Our trip to Augusta, KY was all for Rosemary Clooney. You see, the movie White Christmas is a holiday favorite of mine, as well as my daughter and husband. During the holidays, it is a tradition of ours to watch White Christmas together while we each enjoy a cup of hot chocolate adorned with a candy cane. Some Christmas seasons have included a second viewing of the classic holiday film.
For that reason, the Rosemary Clooney House and Museum has been on my day trip list for several years now. Finally, a few weeks ago, we made it to the house that she called home from 1980 until her death in 2002.
Rosemary Clooney was born in Maysville, KY (just 25 minutes downriver from Augusta) on May 23, 1928 to Andrew and Frances Clooney. Her sister, Betty, was born a few years later in 1931.
Rosemary and Betty began singing together at their grandfather’s mayoral election campaigns in Maysville. They quickly became known as The Clooney Sisters.
A few years later, Rosemary, Betty, and their three siblings moved to Cincinnati, Ohio to live with their grandparents, after their parents separated in 1941. While in Cincinnati, The Clooney Sisters began singing on a local radio station and soon caught the attention of saxophonist and band leader Tony Pastor. Tony invited the sisters to tour with him and his band, which they did for three years.
In 1950, Rosemary signed a contract with Columbia Records and began her solo singing career. She moved to New York City and quickly made a name for herself. Her version of “Come On-a My House,” sold 1,000,000 records! Several more pop songs followed including, “Botch-a-Me“, “Mambo Italiano”, “Tenderly”, “Half as Much”, “Hey There”, and “This Ole House”. She became such a popular singer that she found herself on the cover of TIME Magazine on February 23, 1953, and landed acting roles in movies such as The Stars are Singing (1953) and White Christmas (1954). She even had her own television variety show, The Rosemary Clooney Show. (Watch an episode here.)
With the rise of rock-n-roll, Rosemary Clooney found herself kicked off the pop charts in the mid to late 1950s, but continued to sing with various recording studios into the 1980s.
In 1953, she married Jose Ferrer, a Puerto Rican movie star, and moved to Santa Monica, California. Together they had five children. The marriage was rocky and finally ended in divorce in 1967. From then on she struggled with addition to sleeping pills, which led to her mental breakdown in 1968. She was hospitalized for treatment for several years.
A Return to Kentucky
In 1980, Rosemary purchased a second home, a historic 1835 house, in Augusta, KY, as a place to escape the busy, hectic life of California. Her brother, Nick, and his wife Nina (parents of the famous George Clooney), had a home in the same town. Rosemary called this house home for the next twenty years.
Rosemary Clooney was diagnosed with lung cancer in late 2001, after many years of heavy smoking. She underwent surgery and had months of intensive care. Unfortunately, she lost her battle on June 29, 2002. She is buried in St. Patrick’s Cemetery in Maysville, KY.
Her Home Becomes a Museum
Rosemary’s daughter, Mosita, called Heather French Henry (2000 Miss America and Augusta native) to see if she and her husband wanted to purchase the home. They did and quickly decided to create a museum as Rosemary’s legacy. In 2005, the home opened to the public.
Today, the home is not presented as a home, but as a museum to the career of Rosemary Clooney. One room houses the White Christmas collection. The Henry’s have put together the largest collection of memorabilia including:
The remainder of the first floor includes costumes, posters, and other memorabilia from movies of Rosemary’s. You can see costumes worn by Bob Hope and Bing Crosby. Upstairs, you will find Rosemary’s bedroom with photographs and other personal items, and a room dedicated to Heather French Henry.
Rosemary’s home is not a home museum, but instead a museum. Therefore, you do not get to tour the entire home, and it’s not set up as functional rooms found in a home. Instead, there are museum cases in each of the downstairs rooms showcasing costumes, props, and posters. The two upstairs rooms are set up as bedrooms, one being Rosemary’s.
As fans of White Christmas, the White Christmas room was all we wanted to see! We entered the home to see a staircase and entry hall covered in red carpet. The banister was decorated for Christmas and over the doorway, to what was probably the living room, hung the Pine Tree Vermont sign from the movie. It felt like Christmas in June!
We eagerly waked into the room to see cases filled with multiple costumes from the movie. The classic red dress from the finale scene is a reproduction, but the “Sisters” costumes and fan were originals. Also in the room was a chair from the lodge, as well as a reproduction of the celebration cake presented to Major General Waverly.
The next room in the home was dedicated to costumes and memorabilia from other movies in which Rosemary starred. Honestly, I was not familiar with any of her other movies, so I took few pictures. The last room on the first floor was dedicated to Rosemary’s family. There was a family tree, along with photos and costumes from show and movies in which her nephew, George Clooney, had starred. We toured the upstairs rooms fairly quickly and were then finished. We walked around the home and took a few more pictures, but disappointingly, that was it.
Overall, I was disappointed. I think I anticipated seeing the home as a home museum. I wanted to see the way Rosemary lived. This was not her childhood home however, so that too may have been a disappointment. While the White Christmas room was nice, I wanted more, and the other rooms were okay. Maybe if I were familiar with her other movies, it would have impressed me. As it was, I was not ooh’d or aah’d by anything I saw.
Now, my blogs are meant to motivate you to get out and see Kentucky, and I know this not-so-raving review has not done that. I will say that if you are a fan of Rosemary Clooney’s whole career, this may be a stop you want to make. You could combine this with her home town of Maysville, which is just 25 minutes downriver. There, you could visit the church where she married her second husband, and the cemetery where she is buried. It was not until I researched for this post that I learned her connection to Maysville. If I had known, I probably would have added it to the trip. (Honestly, I might begin completing my research beforehand so I have better plans on what to see. For me though, some of the fun is in the unknown of what we will find on each trip. I do like to find things I didn’t know about, it makes it much more adventurous, I think.)
Now, we did spend the rest of our time wandering the riverside streets of Augusta, which is such a cute, quaint town with history of its own. So, our story doesn’t end with Rosemary’s home. You’ll have to stay tuned for my next blog post to hear about Augusta’s history and our time there.
Until then, get out and see Kentucky!