Come On-A To Rosemary Clooney's House In Augusta

Aug 19, 2020

If you're looking for a fun day trip, drive about an hour to the Rosemary Clooney House in Augusta, KY.

The singer and actress, who grew up in nearby Maysville, loved to get away from Hollywood to her 1840 home overlooking the Ohio River in Augusta. After her death in 2002, the house was bought by Steve and Heather French Henry, and they turned it into a Rosemary Clooney museum in 2005.

This 1840 former hotel in Augusta was bought in 1980 by Rosemary Clooney.
Credit John Kiesewetter / WVXU

It's filled with memorabilia from her White Christmas movie with Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye; her music career; and her famous nephew George Clooney.

Rhinestone gloves worn by Clooney when she sang "Love, You Didn't Do Right By Me" in "White Christmas."
Credit John Kiesewetter / WVXU

"When she first passed away, Steve and I had lots of conversations about what were some proper ways to honor Rosemary," says French Henry, an Augusta native who won the 2000 Miss America title after earning a bachelor degree from University of Cincinnati's College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning.

Then Clooney's daughter, Mosita Teresa Ferrer-Botwick, called and asked if they'd like to buy the restored home at 106 E. Riverside Dr. Three months earlier, French Henry had been talking to Paramount Pictures in Hollywood for information about Clooney's red dress from the White Christmas finale so her mother could re-create it for French Henry to wear for a holiday event. After buying the house, French Henry learned that Paramount had found the blue feather fan from the "Sisters" number with Clooney and Norwood native Vera-Ellen Rohe.

Norwood native Vera-Ellen wore the costume at left for her "Mandy" dance number in "White Christmas."
Credit John Kiesewetter / WVXU

Fast-forward 15 years, and the Henrys have the largest collection of White Christmas items: the blue "Sisters" act dresses worn by Clooney and Vera-Ellen, plus the feather fan; Clooney's rhinestone gloves from her "Love, You Didn't Do Right By Me" song; her red robe from the "Count Your Blessings" duet with Bing Crosby; World War II uniforms worn by Crosby and Dean Jagger (General Waverly); Vera-Ellen's "Mandy" costume; and a replica of the huge Army reunion cake.

"We thought we'd have one or two items, we'd open it up during the holidays or for one of the many festivals that Augusta is known for right on the river. One thing led to the next. It was meant to happen," says French Henry, who tells me about the museum on the final broadcast of WVXU's Around Cincinnati 7 p.m. Sunday. (You can hear the inteview here.)

But wait, as they say on TV. There's more!

Rosemary Clooney's second story bedroom.
Credit John Kiesewetter / WVXU

The collection includes posters and memorabilia from Red Garters, Here Come the Girls, The Stars Are Singing and Clooney's other films; record albums with "Come On-A My House," "Hey There," "Tenderly" and her other hits; her mink coat; and photos of her Beverly Hills home.

Nephew George Clooney, who went to high school in Augusta, visits with Santa in this mid 1960s photo displayed in the museum.
Credit John Kiesewetter / WVXU

The walls are covered with more than 50 photos of Clooney with her with husbands Jose Ferrer and Dante DiPaolo; her five children with Ferrer, including the late actor Miguel Ferrer; and pictures with Bob Hope and other co-stars. You'll also see Nick and Nina Clooney's wedding photo, and pictures of young George Clooney sitting on Santa's lap.

My favorites were side-by-side TV Guide and Time magazine cover photos of Rosemary in the 1950s, and George more than 40 years later. 

George, a 1979 Augusta Independent High School graduate, also donated his football outfit from Leatherheads, bib overalls from O Brother Where Art Thou? and green hospital scrubs from ER.

TV Guide magazine covers featuring Rosemary Clooney in the 1950s and nephew George Clooney in 2000.
Credit John Kiesewetter / WVXU

Above a display case in the front room is a large mural of the Clooney and Guilfoyle family tree, which hasn't been updated with George's marriage to Amal Alamuddin in 2014 or the birth of their twins in 2017.

French Henry says she shared more than a love of Augusta with Clooney. After French Henry won Miss America in September 1999, Clooney called her in her hotel room.

The Clooney-Guilfoyle family tree was painted on a wall in the Clooney house before George (upper right) was married in 2014.
Credit John Kiesewetter / WVXU

"She gave me so much great advice. She knew what it was like to go from being a small town girl to being put on a whirlwind tour. The one thing she implored of me was to never forget where I came from," said French Henry, whose ancestors founded Augusta in 1796. She married Steve Henry, a Louisville orthopedic surgeon, while he was serving as lieutenant governor in 2000.

"People have come from all over the world to visit the museum and Augusta, and we're really thrilled when people come in they start singing songs from White Christmas," French Henry says. "She had such a great career, and this was our chance to show Kentucky's favorite daughter how much we truly appreciated her."

At the 2005 Rosemary Clooney House ribbon cutting were (from left) an unidentified man; Clooney's widower Dante DiPaolo; Nina Clooney, wife of Nick Clooney and mother of George; Steve Henry; and Heather French Henry.
Credit John Kiesewetter

The Rosemary Clooney House is open 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Thursday through Saturday during the pandemic. To limit crowds, visitors are asked to make a reservation by calling 502-383-9911. Admission is $5.

After 15 years, Around Cincinnati broadcasts its final program 7-8 p.m. Sunday on WVXU-FM (91.7) and WMUB-FM (88.5) and streamed at wvxu.org.