can’t really remember what made me think of proposing a road trip to see the newport mansions. i was definitely curious. heard of them and the term “gilded age” often enough when i visited the vanderbilt “summer cottage” in hyde park. but photos from brochures definitely don’t prepare you for the sight of these homes. it’s like stepping inside a time bubble. too bad we couldn’t take photos inside of the homes; your jaw would have dropped. i had to scrape mine off the floor a number of times.
“ostentatious” was the first word that came to mind when i stepped inside “the breakers.” “tacky” was the second word. however, calling it tacky is not accurate. tacky almost equals cheap. and there’s definitely nothing cheap about the vanderbilts’ villa by the sea. almost everything in it was imported — from italy, africa, france, etc. — and it cost about $12 million to build in the 1890s. adjusted for inflation, that’s about $300 million. that’s for a house the family used between 8-12 weeks a year.
|the back of marble house|
“marble house” was owned by another of the vanderbilts. it was, as the name of the house suggests, made largely in marble. fortunately, the owner decided to go with cream and not white marble. apparently, she wanted to avoid the “mausoleum” look. someone should have told her she wasn’t quite successful. there’s a room inside this house that made me want to genuflect. check out the link; the room is the one with stained glass windows.
the rest of the houses — rosecliff, the elms, chateau-sur-mer — are pretty similar in that they were showcases for the families’ wealth, power and influence. audio tours pointed out that these buildings were really meant for entertaining. of course, that kind of life ended with the introduction of the personal income tax. not able to keep all the money they’re making, the families found these huge homes financial drains and they began closing them or selling them off.
btw, the term “gilded age” is attributed to mark twain and charles dudley warner and refers to the practice of “gilding” an object with a layer of gold — hiding the decay or grime underneath.