• History

Letter Reveals Harper Lee’s Snarky Take on the Trump Taj Mahal

2 minute read
Signed Harper Lee letter from 1990 with disdain to Trump Taj Mahal.
Signed Harper Lee letter from 1990.Nate D. Sanders Auctions

Back in 1990, To Kill a Mockingbird and Go Set a Watchman author wrote a letter to a friend, Doris Leapard, describing the benefits of a program showcasing Alabama writers, her appreciation of the work of author Elise Sanguinetti and her critique of a story that had appeared in the Birmingham News.

But, as that letter goes up for auction Wednesday and Thursday, it is another remark of Lee’s that might catch observers’ eyes.

“The worst punishment God can devise for this sinner,” wrote Lee, “is to make her spirit reside eternally at the Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City.”

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Though Donald Trump’s current run for the White House lends interest to the letter, it’s worth noting that Lee was writing at a time when the Trump Taj Mahal carried very specific cultural connotations. Trump, who had been the subject of a TIME cover story the previous year, had acquired the hotel—which was to be three times the size of the real Taj Mahal—in a very public negotiation over a series of Atlantic City hotels and casinos, which helped to make the real-estate developer a household name. It also helped contribute to ongoing woes in the New Jersey city, where smaller casinos suffered under the competition of Trump’s holdings, and locals spoke out against Trump’s idea that, as TIME phrased it, “Atlantic City should be turned into a giant nonresidential entertainment park on the scale of Disneyland.”

When the hotel opened in 1990, shortly before Lee wrote that letter, doubts about the casino’s future prospects were already surfacing. Trump would have to clear about $1 million a day to make good on the investment and his loans. By November, he had missed a payment and the Taj was facing possible bankruptcy. (In 1991, the corporation did file for Chapter 11 but it stayed open.) The hotel and casino more recently filed for bankruptcy, in 2014, from which it emerged just last month—without Trump at the helm.

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Write to Lily Rothman at lily.rothman@time.com