Thursday, August 9, 2012

Farewell To Fifth Avenue

In 1935, when Cornelius Jr., the rebellious son of Cornelius Vanderbilt III, published a memoir called "Farewell to Fifth Avenue" he was again doing the opposite of what his parents wanted. 6 years later his words came true when his mother Mrs. Vanderbilt, the former Grace Graham Wilson, gave her final but most terrific ball in the vast and venerable Vanderbilt mansion at 640 Fifth Avenue. 1,800 guests swarmed in , weighed down by $100 million worth of jewelry and all their decorations.

Soon After The Ball The Vanderbilt Mansion at 640 Fifth Avenue, By Then The Only Private Residence Left In That Part of Town, Was To Meet The Wrecker's Ball

The ball was to be a United Service benefit, supposedly open to the public, but at $20 a person ($312 in 2012) only the wealthy could afford to attend. The guests list included many of New York City and Newport's Old Guard such as Mrs. William Watts Sherman and the former Mrs. James Laurens Van Alen, by then Mrs. Louis Bruguiere, Mrs. George W. Kavanaugh and her friend Lady Decies, the former Mrs. Harry Lehr, Several members of New York City's "Cafe Society" like Mrs. Winston Guest , Mrs. Robert Lehman, Mr. and Mrs. William Woodward Jr., and several of society's eccentrics, such as Doris Duke and Charlene Cassini. Two Astors attended John Astor VI and Mr. and Mrs. Vincent Astor  and then there was also two Vanderbilts, Gloria Vanderbilt and Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney.

All of Society Attended Mrs. Vanderbilt's Last Ball, No One Would Ever Decline An Invitation To Mrs. Vanderbilt's

The ball would raise thousands of dollars and would be Grace's most terrific event. As the orchestra played brilliant music, the guests danced in the ballroom, dined in the picture gallery, lounged in the library, played games in the red and gold ante room, mingled in the great hall, had dessert in the dining room and watched performances in the music room.

The Guests Trilled And Danced In The Brightly Lit French Ballroom. As The Orchestra Played On, Officers, Businessmen, Debutants and Royalty All Danced Together In Harmony

They Dined In The Large Picture Gallery, Filled With The Artwork Cornelius Vanderbilt's Grandfather, William Henry Vanderbilt, Had Spent His Life Collecting

The Great Hall Had Been Filled With Guests Earlier In The Evening, But As More And More Guests Retreated To The Ballroom And Picture Gallery, The Great Hall Became Less And Less Crowded

The Guests Lounged In The Library, Which Held Barely Any Books, And The Men Also Used This Room As A Smoking Room

The night had been as lively as ever, despite that Grace was depressed over the fact that this would be her last event in the Vanderbilt mansion. Mrs. George Washington Kavanaugh and her friend Elizabeth Lehr Decies created as scene when they arrived because they were each weighed down by 10 pounds of jewelry (diamonds of course). Mrs. George Washington Kavanaugh was the enormously wealthy wife of manufacturer Colonel George Washington Kavanaugh, and her occupation seemed only to be diamonds and society.

Mrs. Kavanaugh And Lady Decies (Formerly Mrs. Harry Lehr) In The Red And Gold Ante Room In The Vanderbilt Mansion

As if to remember the night, Mrs. Vanderbilt had let photographers come in and take pictures of the guests and of some of the rooms. The most famous one taken was of Grace Vanderbilt, seated in front of the tapestry wall in the ante room.

The Picture Of Mrs. Vanderbilt, Seated In Front Of The Tapestry Wall Of The Ante Room At The Vanderbilt Mansion

By 1 in the morning, most of the older guests began to leave and return home. One of the first to leave was Mrs. Van Alen, who needed to return to Newport and prepare for the dinner party she would be hosting that night. Mrs. Van Alen's limousine pulled up in front of the Vanderbilt mansion and her chauffeur helped into the car and prepared to take her to the airport where she would board her private jet and head to Newport. During the last hour of the party, as if to signify that Her Grace Vanderbilt nodded approval, as the orchestra played it's last notes a window in the french ballroom flew open, the wind blew and the curtains billowed as if a spirit were making a grand exit. Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt III had left her house for the last time.


  1. I cant believe how lucky I am to have found this site. I am reading the book "Fortunes Children" about the Vanderbilt family and wanted to google for pics of certain family members and found this site. I have spent countless hours exploring this wonderful site. I am like a kid in a candy store. I study Newport and all the families that lived there, so this is a fantasy blog for me. I am in Connecticut and visit Newport often. I read your short bio and see that you are republican and Christian also. I'M IN HEAVEN!!!! THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR THIS SITE.

    1. Hello Diane,

      Thank You for the wonderful comment. I would
      Love to converse with you about Newport and the Vanderbilts and 'Fortune's Children' (which I have read three times). Would you mind emailing me? I hope I might be able to help you learn some more about those vainglorious Vanderbilts!



  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. Okay Diane, I have sent you an email this morning. You should be getting it. Let me know if you don't receive it.

  3. Thank you for this wonderful post. I have visited the Newport Mansions many times and I am astonished by the lives of this truly iconic family. I purchased a book entitled "The Vanderbilts" written by Jerry Patterson. It chronicles the Family in writing, and photographs from their summer homes, to their New York City mansions, to their clothing and jewels. I would recommend the book to anyone who would like to learn about this American royalty.

  4. I share the fascination with the Vanderbilts and their incredible wealth and their lifestyle....I've recently become a tour guide at Frederick's mansion in Hyde Park, NY....

    Some 2000 pages of reading and I'm still learning...

  5. How could Mrs.Van Alen board a private jet in 1941?
    Otherwise a very entertaining description of a societal last hurrah.
    Well done!

  6. I see that someone else has already mentioned that there were no private jets. The first non-military commercial jet was the de Havilland Comet (1952), and the first business jet was the Lockheed JetStar (1957).

  7. What crap. There were no private jets in 1945, or any jets at all for that matter outside of the military. Also, the photo of Grace in front of the tapestry was from Vogue in November 1941, I have The issue. I wish people would research before they write a b d not just make it up as they go!


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