In 1884 James and Ella O’Neill already
had friends and family in New London when the actor purchased the Pink
House at 134 Pequot Avenue and the adjoining property at number 136.
Ella O’Neill’s mother had recently moved to New London to be near
her sister, and James O’Neill’s old friend John McGinley was working
as a reporter for The New London Day. Before leaving on the 1885
western tour of Monte Cristo, James O’Neill contracted with local
carpenters and plumbers to make improvements to the kitchen and parlor,
and to install indoor plumbing. The family summered in this first Monte
Cristo Cottage until 1900. They then moved to 138 Pequot Avenue, a
larger home that James O’Neill had owned and used as a rental property
The house now known as the Monte Cristo Cottage (325 Pequot Avenue, number 138 until the revision of street addresses in 1905) was built around 1840. The changes that James O’Neill made to the property exemplify Victorian ideas on splendor and comfort. Even before his family took up residence in 1900, O’Neill made several improvements to what would become the second Monte Cristo Cottage, including the addition of the turret bedroom on the second floor, indoor plumbing, and French doors that face the morning sun and open onto a wraparound front porch. The living room (which O’Neill makes the central playing space in Long Day’s Journey into Night) was a one room schoolhouse that James had moved and attached to the main house—instead of a foundation, the addition was made level with the cottage by propping it on a tree trunk.
The ceilings in the entrance hall, dining room, and front parlor were raised to eleven feet seven inches, giving the first floor a sense of spaciousness and making the second floor bedrooms feel cramped. James O’Neill pinched pennies even while indulging in conspicuous display, making improvements to the part of the cottage seen by guests at the expense of comfort in the family’s private quarters.
Ella O’Neill was not happy with the house. She complained bitterly of the shoddy craftsmen that her husband hired and the poor quality of the cottage furnishings. "Everything was done in the cheapest way," Mary Tyrone tells her son Edmund in Long Day’s Journey into Night. "Your father would never spend the money to make it right. It’s just as well we haven’t any friends here. I’d be ashamed to have them step in the door" (Collected Plays, 1148).
Eugene, Jamie, and James O’Neill on the porch of the Monte Cristo Cottage, c. 1900
The O’Neill family spent every summer in New London for nearly thirty years until shortly before James’s death in 1920. In December 1918 the actor was struck by a car while crossing Fifth Avenue in New York City. Though the injuries were not serious, his health began to deteriorate. James O’Neill feared that his death would leave Ella in financial straits. In an effort to generate cash, James O’Neill and realtor Tom Dorsey sold much of his New London real estate including the Monte Cristo Cottage and his other properties on Pequot Avenue.
The Monte Cristo Cottage is now owned and operated by the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center. The home is open to the public in the summer months and by appointment during other times of the year. It is a registered national landmark.
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