Rainbow Key: A Utopian Isle 


Excerpted from "Rainbow Key: Utopia on the Sound,"© 1989 by Benjamin Pratt.

Xavier Freeman Gentry bought the island of Rainbow Key from the Girl Scouts of Connecticut for fifty-eight thousand dollars in the year 1945. It was a narrow, worthless-seeming bit of land, twenty-three acres all told; rocky soil made pure white from seagull crap. The girls used it for camping exercises. "Peach Isle," that’s what the Scouts called it, though on the maps the name is Crotch Island, or simply Island 17. Just a small unremarkable isle in South Norwalk, Conn., overlooking the Long Island Sound.

When Gentry rechristened it ‘Rainbow Key,’ his English was not yet perfect and he was under the misapprehension that ‘key’ was synonymous with ‘island.’ His colleague, Malcolm Burr, informed him that this was not exactly the case, unless one’s island was in Florida.

After purchasing the island, Gentry had the causeway built, connecting it to the mainland, and then he and Burr set to work. The two men designed and built Gentry's home at the northern tip of the island--a simple two-bedroom clapboard, painted dove-white. Some called the house small, but Gentry believed it was the perfect size for himself and his wife, Sabine, and--someday, perhaps--a little baby.

The second home that they built was at the southern entrance of the island, in the meadow field: the Black House. A home not intended to be lived in.

After that, he hired some men to do the rest. They built twenty-six additional houses--exact replicas of his first home--in addition to the Club, a building to be used for communal parties and meetings. He gave the houses large windows, no curtains, so there would be no secrets. He made a single key to unlock every door. He made every house the same, so that every person would feel equal to the next.

Gentry's dream was to create a truly egalitarian community, and his philosophy was formalized in a covenant by the Rainbow Key Homeowners Association. Local realtors refused to show the houses, because Gentry welcomed not only Jews, but Blacks and Orientals as well; he welcomed every type of person under the sun. The newspapers called the place ‘Commie Key,’ and ‘Sodom-on-the-Sound.’ Gentry cut those headlines out and framed them, hanging them in his Den. They made him laugh.

Many more twists and turns transpired over the ensuing decades: the construction of the Glass House, along with various schisms among the members of the Association; and culminating with Gentry's mysterious disappearance. However, the central tenets of Rainbow Key remained in place: that is, a community which would welcome all members of society into its bosom.

Tragically, in 1985, the isle was decimated by Hurricane Gloria, and so Rainbow Key is no more. But, its memory lives on in the hearts of those who visited there; and those who still visit there, in their dreams.