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Curator discusses ‘Great Gatsby’ connection to Muncy

By Staff | May 11, 2016

BARB BARRETT/The Luminary Curator Jonathan Schau believes there is a connection between Muncy's Henry Gibson Brock and F. Scott Fitzgerald's famous novel, "The Great Gatsby" as he pointed out several references between the two during the Muncy Hisorical Society's opening season program on April 17.

MUNCY – Is there a connection between Henry Gibson Brock of Muncy Farms and Scott Fitzgerald’s famous novel, “The Great Gatsby”?

Apparently Philadelphia curator Jonathan Schau believes there is. Last month he visited the Muncy Historical Society for their opening program for the season, and explained his reasons for this possibility. Was it a coincidence, or was Fitzgerald’s main character based on the life of Henry Brock, a wealthy banker who was once the owner of Muncy Farms?

During Schau’s presentation, he pointed out some elements in the book that could very well have a connection to Muncy. Calling it “the crime, the woman, the cocktail,” Schau came to this conclusion after he proofread a 1923 newspaper in Philadelphia about a hit and run driver with an unknown woman in a ’34 Speedster after an evening of dinner, bridge and cocktails. He did more research to discover New York had 12 papers that ran the story. Fitzgerald was from Long Island.

According to the newspaper account Henry Gibson Brock was at a Main Line party hosted by Bernard “Buzz” Law a wealthy businessman. There is the possibility that Henry may have left the social event that night with Mary Brown Warburton, a Philadelphia socialite whose grandfather was John Wanamaker. At 12:47 a.m. their automobile struck and killed three people exiting a Philadelphia trolley.

“Brock’s story was reported halfway around the world, including Australia,” discovered Schau.

During the course of his research, Schau found fifty similarities between Brock’s story and the Great Gatsby. For example, the left rear wheel was broken and the car landed in a ditch, intoxication was involved, and the incident happened in front of a restaurant. Other connections were pointed out such as a disappearing companion and a crash into a pole.

“In both cases there was a cover up for who was actually driving the car.” Schau believes that Warburton was the driver and Brock covered for her after the fatality. Meanwhile, Mary Warburton’s father, Barclay Harding Warburton was the publisher of the Philadelphia Evening Telegraph, and in 1921 he was named Special Police Commissioner for Philadelphia.

Shortly after the party Mary fled to Palm Beach. She died when she was 42. “Her name appears in Fitzgerald’s diary,” Schau explained.

Fitzgerald completed the “The Great Gatsby” in 1924. “We believe his character ‘Daisy’ was formed after Mary Warburton.”

Henry was served a prison sentence of six to ten years in Eastern State Penitentiary, but was released after 3 years and two months for his efforts to reform prison by purchasing machinery tools so prisoners could make fireplace sconces, card tables and lamp shades. Brock was also the first ex-convict to be appointed to the prison board.

He married Margaret Cupp Burgwin from Pittsburgh who wrote letters to him while he was in prison. The couple then made their country home, Muncy Farms, their permanent homestead. “Henry and Margaret first met at a yacht club in New Jersey,” said Melissa Hancock from Bryn Mawr who came with Schau and has been assiting him with his research.

Henry is buried here in Halls Station. “Jay Gatsby could be Jimmy Gatz, a prominent resident here and buried near Henry Gibson Brock,” thought Schau. “There are indications that everyone knew each other.”

More detailed information with references can be found at Schau’s website Gatsbythetruestory.com. This program was well attended, a full house at the Muncy Historical Society.