Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Age of Innocence, The Beaufort Ball

Guests at The Beaufort Bash 
In the movie "The Age of Innocence", a fabulous movie based on the book by Edith Wharton, after attending the opera, Newland Archer and his fiancée May attend the usual annual opera ball of Mrs Julius Beaufort at the Beafort brownstone, said to be one of the first homes in the city to have a ballroom. Mrs Beaufort had come from an respectable old South Carolina family; her husband, Julius, however, was a shady socialite know for his numerous affairs and lovers (secretly he was dead broke). It was said that Edith Wharton had gotten her inspiration for Mrs Beaufort from Caroline Astor (who was one of her relatives). Mrs Astor was known for her annual opera balls, known as the "Patriarch's Ball". She had had a brownstone on 34th Street that which possessed one of the first private ballrooms in the city. Julius, it was said, had been inspired by August Belmont Sr., another shady socialite who was secretly a Jew.

Newland Archer and May Wellend at The Beaufort Ball
Click HERE To See The Trailer For The Movie

Happy Birthday Gilded Age Era!

Happy 1st first birthday Gilded Age Era! This past year there have been 150 posts, featuring a wide range of topics and subjects; including a fabulous tale of the largest private mansion ever built in New York City; to one of history's wealthiest families; to an enthralling tale about a murder for money. We have also seen GAE being viewed over 100,000 times! I just want to say thanks to the 31 people who follow GAE; Here's to another great year!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Sophia Sherman 146th Birthday

Happy 146th Birthday Sophia! Today, 146 years ago, Sophia Brown was born to John
Carter Brown and his wife Sophia Browne. This outspoken woman, later to marry 
William Watts Sherman, though small in stature, weighed a whopping 270 pounds! 
So heavy was the weight of her flesh that she had to have a special water balanced-elevator
installed in her Newport mansion, known as the William Watts Sherman House, to help
her get to the second and third floors, what a lady!

Socialite and Heiress. Daughter of John Carter Brown (1797-1874) and Sophia Browne Brown (1825-1909); favorite granddaughter of Nicholas Brown II, founder of Brown University and Head of The Brown Family Dynasty for three generations. Last wife and longtime widow of William Watts Sherman (1942-1912), a New York City businessman who for fifty years served as treasurer of the Newport Casino. Known for her commanding and brashly outspoken personality; she could instantly be unusually kind and caring. Weighing an enormous 270 pounds ~ she had a special water lift of equal size designed and built for her beloved Newport residence to help her get up the three flights of floors. The fiery duster of enormous physical weight disdained the press and photographers, applying on a heavy thick veil and hat whenever she left her mansion. Raised in a strict Episcopalian family, she was an intense Bible basher ~ insisting that music, alcohol, tobacco, divorce, shouting and flirtation were all sins. Naturally eccentric since her early days, she never drank anything but mineral water. Like many of the gothic victorian homes she lived in as a girl, she filled her home to the brink with over-gilded furniture and antiques. Being helped everywhere by a large gilded cane and two burly attendants; she rarely left her Newport home, if ever going to her townhouse at the corner of 838 Fifth Avenue. Her Newport home, known as 'Sherman Villa', designed and built by H. H. Richardson, encompassed over thirty rooms and fifteen guest bedrooms. In the 1930's, with dancing becoming the new fashion, she hired Newport architect Dudley Newton to design and construct a heavily-gilded ballroom wing onto the side of her mansion. Living another seventeen years at her Newport villa, she died of a three-year illness at her beloved Newport home, being buried next to her elderly husband at Island Cemetery in Newport, Rhode Island.

What a lady! 
Biography, Courtesy of FindAGrave;
Written and Complied by Tyler Y. Hughes.

George Vanderbilt Portrait

After spending the past week in Washington DC, I have come back
with hundreds of wonderful photos which I plan on sharing with all of you! 
Here is the George W. Vanderbilt portrait by James Whistler, located in
the National Gallery. 

Click HERE to read more about the painting

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Perle: My Story

The Fabulous story of Washington's "Hostess with the Mostess", Perle Mesta, and the trials and encounters she had to face to become the dominant hostess of Capital Hill. Born to a wealthy businessman, Perle grew up attending Republican Conventions with her father, William B Skirvin, but later switched to the Democratic Party when she married George Mesta. She was rewarded for her fundraising efforts with an ambassadorship to Luxembourg by President Harry Truman, whom she maintained a close friendship with. Switching back to the Republican Party in the 1960's, she was a heavy supporter of President Eisenhower, who was a neighbor of her's in Newport and the husband of her intimate friend Mamie. Above all, Perle was most known for her entertaining. Her secret to successful entertaining she once said was "a warm hostess, cool music, hot food and cool guests". Whether entertaining at her DC apartment or her Newport home 'Midclyffe', any party she held was bound to be great. Perle: My Story documents the life of this wonderful lady; a must read for anyone who loves learning about American society in the 1940-60's.

Thursday, April 4, 2013


One of the most well- known of Newport's 'cottages', 'Beechwood' was built by a New York merchant in the 1850's. It was purchased by Caroline Astor in the 70's, and used by her as a summer palace till her death in 1908. Soon after purchasing the property, Caroline had hired society architect Richard Morris Hunt, the favorite of the Vanderbilts, to carryout a $2 million renovation ~ which included the addition of a ballroom, where for more than three decades she entertained her notorious '400', the exact number of people her New York ballroom was capable of holding, as queen of New York society. When she died in 1908, the estate was left to her beloved son John IV. Continuing his mother's pattern of summering at the estate, he married there in 1911 to young Madeleine Force, who was younger than his son Vincent. The following year on April 15, 1912, John went down on the Titanic. 'Beechwood' was left to his wife, with more than $5 million. Passing from her to John's stepson Vincent, it was sold by him. Purchased later by Mr and Mrs James Clark, it was again sold on Mrs Clark's death. Later established as a house museum, it was in 2010 bought by billionaire Lawrence Ellison, who is undergoing restoration on the estate
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