and politically successful Wisconsin family. Her father and my namesake, Joseph E. Davies, was a brilliant and successful lawyer who had come to Washington with President Woodrow Wilson. He became a friend and adviser to three presidents and served as American ambassador to Russia and Belgium. My mother attended Vassar and was a Washington 4. White met a spectacular end when in June 1906, at a high-society event at the rooftop theater of Madison Square Garden, he was shot three times at point-blank range by Nesbit’s jealous and enraged husband, the millionaire Pittsburgh coal and railroad heir Harry Kendall Thaw. In the lurid “trial of the century” that followed, Thaw...


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