Backyard-Boat Couple Made Plenty of Waves in Their Day
In 1938, the front pages of Dallas papers were full of headlines about the case of Mickey Ricketts, a black gardener who’d been accused of stealing jade rings from his employers, who locked him in the attic of their Miramar Avenue house.
His captors, Dr. Frank Newton and Cosette Faust Newton, and several others were charged with kidnapping. Frank was exonerated, and the charges against Cosette were reduced to “false imprisonment” before eventually being dropped. Ricketts sued for $57,300 worth of damages, but he settled for only $500.
But the oddities didn’t end there. By 1941, the well-educated couple — he a respected ophthalmologist; she a writer, poet, and one-time dean of women at SMU with a doctorate from Harvard — had constructed a huge yacht in their backyard. They called the $60,000 addition the S.S. Miramar, and they used it to host debutante parties and club meetings.
“All I remember hearing about was the lavish parties they used to give — kind of wild, you know,” said longtime Park Cities resident Shirley Macatee, who was too young to attend the affairs. “I don’t know how wild they really were, but the neighbors thought they were.”
Author and Dallas native China Galland, who wrote about the Ricketts incident and Cosette’s eccentricities for D Magazine in 1977, said that when she interviewed people who’d been at the parties, nobody thought much of the case.
“Dallas society didn’t mind, and they just went on and were open to having their debutante season,” she said. “She was a figure of curiosity. … It was just sort of an exotic location. But [the case] also revealed something quite troubling about American society, about Dallas, about Texas, about what was being hidden.”
Legal battles with the town ensued, as neighbors and officials tried to get the Newtons to remove the yacht and repair their house, which had fallen into to disarray. A 1954 court document says that instead of repairing the house, the Newtons added prison bars to the windows and doors.
“I remember, across the backyard, she had that wire stuff that you put on top of a fence, you know to keep people out,” Macatee said. “They put glass all across the top of the wall in the back to keep people out.”
The yacht and the house had become a target for vandals, leading Cosette to rally a battle — via mailers and tours — against “anti-delinquency” and the police’s apathetic “boys will be boys” response to the vandalism. The ship was torn down in April 1956, four months after she’d put a “For Sale/Negroes Only” sign on the front of the house.
“I think her sign … was simply more her being provocative,” Galland said. “A lot of what she did just seemed provocative.”
Galland remembers being taken on a tour of the house by her aunt when she was a little girl.
“It was the most bizarre thing I’d ever laid eyes on … and it was right in the neighborhood,” Galland said.
By 1963, the couple had moved out and established the Miramar Museum on Cedar Springs, where Cosette displayed treasures she’d collected on her world travels, dolls, and documents that she said proved the vandalism of her home.
Sneaking into the abandoned property became a rite of passage for neighborhood youths. Galland was arrested for trespassing in 1960 after she snuck in. Macatee also remembers sneaking in with a friend.
“Somebody had pushed the Coca-Cola machine into the swimming pool — not us,” Macatee said. “And I said, ‘Uh-uh; let’s get out of here before we get caught and they think we did it.’ ”
The property was put up for auction in 1964. Dallas investments dealer Charles Seay purchased the house for $36,000 and had it torn down.
After years of misunderstanding, Cosette died in 1975, followed by Frank in 1977.
Cosette was someone “who had a great mind” and “tremendous talents,” but didn’t fit into Dallas, Galland said.
“She might have blended into the woodwork of New York or Paris; I often thought that,” Galland said. “But because she was here, and she decided to sort of take a stand, she ended up standing out in an unfortunate way.”