It's been a long time since a book captured my imagination the way Emily Bingham's Irrepressible: The Jazz Age Life of Henrietta Bingham did.
There's something about a really well-crafted biography. Of course, the subject led an extraordinary life, or she wouldn't be considered for biographical treatment. But, some biographies -- and some subjects -- really inspire a reader. They carry you back to a different era, they introduce you to new ideas, they sometimes shock you, and they make you feel like you really know them. Personally, I can never get enough of stories about Kentucky's infamous madam Belle Brezing, Jazz Age darling Zelda Fitzgerald, and now Zelda's contemporary (and fellow Southern judge's daughter) Henrietta Bingham. I just couldn't resist going on a little tour of the places Henrietta knew right here in Louisville.
I wanted to start my tour where the Binghams' story began, at Henrietta's grandparents' home, the Samuel and Henrietta Long Miller House at 1236 South Fourth Street. The Miller Mansion is long gone; in its stead is The Puritan Apartments, a senior-living apartment complex.
Only a few blocks away is the original home of Louisville Collegiate School, where Henrietta matriculated and played basketball.
I then took a drive out to Peewee Valley to visit Henrietta's grandparents' summer home, where her parents lived for a while, and which has undergone significant upgrades and remodeling since Mrs. Miller sold the property in 1915.
Of course, no tour of Henrietta's Louisville is complete without a trip to the famous Pendennis Club, where she scandalized Louisville society by kissing a girl. (The same thing also happened at the Louisville Country Club, but I didn't want to sneak onto private club property to snap photos. For the same reason, I didn't head out to Harmony Landing Country Club, the site of Henrietta's former horse farm.)
Then, I traveled out Louisville's picturesque River Road to visit the homes of Henrietta's father, Judge Robert Worth Bingham. River Road is such an enchanting area; downtown Louisville seems so far away, and yet clearly visible. Indiana's shores are just across the Ohio. It's peaceful and lovely; no wonder it became a fashionable address for estates like the Binghams'.
Of course, Judge Bingham didn't live just anywhere. The private drives and secluded settings of Melcombe Bingham and Lincliff, served as a great reminder of how very sheltered and privileged Henrietta's Louisville life was. (Lincliff, where Judge Bingham made his home with second wife Mary Lily Flagler, is currently home to novelist Sue Grafton.)
Finally, I paid a visit to Cave Hill Cemetery to visit the Bingham family plots. After spending a couple of weeks under Henrietta's spell, I wanted to pay my respects. She truly led a fascinating life, and it only seemed right to take a moment to reflect on the ways in which she captured my imagination.