Thursday, January 24, 2019

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings House Tour

 Pam Schwartz and I drove to Cross Creek, Florida to see the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings home. Her cracker-style home and farm, where she wrote her Pulitzer prize-winning novel The Yearling and other wonderful works of fiction, has been restored and is preserved as it was when she lived there.

She was born on August 8, 1896, in Washington, DC. In 1933, after the publication of her first book, she and her husband Charles were divorced; living in rural Florida did not appeal to him.

Her biggest success came in 1938 with The Yearling, a story about a Florida boy, his pet deer, and his relationship with his father, which she originally intended as a story for young readers. It was selected for the Book-of-the-Month Club, and it won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1939. MGM purchased the rights to the film version, which was released in 1946, and it made her famous. Gregory Peck who starred as the father in the film adaptation is said to have stayed as a guest in Marjorie's Cross Creek home.

Marjorie loved the local characters who inspired the characters in her books. One cantankerous woman described by the author as an "angry and efficient canary" was enraged by how she felt she was depicted in one of the books. She sued the author for $100,000 in defamation. The case was eventually dismissed by a judge, but the case was overturned in an appellate court and the author was ordered to pay the woman $1 in damages. This was also a victory, but Marjorie must have payed lawyers plenty of money to defend herself. After this case she never again wrote about her Cross Creek neighbors. Hardened Florida neighbors would never again appear in the pages of her books. They just weren't worth it.

The cracker home is lovingly restored to look exactly as it did when Marjorie lived here. Chickens ran around the grass and a small orchard of orange trees was still in the back yard. She wrote about the struggle of trying to save a crop of these oranges from the freeze. In 2007, the house and farm yard was designated as a National Historic Landmark, our nation’s highest historic recognition. Marjorie died on December 14, 1953 in St. Augustine, Florida.

After touring the house, we went to the Yearling Restaurant (Hawthorne, FL) for pulled pork and a chance to sketch a local guitarist in the rustic setting. The musician seemed convinced I would make a mint on the sketch and seemed upset that I wasn't cutting him in on the yet-to-be-seen profits. Then we hiked in the Ocala National Forest where The Yearling was filmed. Only hints of the foundations remained of the movie set. We also ran across an old cracker cemetery with maybe 10 graves from early settlers. Hiking out we came across two hikers who had on short shorts and were carrying gardening sheers. There were two paths into the forest and they asked us how long a hike it was. Rather than take a path they started cutting their own path into the forest with the sheers. Pam kept looking back convinced they might be murderers. She was ready to take out the one on the right. The trail head is out in the middle of nowhere and oddly the two mystery hikers had no car parked at the entrance. It must be miles to the next town. Maybe they jogged, but they didn't seem winded.

In skimming news posts, I found out that bodies are always being found in Ocala National Forest. In 2018, a dismembered female torso was found by a hiker in the 387,000-acre forest. Police send out a photo of a beautiful robin tattoo in the hope that someone in the community might identify the remains. Within 24 hours, she was identified as Robin Lee Upson of Belleview, Fl. Christopher Lee Takhvar, 43, of Hawaii, became the number one suspect after Upson’s mother told detectives that her daughter and Takhvar had argued.

Takhvar was Upson’s business partner and had traveled from Hawaii to help her with some work.
While at Upson’s residence, the two began to argue. During the argument, he killed Upson and then stole her van. The van was later found in Orlando.

Takhvar claims that he killed Upson in self-defense. He stated that she came at him with a knife so he defended himself with a chainsaw that he “accidentally turned on” as he was defending himself. He then "accidentally" decapitated the woman and dismembered her body with the chainsaw. He cut off her arms, legs, and head and buried them in the backyard of Upson’s home. He then discarded her torso in the Ocala National forest.

Takhvar fled to Texas where he was arrested on August 15, on an outstanding Marion County warrant for Grand Theft Auto. 

Prints are available for each sketch for $250 and many originals can be purchased for $400. White museum grade shadow box frames are $100 more. You can e-mail Thor at

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