Tuesday, February 7, 2017

A Glimpse Into The Lives of the Ridiculously Rich During America's Gilded Age

The entrance to Biltmore

Biltmore, touted as the largest private home in America, is a massive, palatial mansion modeled after the residences of European royalty. Constructed during America's Gilded Age, the home and others built during the era reek of the wealth, self-importance, and status of an aristocracy comprised of the businessmen who built the oil, railroad, bank and other huge industries that we learned in school made America great (I am convinced this is the time period Trump is talking about when he declares he wants to make America great again. He sees himself as a modern version of these successful but too often unethical, dishonest, deceitful and sometimes totally ruthless, crooked businessmen). 

The Gilded Age robber barons include recognizable names - Rockefeller,  Carnegie, Vanderbilt, Mellon, Morgan. Their lifestyle may not have lasted long, swept away by the ravages of World War I, income taxes, family dynamics, and the Depression, but these men, their families and heirs lived a privileged lifestyle for a few precious decades. 

Biltmore, in the mountains of western North Carolina, was constructed by George Washington Vanderbilt, grandson of Cornelius, the business baron who made a fortune building railroads. 

George got his money the old-fashioned way - he inherited it.

The mansion, briefly, from the top down, encompassing 35 bedrooms and 43 bathrooms (we did not see most of them!):

Servants quarters occupied the fourth floor, and most of the 40 domestics assigned to the mansion lived in the house. Additional employees worked the farm and stables. Cattle, cows and other animals fed estate occupants and provided fertilizer for newly planted forests.  Professional landscapers and assistants tended acres of forests and gardens, including a conservatory. 
Biltmore reflected in a lake on the property. 

The third floor provided guest rooms and a large living room where folks gathered, enjoyed  afternoon tea and could just hang out.

The family's living quarters spread across the second floor - suites of bedrooms, dining rooms, plus rooms for whatever the family requires. George Vanderbilt's family included, besides himself, his wife and one daughter.

The main level encompassed public rooms - a banquet hall larger than many American neighborhoods, a library with thousands of books Vanderbilt collected over his lifetime, informal dining halls, living rooms, a conservatory filled with plants and flowers year-round, and large connecting corridors.

The basement included the kitchen and pantry, sleeping quarters for some of the kitchen staff, dining facilities for the entire household staff, and recreational facilities for the family - a two lane bowling alley, swimming pool with a series of separate changing rooms for men and women, a fitness room with state-of-the-art early 20th century equipment, plus additional rooms used as the family required.
An informal dining room set for lunch or dinner.

Paintings by artistic masters of the past and living artists of the time, medieval tapestries, Oriental antiques, china and glassware decorate the vast spaces. The family and employees utilized the most up-to-date conveniences available at the turn of the 20th century.

So what did the occupants - the wealthy owners, not hardworking servants - do all day?

* They changed clothes several times a day, a different outfit required for each activity and meal. Servants, always close by ready to fulfill the family's every whim, assisted with outfit changes, hair and makeup.

* A constant round of activities entertained mansion owners and visiting celebrities, politicians, family, friends, and businessmen. Outdoor activities included horseback riding and hunting, fishing, golf, and hiking. Indoors there was bowling, swimming, billiards, games, reading, conversing, and of course eating.

* Family and guests ate carefully planned meals. Breakfast might be eaten in one's room, in a breakfast parlor, or perhaps in good weather on the porch overlooking the mountains. The family might gather for lunch in an informal dining room. Folks often dressed for dinner in formal attire. Dinner, served promptly at 8:00 p.m., lasted a couple of hours. Or longer.

* The family traveled, visiting other wealthy people, staying on estates and cities across the country and abroad, often spending a month or longer in Paris, purchasing clothes for the next 'season'.

* The men managed business affairs while the women planned visitations and parties. George Vanderbilt planned and managed his property, the goal a self-sufficient estate.

Such was the lifestyle of the rich, famous, infamous, and the born rich during America's Gilded Age. Maybe some people live that way today, or have the money to do so if they wish. After all we recently learned only stupid people give up hard-earned money paying taxes. Smart ones avoid the nuisance. Or so our illustrious leader tells us.  
The view of forest and gardens from the front of the mansion.

1 comment:

  1. I think you may be correct that our leader envisions the greatness in the time period you describe -- not so great for all Americans. Interesting comparison as was the information, photos you shared here.