New Katharine Hepburn Museum explores the life of a local legend

What did 6-year-old Katharine Hepburn ask for for Christmas in her letter to Santa? Was her size really this small to fit in that white dress from the movie sea ​​of ​​grass? And what’s the significance of the tub that looks like it’s been through a hurricane?

welcome to the Katharine Hepburn Museum in Old Saybrook where these questions and more are answered in an expansive new permanent exhibit that includes personal letters, costumes, photographs and memorabilia from the legendary Hartford-born actress who also calls the Fenwick section of Old Saybrook. The new 1,200 square foot museum is located on the ground floor of the Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center (nicknamed “The Kate”), which opened in 2009. The center, a former town hall, features concerts , conferences and films in its room on the second and third floors.

Greeting visitors on a wall at the entrance is a page from a letter Hepburn wrote in 1936 informing his mother of his golf career and game. She signed off in typical Kate fashion: “Love to all – K”

Brett Elliott Center for Cultural Arts / Katharine Hepburn

Previously, the first-floor space featured a limited amount of memorabilia about the actress, whose career as a star of stage, screen and television began in the early 1930s and spanned more than 60 years. But storage rooms, offices and hallways made up most of the first floor of the building.

Over the years, the center has received a steady stream of material relating to the four-time Oscar winner, mostly from members of the Hepburn family, but others as well, executive director Brett Elliott said. But the establishment had no space to store, preserve and display its wealth. A matching grants campaign during the pandemic eventually raised $500,000 (including state and federal funds), doubling the display space and turning the entire floor into a small museum.

The new Katharine Hepburn Museum at Kate explores the life of the famous actress.

The new Katharine Hepburn Museum at Kate explores the life of the famous actress.

Brett Elliott Center for Cultural Arts / Katharine Hepburn

But how did the legacy live on for the stylish and fiercely independent actress from films such as The Lion in Winter, Philadelphia History, raising baby, Long day trip into night and On the golden pond, especially to those in Gen Z who can draw a blank line when past icons such as Cary Grant, Fred Astaire and Lena Horne are mentioned? “The museum teaches history and it is a product of that history and that time,” says Robin Andreoli, director of development and community relations. “Part of our mission is to continue her legacy, and that includes creating the Spirit of Katharine Hepburn Award, which we presented this year to Sam Waterston in person and before that to Cher, virtually. The award is a vehicle to show how Kate relates to current artists and to hear their stories of her impact on them – and to bring that to a younger generation.

What would the outspoken Kate – famous for not wanting anything named after her death – think of this latest attempt? “We are fully aware of his feelings on this,” Andreoli says. “But we also know how much she loved Connecticut and Old Saybrook. After the success of the center, I think she would be proud of the care and the authentic story of her life. I think she would also be happy for us to recognize her family as well, especially her parents and siblings.

Elliott says, “She could give us a little side, but I think she’d like that.”

To answer those previous questions, yes, it really was that slim in size, and the tub was one of the few things in the Hepburn household that survived the 1938 hurricane. did little Kate wants for Christmas? “Doll clothes, a wristwatch and a three-track electric train, please,” Andreoli said. “So that’s what Kate wanted to say: a bit of fashion, something very practical and a train because she wanted to do everything boys could do – so why not?”

at the Katharine Hepburn Cultural Center for the Arts

300 Main Street, Old Saybrook

Hours: The museum and gift shop are open Tuesday through Friday. 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and 1 hour before performances.

Admission is free but donations are accepted.

For more information and a virtual tour of many of the exhibits, go to

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