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Evalyn Walsh McLean
Former home of:
Evalyn Walsh McLean (Mining Heiress, Socialite, Last Owner of the Hope Diamond)
Located: 3308 R St. NW, near Wisconsin Ave NW
This was the final home of Evalyn Walsh McLean, flashy owner of the 44.5 carat Hope Diamond.
Her childhood home, built by Tom Walsh to upstage rivals among Washington’s burgeoning nouveaux riches, still stands at 2020 Massachusetts Avenue and is now the Embassy of Indonesia
Evalyn Walsh McLean was one of a kind, the feisty daughter of an Irish immigrant who struck gold – lots of gold – during the height of the rush for riches in the wild west at the turn of the century. With this new found wealth, Tom Walsh moved his family east to Washington, DC.
"That was when everyone had started coming to Washington who had money," says columnist Sarah Booth Conroy. "It was a big thing then to come to Washington and become a part of the national scene, and that’s when all these big houses were built. It was considered the thing to do to come here, and go to parties – maybe three parties in one night, for heavens sakes!"
The Walsh mansion on Massachusetts Avenue became the scene of some of the most lavish entertaining in Washington. Evalyn’s wild tomboy days were over, and her grooming as a debutante began.
"An agreement was reached in our family for me to go to Paris to study – music, French and other parlor tricks of ladies," said Evalyn in her autobiography, Father Struck It Rich. "By some school magic, I was to become a lady!" "She was supposed to be sent there to make a good match, you know," adds Conroy. "What she really did was to buy out the whole town of Paris… innumerable dresses from Worth and all of those places. And her father heard that she was living the high life in Paris, and he thought that she had better come home, so he canceled her credit. But she had the foresight to know that he would do that, so she bought everything in town first. And she brought tons of stuff back with her."
Evalyn changed her wardrobe and hairdo with the days of the week, returning from one trip with an outrageous new look. "She came back from a visit to Europe with a very fancy hairdo," says Conroy."It was so complicated she couldn’t wash her hair because nobody could put it back together. And her father just hated it, and all the girls at school made fun of her. And the headmistress said, ‘You just can’t do that.’ So her father asked, ‘Well, what would it take to make you put your hair back like everybody else?’ And Evalyn answered, ‘Jewelry!’ So he gave her a beautiful bracelet that was very elegant and that was one of her first acquisitions." As Evalyn said at the time, "I cannot help it if I have a passion for jewels. The truth is, when I neglect to wear them, astute members of my family call in doctors!"
In 1908, Evalyn eloped, against her family’s best advice, with the handsome heir to the Washington Post fortune, Edward Beale McLean. With 0,000 in "pin" money as a wedding gift from both families, the newlyweds sailed off on a three-month honeymoon to Europe and the Mid-East. At the end of the trip, Evalyn and Ned arrived in Paris without even enough money left to pay the hotel bill. "So I cabled my father and he sent me fresh credit and his love," said Evalyn. "Then I went to Cartier’s. That is the way I always get into trouble when I have some money in my hands. …"
Evalyn Walsh McLean (b. 1886 in Leadville, Colorado, d. 1947 in Washington, D.C.) was an American mining heiress and socialite who was famous for being the last private owner of the Hope Diamond as well as another famous diamond, the Star of the East. She also was the author, with Boyden Sparkes, of a memoir, "Father Struck It Rich".
She was the only daughter of Thomas Walsh, an Irish immigrant miner and prospector turned multimillionaire, and his wife, Carrie Bell Reed, a former schoolteacher.
In 1908, she married Edward Beale McLean, the heir to the Washington Post and Cincinnati Enquirer publishing fortune. They had four children: Vinson Walsh McLean (an epileptic who died at the age of nine, following a traffic accident), Edward Beale McLean Jr, John Roll McLean II, and Emily Washington McLean (who later changed her name to Evalyn Walsh McLean). The couple, whose marriage was full of infidelity and substance abuse (he was a spectacular alcoholic, while she was addicted to morphine), divorced in 1929, though the decree was invalidated due to the divorce having been illegally obtained in Lithuania. Ned McLean eventually became the common-law husband of Rose Douras, a sister of the Hollywood film star Marion Davies, before dying in a mental institution.
The couple’s notoriety is reflected by their appearance in Cole Porter’s title song to the 1934 musical, Anything Goes:
"When Missus Ned McLean (God bless her)
Can get Russian reds to "yes" her,
Then I suppose
Evalyn Walsh McLean was also a friend and confidante to Alice Roosevelt Longworth and Florence Harding, the wife of Warren G. Harding, the 29th President of the United States.
The site of her summer house, Friendship — a sprawling country mansion built for her father-in-law by John Russell Pope and which was located on Tenleytown Road, N.W. — is now an apartment complex known as McLean Gardens. (The original house was demolished in the 1940s though some of the property’s garden features remain intact, as does the Georgian-style ballroom.) A later residence, also known as Friendship, is located at the corner of R Street, N.W. and Wisconsin Avenue, and remains a private home. Her childhood home, a grandiose Second Empire-style mansion at 2020 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W., is now the Indonesian embassy.
McLean was a victim of Gaston Means, a former F.B.I. agent, murder suspect, and drifter, who claimed that he had set a deal to free the Lindbergh baby for a ransom of over 0,000 (USD) which Evalyn McLean advanced him. Means disappeared with the money only to resurface months later in California and ask McLean for additional funds. Suspicious of Means’ activities, she helped lead police to Means, who was also wanted for other various crimes and civil actions. This ultimately lead to his conviction and imprisonment on larceny charges.
Evalyn Walsh McLean died of pneumonia and was buried in Rock Creek Cemetery, Washington D.C., in the Walsh family tomb