Holiday House, a Home for “Mad” Women?

The parallel lives of its owners Taylor Swift and Rebekah Harkness

Photo by Daniel Prado on Unsplash

On July 24, 2020, amid a pandemic, Taylor Swift dropped her 8th album, folklore with a surprise release.

A natural-born storyteller, Taylor Swift shares her writing process and inspiration during the folklore: the long pond sessions documentary on Disney+. During conversations with co-collaborators and producers Aaron Dessner and Jack Antonoff, Swift shares how her work on folklore is inspired by stories of someone other than herself.

Swift, known for her autobiographical songwriting, shared that the pandemic gave her time to move beyond the realm of her own experiences and reflect on those of other people. Unlike previous albums, Swift’s pandemic albums folklore and evermore share the point of view and life stories of other people. In her song, the last great american dynasty Swift uses her storytelling talents to share and highlight the life of Rebekah Harkness, the eccentric wife of the heir to the Standard Oil fame, William, “Bill” Harkness.

In the folklore documentary, Jack Antonoff says, “That song is such a folklore moment. The song is not about you, but it’s all about you.”

In 2013 Swift purchased her home Holiday House, a mansion located in Watch Hill, Rhode Island, previously owned by Rebekah Harkness. Swift bought the beautiful seaside home for nearly $18 million in cash.

“50 years is a long time Holiday House sat quietly on that beach…and then it was bought by me.” — Taylor Swift, the last American dynasty

In her storytelling, Swift regales her listeners with the life and times of Rebekah Harkness who hosted loud parties, cleaned the pool with champagne, played card games with Salvador Dalí, and even fought with her neighbor and reportedly dyed the neighbor’s cat green. In Swift’s song, it’s a dog, but stories about the incident reveal that it was actually a cat.

In true Swifty fashion, the singer also shares the parallels of her life still making her song somewhat autobiographical comparing her life at Holiday House with that of its previous owner singing, “Who knows, if I never showed up what could’ve been, there goes the loudest woman this town has ever seen, I had a marvelous time ruining everything.”

Swift could be referencing her festive and epic Fourth of July parties or when she angered longtime Watch Hill residents when she repaired the sea wall in front of her mansion, thereby blocking off access to the beach from fisherman and surfers who have been using that part of the sand generations before she arrived.

Harkness raised similar ire with her fellow Watch Hill residents when she tried to install a dome in her backyard for a practice space for ballet dancers. Harknesses’ neighbors sued her to have the dome removed and won.

Both women are known for making headlines, for having little patience for those who try to put them in a box, for their talent and creativity, and for rubbing elbows with fellow celebrities and creatives. There is a bit of a wistful tone and one of kinship in the last great American dynasty as Swift draws parallels from her life to that of Harknesses’.

While the song is inspired by her home on Watch Hill and the “madwoman” who inhabited it before her, Swift stays true to her roots, by sharing her part in the history of Holiday House. Antonoff shares, “Even though it’s not until the very end when you spin it around, even though the story is about someone else, I think it’s the most revealing thing. I think it’s so deeply personal. It hits you in the gut when you hear that in the end.

Free of women with madness, their men and bad habits, and then it was bought by me.

Who knows if I never showed up what could’ve been.

There goes the loudest woman this town has ever seen.

I had a marvelous time ruining everything. — Taylor Swift, the last great american dynasty

Holiday House in Watch Hill has been the backdrop to lavish parties, extravagant guests, and to the whims of loud, creative “mad” women who make headlines doing what they want and doing it well.

References:

“Holiday House (Watch Hill).” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 7 Mar. 2021, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holiday_House_(Watch_Hill).

Michael Zennie In Westerly, Rhode Island. “Taylor Swift’s Rhode Island Home: Watch Hill Resident Angry over Construction.” Daily Mail Online, Associated Newspapers, 31 Dec. 2013, www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2531481/Taylor-Swifts-Rhode-Island-home-Watch-Hill-resident-angry-construction.html.

“Rebekah Harkness.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 20 Apr. 2021, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rebekah_Harkness.

Thompson, Eliza. “A Complete History of Taylor Swift’s Fourth of July Parties.” Cosmopolitan, Cosmopolitan, 3 July 2018, www.cosmopolitan.com/entertainment/celebs/a22019918/taylor-swift-fourth-of-july-party/.

Writer. Wife. Mom. Runner. Crocheter. Cancer patient in a pandemic.

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