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The authors (A Stranger in the Family, 1995, etc.) won the Pulitzer Prize in 1991 for their biography of Jackson Pollock. The day in 1988 that they delivered the manuscript, they also visited the real estate section of Sotheby's in New York and fell in love with this palace of a cottage, created in 1897 for his second wife by William C. Whitney, a multimillionaire robber baron who became secretary of the navy in President Grover Cleveland's cabinet. The asking price was $1,700,000—crashing plaster ceilings, leaking roof, and all. Raising the threat of nuclear destruction from the nearby Savannah River nuclear-bomb plant, the authors offered $200,000, and the harried owner took the offer. A long procession of laborers, vividly described, began showing up at Joye Cottage. There was the stylish Mordia Grant, who headed the clean-up crew and supplied constuction workers; Lucky Dale, the chimney sweep and "king of pack rats," who happily recycled the mountains of basement trash (including a five-ton boiler and a telephone pole). Bubba Barnes was the chief contractor, charged with repairing and replacing the pipes, wiring, marble, fixtures, plaster, floors, and windows, work that "created a cloud of plaster dust sure to affect weather patterns over the Southeast for years to come." Chapters on the inevitability of Murphy's Law are interspersed with the history of the house and of the Whitney family. The nearly finished renovation, carried out in a spirit of "discovery, accomplishment and community," was celebrated with a local hunt ball.
A deft, amusing look at history, life, and people in a small southern town, as well as at a large-scale adventure in renovation.