‘He’d bring a photo of Long Island and a lift from the airport’

When Truman Capote first dropped by Truman’s estates for a visit in the 1960s, the elegant estates were high-society hothouses. But the homes had also been lavish extensions of East Hampton’s once-ubiquitous estates – and in Capote’s 1940 study Nantucket in America – the two were closely interrelated. It was among these estates that Capote spent the winter of 1948; he stayed for several months and wrote a trove of notes as the destination of his next book.

To qualify as a swan, an estate must be reserved, without public access, for the proprietor, and be worth $35,000 (£26,000) or more. Nantucket was expensive: Truman’s lease was for 400 acres, around 800 acres. Today, it’s in terrific condition, though at high risk of collapse. Capote rented some houses that were already owned, and another four for his family. While writing In Cold Blood, he spent nights and weekends visiting, and the final weeks of his visit were spent in an old isolation house, which has been preserved by Joanna Capote. In a pristine setting in the 1960s, his (misnamed) Swans circled in a circle around the adjacent estate. In 1960, you could set your watch by the ducks – now they are all sunken in the muck.

Truman Capote in Nantucket. Photograph: Marco Garcia

Truman Capote’s Nantucket. Photograph: Stan Barouh

Capote had all this to observe, and he also had a stash of cats: Nantucket would not be the Nantucket he knew without them. The Nantucket to which Capote came back year after year was a somewhat different one.

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