Wednesday, May 28, 2014

From Little Acorns Mighty Oaks Do Grow

On our first day in Newport, the first thing we did was head to The Breakers.  We were there too late to tour the house and grounds so I settled for a picture of the front gate.  The next day we headed there first thing in the morning, it opened at nine and I wanted to be among the first in line.  

Because we were there the week before Memorial Day, we didn't even encounter a line.  Ed and I were the only ones on the great lawn and the only ones walking the exterior of the house.  We imagined this is what it must have felt like in the late 1800s, taking an early morning walk down to the water, the only ones awake being you and the servants, who of course were waiting for your return to serve you breakfast.  

This is a side view of the house.  On the other side of the glass door lies the music room.
Here's Ed on the back lawn, surveying the thirteen acres of his land.  The house contains 70 rooms encompassing 138,300 square feet of space on five floors.
The Breakers is the summer cottage of Cornelius Vanderbilt II.  His brother, William Kissam Vanderbilt, built Marble House just down the street to use as his summer cottage, and his other brother, George Washington Vanderbilt II, built my favorite mansion in the country, The Biltmore, in Asheville, NC, to use as his summer home.  These people really had it made, didn't they?  What an incredible period of wildly ostentatious wealth.  Such obscene amounts of money.

Vanderbilt died at the age of fifty-five, leaving The Breakers to his wife Alice.  Alice lived for thirty-five more years, dying in 1934 at age 89.  Alice left the house to her daughter Gladys SzĂ©chenyi.  In 1948 Gladys leased the property to The Preservation Society for $1 a year, and in 1965 when she died, the house went to her daughter, Countess Sylvia Szapary.
 With an agreement in place granting her life tenancy, The Preservation Society bought the house and 90% of its furnishings from her in 1972 for only $365,000.00.  When Sylvia died in 1998, the Society agreed to allow the family to continue to live on the third floor, which is not open to the public.

During the visit, I approached a chatty young guide and asked her about the third floor thing.  "Does the family still live here?"

She looked around, lowered her voice, and said, "We're not supposed to say anything about that, but yeah, they do."

I asked what the layout was up there.  How many bedrooms?  Do they have a kitchen?  Are they self-contained when they're here?

She said, "We're not allowed up there but they must have a kitchen because one time someone up there was cooking bacon and the smell was going through the house.  Some visitors were asking about the smell, wanting to know if they were trying to make it seem as if people were there.  We just went along with it and said, 'uh, yeah'."
So how cool is that???  Descendants of the Vanderbilts might possibly be in the house while visitors are touring it!  I'm blown away by this information and want to be a spy to find out more.  I think it's the juiciest bit of information I found out about the place.  I think it may even be better than the view from the lower loggia of the house. 
So that's it for the photos I took.  And again, because we can't take interior photos, the ones below I found on the internet.  This first one shows an aerial view of The Breakers.
 This is the Grand Entrance Hall.  
And the Dining Room.
 The Morning Room. 
 And the beautiful Music Room.
The rest of the house was just as fantastic.  The tour comes with an audio program and at various points throughout the self-guided tour, there are additional recorded facts about the house, the occupants, the furnishings, the art, the people who worked there, etc.  At the touch of a button you can hear details that greatly enhance the tour and draw you into their world.

I am so impressed with these mansions, and so incredibly intrigued, I know I'll be reading and researching for a long time into the future.  I think I've already almost broken Google.

** About the blog post title regarding acorns:  The Vanderbilt family emblem is the acorn.  They are seen throughout the house and the ceiling of the great hall details four medallions displaying acorns and oak leaves.  Cornelius Vanderbilt, who built his fortune from nothing, felt it represented longevity and strength.  Well, his acorn certainly did grow into some mighty impressive trees. 

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2013:  No Stack Security
2012: My New Obsession
2011: FANtastic
2010: You Won’t See These Giant Feet In A Museum
2009: Semantically Speaking
2008: He Fought The Ed And The Ed Won
2007: Electric Fence
2006: You’re Such A Pansy!!
2005: Sorry, no post for this day.

1 comment:

MAE said...

Thank you for all the extensive work you did to present your time in Rhode Island. I loved visiting the mansions with you.