Kate Markert: Her Hey Day, Our Gay Day
To set the record straight on Kate, her Rehoboth neighbors adored her way before she took the helm at Hillwood Estate, inarguably the most fabulous mansion with the most fabulous art collection in D.C. That’s not to say we didn’t love her just a little bit more the day she assumed the role. Mrs. Marjorie Merriweather Post’s gift to the city has always been the rarest of treasures. And now our friend Kate is at her post, making certain Mrs. Post’s wishes are met and her traditions carried out. The fact that she settled into her position about the time that this year’s Gay Day at Hillwood took place only added to our glee—we all headed to Gay Day to celebrate Kate’s career hey day.
Our friendship with Kate began simply enough with figs. Big figs. Figs the size of eggplants. She’d pick them from her tree and then climb on her bike on Saturday mornings and deliver them—gently placed in egg cartons since they were so plump. As lazy front porch visits go, friendships develop and in her case, there was plenty to like—a funny hubby named Bunkie (to her left in the photo) who occasionally wears a fedora and often drives a classic Mustang rag top, and a mother-in-law who is a Stephen Sondheim encyclopedia of knowledge. Figs, fedoras and a Sonhdeim fanatic all in one family. What’s not to love?
Kate spent her days back then at the famed Walters Museum in Baltimore and once invited me to put on my highest drag for the celebration Wide Open Walters where all of Baltimore would turn out and come out for a 72 hour celebration. Wide open. And that meant homos, hon. Fortunately I keep my Eliza Doolittle Ascot Races hat ready for just such an occasion and was able to oblige. She’s always on the cutting edge, our Kate.
So when she took the position at Hillwood, where every visitor every day is handed a lapel pin that reads “fabulous”—all we can think is “how will we know which day is gay day?” Precisely the point. The art and the furnishings are breathtaking—and the grounds too beautiful for words. Since Kate was new, we started with a proper lunch where I learned from a veteran staffer, Angie, that they had done the formal outreach to the gay community in 2001 and the fall tradition had stood since then. I went completely un PC and asked if it was a predominately gay male audience (weren’t the lesbians more interested in the power tools used to build the Putting Green? It’s not like those are on display next to the Faberge collection and the Wedgwood ceramics)—but being the tasteful, refined sort, there was no official comment.
Gay Day arrived and we found Kate under crystal clear skies right where Mrs. Post would have wanted her: square dancing with the Lambda Squares in the round motor court. From the mansion tours to the “tales of marriage” in the auditorium to the Lunar Lawn to the “Punch on the Portico”—it was a gay Disneyland. I casually mentioned to Angie that while I’d never been to gay day at Disney, I suspected that the risk of stressful incidents is decreased when you’re in FABULOUS LAND. Even still, you can just imagine certain groups arriving—and “punch” on the portico could take on a whole new meaning She told me that she’d informed a tour group from Ohio that they were coming on Gay Day, just so it wouldn’t be a surprise to them. The tour bus arrived and the surprise was on us: each and every one of the group had a lapel pin “I’m straight, but not narrow.” So there Angie and I are tearing up at this lovely gesture, while the transexuals safely square dance in the sun. I looked for the tour director all day to thank her, but never connected. (Thank you.)
The Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington always provides goose bumps and misty eyes. Their 3 p.m. concert in the Adirondack Building was no exception. The rustic building, surrounded by native shrubs is an homage to Mrs. Post’s mountain retreat and proved to be acoustically perfect. Where Mrs. Post once saw purple mountain’s majesty, our boys were in shades of lavendar. And with the late fall afternoon sun setting behind them, they sang their hearts out. I probably could have made it through the performance with just misty eyes, but with the freshmen suicide at Rutgers fresh on everyone’s mind, the haunting lyrics of Sondheim’s “Not While I’m Around” pushed me over an edge and tears flowed freely. Staring between the broad shoulders of two transexuals and with Kate and Bunkie sitting to my right, twenty gay men sang Sondheim’s words that I so wish could have been heard.
Nothing’s gonna harm you;
Not while I’m around…
Back at the mansion, above the door to the Russian Porcelain Room are large platters, representing a traditional welcome. One is for bread, the other for salt, the tradition goes. Standing beneath them at Hillwood today is our friend Kate. You can’t miss her. She’s wearing a button that says, “I’m straight but not narrow.” Nothing will harm Hillwood or us.
Not while she’s around.
P.S. Every day is gay day at Hillwood. There’s a “fabulous” lapel pin waiting just for you. Keep an eye on their website for awesome new projects.
Brent Mundt resides in Washington, DC but lives in Rehoboth Beach.