Summit Avenue through Cocos eyes

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February 24, 2012
By: Sarah McKenzie
Sarah McKenzie
Way back in the day when children still kept diaries instead of documenting their lives via status updates on Facebook, Clotide “Coco” Irvine kept a record of her life as a 13 year old living on ritzy Summit Avenue in St. Paul.

Even though she wrote the diary in 1927, anyone who has experienced teenage angst should be able to relate to her troubles. She writes about being annoyed with her mother but desperately wanting her approval, getting in trouble at school, sibling adventures and the frustrations of romance.

Local history writer Peg Meier of Bryn Mawr has brought Irvine’s diary to life with the new book, “Through No Fault of My Own: A Girl’s Diary of Life on Summit in the Jazz Age.”

The phrase “through no fault of my own” often graced the pages of Irvine’s diary and preceded her account of some sort of trouble she found herself caught up in with a friend or sibling.  

Coco’s diary has also been adapted for the stage by Ron Peluso and Bob Beverage. “Coco’s Diary” — a three-actor play — will premier at the History Theatre in St. Paul on March 3.

Meier came across Coco’s diary while she was doing research for her book “Wishing for a Snow Day” at the history center. The book explores what childhood was like for Minnesotans in the early part of the 20th century.

Meier said she was struck by Coco’s precociousness and spunky voice in the diary. For example, in one passage, Coco wrote: “My humiliation is complete. I am the most unfortunate of women.”

Irvine was the daughter of a wealthy lumber baron. She lived in a 20-room mansion on Summit — an estate that has since become the governor’s mansion. Legendary writer F. Scott Fitzgerald lived down the street on Summit just a few years before Coco started writing her diary.

After Meier found the copy of Coco’s diary, she tracked down Irvine’s younger sister Olivia who had made copies of the original diary for family members and shared more details about Coco’s life. She also met with Coco’s daughter Vicki Ford and learned that Irvine’s adult years were filled with more depression and sadness. She died in 1975 at the age of 61.

Her early years, however, were more vibrant.

“I hope people relish Coco’s zest for life, her writing talent, her humor,” Meier said. “Readers also get an up-close view of the 1920s in St. Paul.”

Go See It
“Coco’s Diary”
Where: History Theatre, 30 E. 10th St., St. Paul
When: March 3–25