Smith & Libby: Two Rings, Seven Months, One Bullet

East Bedroom Gallery

Like most family homes, Reynolda House witnessed its share of tragedies, none more shocking than the death by gunshot of Zachary Smith (“Smith”) Reynolds, youngest child of R.J. and Katharine Smith Reynolds. Soon after midnight on July 6, 1932, Smith was shot on a sleeping porch at the family’s country estate. It was a brood year for cicadas in the Southern Appalachians, so the bullet of a Mauser pistol was heard only as a muffled pop by the night watchman. It was heard by Smith’s wife, Broadway star Libby Holman, who was with her husband on the porch. And it was heard by Smith’s childhood friend and secretary Albert “Ab” Walker, although exactly where Walker was at the time of the shooting is shrouded in mystery.

Smith died later that morning. Subsequent investigations made national news in the summer and fall of 1932 and led to a charge of first-degree murder for Libby Holman, with Walker named as accomplice. Then, in a stunning reversal, the case was dropped before coming to a trial that might have led to the death penalty. To this day, it is not known whether Smith Reynolds, twenty-year-old heir and renowned aviator, died by suicide, accident, or murder.

This exhibition, curated by Betsy Main Babcock Deputy Director of Reynolda House Museum of American Art Phil Archer, presents archival objects, news articles, and other primary sources to lay bare the mystery in all its fascinating complexity. There is more than one way for a house to be haunted, and this story has hung over Reynolda for ninety years, at once the most tragic and infamous day in its history. Smith & Libby draws back the curtain on an event that shocked the nation and echoed down the generations, still inspiring speculation and curiosity in visitors of all ages today.

Images: Libby Holman and Zachary Smith Reynolds on Honeymoon in Hong Kong, circa April, 1932. Courtesy of the Liam Donnelly Archive.

Exhibition-related Events

Sirens of the Silver Screen Film Series
Several major Hollywood films were adapted from the story of Smith and Libby. Film screenings and discussions are included with museum admission. Click the dates below to pre-register.

October 28 – Reckless (1935) and post-film discussion with Dale Pollock.

November 4 – Sunset Boulevard (1950) and post-film discussion with David Lubin.

Drinks @ Dusk
November 8 – After the sun sets, Reynolda opens its doors to visitors ages 21+ for an evening of music, drinks, and art.

Gallery Talks
November 15 – Join Jenna Anderson in the Babcock gallery as she discusses the significance of Libby Holman’s dress and 1920s and 1930s style in the context of the exhibition and fashion history.

Reynolda on the House
November 18 – All are welcome to visit Reynolda “on the house”! Go on a self-guided tour of Smith and Libby: Two Rings, Seven Months, One Bullet and the historic house, enjoy light refreshments, live jazz by Matt Kendrick and friends, and an art activity for kids of all ages.