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Edith Rockefeller McCormick, the renegade Rockefeller

Aside from great wealth, the name Rockefeller connotes responsibility stewardship, and gravitas.  The august family tree has produced many individuals known for their philanthropy and contributions to society, but few have garnered attention for their flamboyant personalities and unorthodox lifestyle.Edith Rockefeller McCormick

Edith Rockefeller was the daughter of Standard Oil tycoon John D Rockefeller, and older sister of John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Her relationship with her father was tempestuous at best, as her extravagance and exuberance were at odds with his own, frugal, abstemious ways. Edith married Harold Fowler McCormick, a son of mechanical reaper inventor Cyrus McCormick, in 1895.

Moving to Chicago, she commissioned popular architect Charles Platt to create a country retreat for her in Lake Forest.  The result was Villa Turicum, a modern interpretation of an Italian villa, famous for its ostentatious scale, and extensive gardens.  Costing over Five million dollars to construct, it was used relatively little as the years progressed, but she kept the garage house, and grounds fully staffed and ready for her to arrive at a moments notice, should that be her whim.  She acquired a fabulous jewel collection, including an emerald necklace containing stones that once belonged to Catherine the Great, and later the Grand Duchess Vladimir.Villa Turicum
Garden at Villa Turincum

In 1913 she traveled to Zurich to be treated for depression by Carl Jung , returning to America in 1921 after an 8 year stay. She and McCormick were divorced in December 1921. Harold married Ganna Walska, a famous, ut by all accounts mediocre Polish opera singer in August, 1922. Within days of Harold's remarriage, Edith announced plans to marry Edward Krenn, a 28 year old Austrian architect. The plan fell through for undisclosed reasons in December, 1922. Over the next few years, Edith and Harold frequently found themselves in court in lawsuits over the divorce agreement.

In February 1923 she was in the press for claiming to be the reincarnation of the wife of King Tutankhamen. She was quoted as saying, "I married King Tutankhamen when I was only sixteen years old. I was his first wife. Only the other day, while glancing through an illustrated paper, I saw a picture of a chair removed from the King's chamber. Like a flash I recognized that chair. I had sat in it many times. The Rockefeller family must have reacted to stories like this with with a collective cringe.  She followed up by stating "My interest in reincarnation is of many years' standing." She was also said to be interested in astrology and to celebrate Christmas on December 15.

Edith died of breast cancer in 1932.  In true “Heiress Hall of Fame” style, she had spend her entire fortune, and then some, dying in debt.  No buyer could be found for her lavish Villa Turicum, which decayed for decades before being razed in 1965.Ruins of the gardens  Her emeralds were sold by her heirs to the jeweler Cartier, which were in turn bought by another heiress, Barbara Hutton. It is said that some of these same stones ended up in Elizabeth Taylor’s famous necklace.  The McCormick Emeralds in Barbara Hutton's tiaraSome of the same emeralds used again in Liz Taylor's necklaceFor those interested in learning more, there is a fascinating website called the Villa Turicum Blog, devoted to Edith her home, well worth a read, you can access by clicking here.

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