A Home Fit For A Caesar

February 03, 1993|By Ed Brandt | Ed Brandt,Staff Writer

Gen. Douglas MacArthur slept there. So did Henriette Louise Cromwell Brooks MacArthur, the wealthy socialite who owned it. Now Rainbow Hill is a spectacular home for the elderly, a spacious, ornate residence in the Green Spring Valley that has a gentle touch of history about it.

The Rev. Randal Fowler, director of what is now the Baptist Home of Maryland/Delaware, strolls onto a terrace overlooking the valley and points to a low-growing tree, its bare, twisted branches gleaming in the mid-winter sun and surrounded by a bit of irony.

"This ming tree was a gift to MacArthur from Emperor Hirohito of Japan," Mr. Fowler said. "There was a second one, but it died."

The trees arrived at Rainbow Hill during the mid-1920s, 15 or so years before Pearl Harbor turned MacArthur and Hirohito into enemies.

The mansion was completed in 1917, a wedding gift -- along with 150 acres of rolling Baltimore County land -- from a wealthy Philadelphia lawyer to his stepdaughter on the occasion of her marriage to her first husband, Walter Brooks, a Baltimore contractor. The couple had two children, Walter Jr. and Louise.

The marriage ended in 1919, just before Henriette -- she disliked that name and preferred Louise -- discovered bobbed hair, short skirts, and the joys of the Roaring Twenties, when bathtub gin mingled with the Jazz Age and Prohibition to produce one of the most unfettered social periods in American history.

MacArthur was a brigadier general then, a hero of World War I, flamboyant in style, words and deeds as commander of the 42nd, or Rainbow Division in France. At age 40, he was clearly a man with a future. He nearly wrecked it when he met the former Mrs. Brooks in 1921 at a party near West Point -- where MacArthur was superintendent.

According to William Manchester's MacArthur biography, "American Caesar," the pair were "betrothed before the night was out."

A contemporary photo of her explains MacArthur's sudden infatuation. A wide, impish grin on her face is accentuated by a page boy bob that flows in a wave over her right eye. Her left eyebrow is raised archly, and if you've ever seen Clara Bow in an old movie, you've seen a likeness of Louise MacArthur.

The problem was that MacArthur had practically hijacked her out of the arms of Gen. John J. "Black Jack" Pershing, the gruff and unforgiving commander of the American expeditionary force to France and later Army chief of staff. Pershing was MacArthur's boss.

The MacArthurs were married in Palm Beach on St. Valentine's Day, 1922. He was 42, his new wife in her mid-30s. A newspaper account of the ceremony was quaintly headlined: Marriage of Mars and Millions.

Pershing soon took his revenge on them. He assigned MacArthur to a post in the hot and faraway Philippines -- where MacArthur's famous father, Arthur, had once served with distinction -- while curtly denying to reporters that he was "exiling" MacArthur because of his success with Pershing's official Washington hostess, the energetic former Mrs. Brooks. MacArthur was happy with the assignment. The new Mrs. MacArthur was furious, but off they went in late 1922 to MacArthur's heaven and his wife's hell.

Enter MacArthur's mother, Mary Pinkney MacArthur, who shepherded her son's career through the political twists of military life throughout most of her life. In an appeal on behalf of "her boy" to General Pershing, she wrote, "Can't you find it convenient to give him his promotion?"

Pershing relented in January 1925 and gave MacArthur his second star as a major general. He was later assigned to a post in Baltimore, and he and his family were soon on their way to Mrs. MacArthur's Baltimore County estate, now named Rainbow Hill in reflection of MacArthur's command in World War I.

For the next three years, the introspective MacArthur spent the evenings reading and enjoying his two stepchildren, whom he adored, while his wife partied at the nearby Green Spring Valley Club and at other socially acceptable places.

But Baltimore society was too homespun for Mrs. MacArthur, and after two years she moved to New York, leaving her brooding husband home alone on Rainbow Hill. They were divorced in 1929, and she went on to marry twice more.

Today, her head-to-polished-toe portrait still hangs next to the wide stairway to the second floor of the Baptist home. Some of the paint has flaked away, but her beauty is still apparent.

The huge master bedroom in the East Wing where the MacArthurs slept is now divided into four bedrooms and four bathrooms for the residents, and the grand ballroom -- which once vibrated with the Charleston, the Black Bottom and other '20 dances -- is a place for quiet conversation, movies and bingo.

The Georgian-style mansion passed through several hands before the Baptist home acquired the estate -- now down to 42 acres -- in 1963. Forty-one people now live there under the care of Rev. Fowler and a staff of 50 full and part-time people.

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