Friday, November 29, 2013


'Merrywood': Circa 1920's. 

Overlooking the Potomac River, and located just a few miles away from George Washington's 'Mount Vernon', 'Merrywood' is one of the finest estates in Virginia, and is just northwest of Washington. Built around 1919, the 46-acre estate was purchased in the mid 1930's by Hugh D. Auchincloss II, who is most famous for being the step-father of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Jackie, whose mother married Hughdie (as Auchincloss was called) when she was 13 years old, grew up at the estate, spending her free-time swimming, horseback-riding and playing tennis on the estate's grounds. Jackie's mother, Janet, was known for the series of lavish parties she hosted at the estate, earning the title Mistress of Merrywood

Jackie Kennedy with her mother, Janet Auchincloss, having tea with
one of Janet's many dogs on the grounds of 'Merrywood'. 
When not in Washington, the Auchincloss family spent time at their magical country estate in Newport, R.I., 'Hammersmith Farm', the last functioning farm in Newport. It was here that Janet and Hughdie would host Jackie's wedding to John F. Kennedy, a U.S. Senator from Massachusetts. Later, both 'Merrywood' and 'Hammersmith Farm' would serve as fundraising HeadQuarters for Kennedy's campaign for President. 

'Merrywood': Circa 1940's. 
With Kennedy's election as U. S. President, the couple was able to move out of 'Merrywood' and into The White House, though their visits to the estate were no less frequent! The Kennedy's visited 'Merrywood' so often, that it was officially given the code name "Hamlet" by the U.S. Secret Service. 

It was around this time, that Hughdie quietly listed 'Merrywood' for sale. With his once successful firm now taking huge losses, the financial burden of maintaining 'Merrywood' and 'Hammersmith Farm' was becoming too heavy for Hughdie. For years, he had been asking Janet to start economizing at 'Merrywood', which resulted in the layoff of many of the groundskeepers. Finally, in 1963, an offer was submitted for $650,000 (the estate was listed at $850,000). Hughdie accepted the offer, and with Janet purchased a four-story townhouse in Georgetown, a few miles down from The White House. 

John Dickerson, age 7, whose parents purchased 'Merrywood' in 1964. 
In 1964, 'Merrywood' was purchased by Wyatt and Nan Dickerson, who moved in with their son, John. In his book, "On Her Trail", John describes that  "before Barbara Walters, before Katie Couric, there was Nancy Dickerson. The first female member of the Washington TV news corps, Nancy was the only woman covering many of the most iconic events of the sixties. She was the first reporter to speak to President Kennedy after his inauguration and she was on the Mall with Martin Luther King Jr. during the march on Washington; she had dinner with LBJ the night after Kennedy was assassinated and got late-night calls from President Nixon. Ambitious, beautiful and smart, she dated senators and congressmen and got advice and accolades from Edward R. Murrow. She was one of President Johnson's favorite reporters, and he often greeted her on-camera with a familiar "Hello, Nancy." In the '60s Nancy and her husband Wyatt Dickerson were Washington's golden couple, and the capital's power brokers coveted invitations to swank dinners at their Merrywood estate on the Potomac.

Wyatt and Nan Dickerson, pictured at 'Merrywood' during the happier
times of their marriage.
Wyatt and Nan divorced in 1981, and together they sold the place in 1984 for $4.25 million to Alan and Dianne Kay, a high-powered couple who used the home to fundraise for their numerous charities. In the 90's, the home played host to Michael Jackson, who appeared at the home for the Kay's fundraising drive for the Capital Children's Museum. The home was sold for $15 million in 1999, and again in 2005 it was sold for $24 million, this time to Steve Case of AOL. The estate beautiful estate remains in his ownership today. 

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Met Is Dead! Long Live The Met!

Lily Pons bows graciously onstage at her curtain call,
while at the Closing Gala of the Metropolitan Opera.
On April 16, 1966, over 3,000 people packed the gilded auditorium of the massive Metropolitan Opera House on Broadway for it's Farewell Gala. A line-up of the Met's finest operatic stars would be featured that night, with curtain calls from some of their oldest singers. The long-time patrons gathered in their lush, golden first-tier boxes, collectively known as "The Diamond Horseshoe", named in honor of the 200-stone diamond necklace so frequently worn by Caroline Astor, almost 70 years ago! 

The gilded auditorium of the Metropolitan Opera on the night of their
Farewell Gala. 

Many of the Met's oldest families were represented that night. Cornelius V. Whitney (whose grandfathers Cornelius Vanderbilt II and William C Whitney had helped find the Met) was present, along with his wife, Marylou. Another Met stalwart, Mrs. John Barry Ryan (whose father, Otto Kahn, had started looking for the Met's new home in 1908) was also present, though arrived late. 

Among the A-List notables in attendance were retired heavyweight champion Gene Tunney; former opera singer Rise Stevens; sportsman Ogden Phipps; Mrs. Joseph P. Kennedy (mother of JFK); Mrs. August Belmont; Prince Michael and Princess Marina of Greece; Brooke Astor, a New York philanthropist;  Winthrop W. Aldrich;  Mrs. William C. Langley (Jane Pickens); Lewis W. Douglas, former Ambassador to the Court of St. James; Governor Walter J. Kohler Jr. of Wisconsin; and Mr. and Mrs. Henry duPont.  

With tickets costing $200 a head, the evening netted $292,000 for the non-profit Metropolitan Opera Company, which had taken over control of the Opera House in the 1940's from the wealthy families that owned private boxes. 

"I paid $200 for my seat, and I can't even get a program!!" one disgruntled man complained. 

To read my original post on the closing gala, which features photographs of the even, courtesy of LIFE Magazine, please click HERE.

To read the program of the farewell gala, which that disgruntled man can now read online, please click HERE.

Please also visit my Pinterest boards on the subject, by clicking HERE and HERE.

Also, please visit Gilded Age Era's Facebook Page and show your support by giving us a like. 

"Newport Today"

Laurence Cutler, pictured in the office of his Newport residence 'Vernon Court', 
which currently serves as the National Museum of American Illustration. The home was originally built in 1989 by architects Carrere and Hastings. (Photo: Nick Mele)  
Recently, the New York Social Diary wrote an article titled "Newport Today", which was a sequel to an article they had previously written about a year ago, titled "My Newport". Both articles feature photographs by Nick Mele, Sam Bolton and Alex Kendall. "My Newport" covers the old guard of Newport, whereas "Newport Today" gives us a peak into the younger generations of Newport. To read their article, "Newport Today", click HERE.  To read their prequel article, "My Newport", click HERE.
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