By Megan McKinney
Salt Cay, Evelyn Shaw McCutcheon’s spectacular wedding present.
John T. McCutcheon had been a friend of Evelyn Shaw’s parents since before her birth. Many years later, she told her daughter-in-law, Susan Dart McCutcheon, she had fallen in love with him when she was “about 10 years old . . . and he never even noticed me.”
In 1914, everything changed. Evelyn graduated from Bryn Mawr and returned a tall, beautiful 19-year-old woman, with a keen sense of humor, who had friends of all ages and both sexes. She was attending adult parties, at which she and “Mr. McCutcheon” now saw each other as peers, frequently dancing together. Soon, they began playing tennis regularly. “It was more court than tennis,” she told Paula “Tookie” McCutcheon, another daughter-in-law.
John T. and Evelyn Shaw McCutcheon, 46 and 22 years of age, leaving on their wedding trip in 1917.
When Evelyn married the celebrated political cartoonist, his wedding present to her was Salt Cay, an island in the Bahamas, which he gave to her on the last stop of their honeymoon. The three and a half mile long, spoon-shaped island, 20 minutes by speed boat from Nassau, was the family winter vacation home for 64 years and three generations of McCutcheons until, in the words of Tookie McCutcheon, the Bahamian government “suggested its sale,” in the late 1980s.
During their years on the island, John and Evelyn entertained thousands of guests, including the Duke and Duchess of Kent, on their honeymoon, and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, several times while he was governor of the Bahamas, during the dramatic scandal-ridden era of the Sir Harry Oakes murder.
The Duke and Duchess of Windsor.
The McCutcheon’s Chicago home was a house-size cooperative in the same stunning Howard Van Doren Shaw building in which the Shaws lived. Evelyn and John raised three sons in the expansive spaces of 2450 Lakeview Ave. and Salt Cay.
The products of this remarkable union were John T. McCutcheon Jr., who matured to become a reporter, columnist and editorial page editor with the Chicago Tribune; Howard Shaw McCutcheon, an editorial cartoonist for The Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Washington, and George Barr McCutcheon II, a brilliant Francis W. Parker School mathematics teacher with a national reputation.
The late social historian and animal advocate Cleveland Amory was a grandson of architect Henry Ives Cobb, an esteemed peer of Shaw’s. During his years at Harvard, Amory was roommate of the eldest McCutcheon son, Jack, and another Chicagoan, the late Dr. John Shedd Schweppe, grandson of Aquarium founder and vintage Marshall Field’s President John G. Shedd.
A few years before his death, Cleveland—while reminiscing with this writer—told an anecdote that revealed a great deal about the complex, extraordinary and totally original man who was John T. McCutcheon—and perhaps why he so completely fascinated almost everyone who came in contact with him.
“During our senior year at Harvard,” Cleveland recalled, “a group of us went down to a marvelous house party at Salt Cay. Brenda Frazier—the most glamorous debutante of the period—came down. She had that perfect, white skin when everyone else was getting a tan.
“Jack McCutcheon’s father was presiding, and we were all talking politics. ‘Stop that,’ he said. ‘I bought this island to have peace, fun and intelligent conversation. No talk of politics or religion.’
“One night, when we were sitting at dinner, he asked each of us in turn at the table to describe the biggest possible news story. One by one, we each spun out a headline, and, one by one, each of us failed the test.
“Finally, Mr. McCutcheon said, ‘The biggest possible news story is this: An asteroid is hurtling toward the earth and in seven days we will all be destroyed.’
“We sat simply stunned for a few minutes before the conversation picked up again. He was right.”
We can’t leave this assemblage of personalities without a parade of pictures of Salt Cay and the exotic but informal life lived there by the extraordinary McCutcheons and their many guests.
This concludes Megan McKinney’s Classic Chicago series of articles on the Howard Van Doren Shaws and John T. McCutcheons.
Robert F. Carl