Sunday, July 8, 2012
Stuyvesant Fish Mansion New York City
Stuyvesant Fish was not vastly wealthy or a great robber baron, unlike his many friends, but a quiet and kindly man who had come from one of the most prominent and prestigious families in New York City. His father, Hamilton Fish, had been the 9th Republican governor of New York, a US senator and Secretary of State under Ulysses S. Grant and was also a descendant of the prominent Peter Stuyvesant. His mother Julia Kean was a descendant of New Jersey governor William Livingston and his grandfather, Nicholas , had fought in the American Revolution. With his impeccable bloodlines, Fish occupied a high place in society and it was not a surprise at all when he married Marion Graves Anthon , daughter of a prominent lawyer, his childhood sweetheart.
Stuyvesant Fish (left) and his eccentric and rambunctious wife Mamie (right)
"Mamie", as Marion was called, was plain, could barely read and write and had a laugh that was described as "horselike". But Mamie was sharp, witty and irreverent which made her an excellent hostess with never a dull moment. Stuyvesant had proudly worked his way up from director to president of the Illinois Central Railroad, a position he held for 20 years. The Fish assets were meager compared to those of the couples many friends, although Fish's $3 million fortune was not bad at the time when the average man earned $10 a day. Despite their small fortune, the Fish managed to live like they were rich. In Newport the Fish had constructed a large colonial mansion overlooking Bailey's Beach called "Crossways" where Mamie gave her annual "Harvest Ball" in "Crossways"'s large ballroom.
The Fish also occupied a large estate on the Hudson called "Glenclyffe" where Mamie gave weekend house parties for her friends, although "Glenclyffe" was used more by Stuyvesant as a retreat from his wife social functions.
In New York City the Fish had originally occupied a large brownstone on Gramercy Park. But in 1900 Mamie, feeling her surroundings not grand enough for her social position, decided she wanted a new townhouse and commissioned Stanford White to build a large townhouse on a very narrow lot. White was given a restrained budget of some $250,000 to create the house and plans were soon submitted for a imposing Italian Renaissance palazzo with decorative details all built on a long narrow lot.
Upon entering the home guests would enter straight through to the marble entrance hall with a beautiful marble staircase. To the left was a large paneled reception room, while to the right was a dark 17th century-style dining room, on either sides of the staircase were a large dressing room and dining pantry.
Upstairs on the second floor, were the red salon and the largest room in the house, the ballroom, in between the two was a large hall and a dressing room. Connecting off of the ballroom in the servants addition was the silver vault and linen closet.
On the third floor was Mr. and Mrs. Fish's bedroom suites hers done in a heavy gothic style his done in a dark wood, each had their own bath and dressing room.
On the fourth floor was a library and boudoir, while on the remaining floors were guest bedrooms and servant's rooms. Soon after moving in Mamie gave a large dinner for 40 people and entertained them at the end with a vaudeville act. Mamie became know as society's enfant terrible because of her lavish and outrageous parties, from hosting parties in honor of monkeys and dogs to giving a ball where guests dressed up as peasants. Once in Newport, Mamie had to be talked out of playing "Home Sweet Home" (the song that announced that the party was over) just as the guests were coming through the door. Another time when Mamie and her equally troublesome friend Harry Lehr were in Newport they had not gotten invitations from James Van Alen for a musicale he was hosting at his cottage "Wakehurst", but their spouses had. Mamie and Harry confronted Van Alen and demanded invitations, "Sorry" Van Alen said "But I can't have you two at my musicale, you make too much noise"" If you don't give us invitations" said Mamie" me and Harry will tell everyone that your cook has chicken pocks and then no one will come to your party" finally Van Alen relented and sent them invitations, but they had to stay on the porch during the musicale. One of Mamie's most famous parties was her dog dinner which she co-hosted with Harry Lehr in honor of Mrs. Lehr's dog's birthday.
Guests arrived at the Lehr cottage and were taken onto the porch where tables had been set up for the dogs and the guests. Mamie's dog arrived sporting a $15,000 diamond dog collar. Also in attendance were the Elish Dyers and their terrier, John Astor IV and his airedale, The Belmonts and their dog and Clarence Mackay and his spaniel. The dogs were served birthday cake on the veranda with the guests ate inside. During the night the Oelrich's dachshund ate so much he passed out and had to be carried home. The gifts for Mrs. Lehr's pomeranian, Mighty Atom, were said to be worth $25,000 and the hight was said to have cost some $50,000. The happiness did not last however because in 1915 Mamie died of cerebral hemorrhage while at "Crossways". The townhouse was sold after Mr. Fish's death and it's now owned by Michael Bloomberg.