Today we went to see how the "other 0.001%" live and for that we left Massachusetts to go to Rhode Island.
We had read that 11 mansions in Newport, RI from what is referred to as the "Gilded age", the time roughly between 1870 and 1900, are open to the public and we wanted to see a couple of the summer homes of the ultra rich and famous (or is that shameless?)
It's a longish drive from Falmouth, close to 2 hours, and we arrive at our first mansion, the Elms, around 10.30am. Along the way, we had to dodge an accident just north of Falmouth between two trucks. It looked nasty and all the forces (police, fire, ambulance) were there.
The Elms was the summer house of the coal tycoon Edward Berwind and his wife. Berwind made lots of money with the coming of coal powered electricity and trains and amassed about $30m in an era where there was no income tax in USA (permanent personal income tax was introduced in 1913 with temporary income tax levied before that to pay for war efforts)
Berwind had this house, The Elms, designed as an 18th century French chateau and in total he spent $1.2m on it - equivalent to $22m in today's dollars. Just for a summer house, used for only 12 weeks a year, which took his servants 6 weeks get in order for his arrival. BTW, Berwind's main residence on 2 East 64th Street and 5th Avenue on the Upper East Side in New York City still exists.
After Berwind's wife died in 1922, he invited his spinster sister to live with him and after he died in 1936, she remained in the house until her death in 1961 at the age of 95. After the sister's death, this property and all the contents were sold by the heirs and the house was due to be demolished to make way for some "modern dwellings". We could see what that meant just next door to The Elms and that "modern dwelling" was not impressive. So, thankfully The Elms was saved and the contents largely returned or repurchased over time and the Newport Preservation Society opened it as a museum later in 1962 which it has been ever since.
We bought our "Breakers plus" tickets for $24.50 each and used the "plus" to get inside the Elms. We will see the Breakers mansion later in the day.
The grand front entrance of The Elms... This guy surely should be outside the side door instead...
The back of The Elms viewed across the most perfect lawn.
Inside the house the we were given audio tour headsets and started on our way. They said the tour would last 30 minutes, but if you listen to all the extra options it would take you an hour or more. We liked it.
Unfortunately "no photos inside the house rule" restricted our ability (a bit) to take photos...but we still managed quite a few sneaky photos shot from the hip pocket.
This was Berwind's library.
We loved this conservatory space with windows that opened wide to let in the breeze and lovely lounges for relaxing on a hot summer day.
The dining room.
The second floor landing of the grand staircase - all the marble, chandeliers and the gilt decor did get a bit too much after a while, but we think we could have coped if necessary...
Less ornate bathrooms, but with a handy little sink near the loo for washing the derrière... Hello, is that the reflexion of a ghost in the mirror...?
This is the upstairs butler's pantry where all the dinnerware and silverware were stored under lock and key. Di was happy here...but the security staff were not when we got sprung taking a photo (we had not seen the camera and a distant voice reprimanded us right of a sudden).
Time for a cuppa and we wandered down the back garden to what they called the "Carriage House". Wonder why...?
This is another view of the back of the house. The carriage house cafe is on a path behind Hans.
Pan is up to his usual tricks...
Closer inspection was warranted - and Hans gets into the thick of it!
Our new summer house? Nah - it needs a swimming pool.
On the back terrace they had the most fantastic two bronze sculptures of lionesses - very realistic and not at all dainty. The first one showed a lioness with a goose with a broken neck in its jaws preparing to feed her cubs. This one has a lioness battling a croc. Definitely not cute but impressive. We liked them both.
Di showed some interest in this statue too... Oh yeah, nice bottom...
Wow, one mansion, the Elms with its grounds took us 2 hours to appreciate. The Preservation Society sells a 5 mansion day pass but we can't see how people could do it even with all the mansions being within 5 minutes drive of each other.
We head to our second, but biggest mansion, The Breakers. Built as a family summer house by Cornelius Vanderbilt II after their original, and quite modest summerhouse had burned down in 1892. This mansion of 70 rooms replaced it. Again, only used for 12 weeks a year after 6 weeks of preparation by the servants for the season - read lots of parties and games. The Breakers, the name is referring to ocean breakers as the Atlantic Ocean is just in front of the building, is built like an Italian renaissance palazzo.
Where did the money come from? Cornelius I - his grandfather - founded the Vanderbilt fortune by building and running the railroad from New York to Chicago, and others. The fortune handed down three generations grew and by the time Cornelius II inherited he was considered one of the wealthiest men in the country and he wanted to show it.
The entrance gates... Di looks pretty small here...
After having refueled, we wander around the other side to the front, and along the way we pass the kids play house. It looked like a small commercial kindergarten, but it was just for the Vanderbilt kids.
A few more "No photos" photos...the dining room.
The drawing room.
You can step outside to a balcony off the 2nd floor and survey the surroundings...
In fact, photos are allowed here and the security guy actually offered to take our "self portrait".
We wander through the 2 first floors which are the only ones open to the public and do a final round of the gardens.
There is a cliff walk outside of The Breakers and many of the other mansions, although it was closed off in one direction without any explanation. We speculated that the reason for the closure may have been that the property owner next to that particular section of the walk was, let's say, not super impressed with having punters between his property and the sea, but what do we know?
We wander the cliff walk for a little while before walking one block in from the sea and taking that street back to The Breakers' parking lot where we have our car.
We find out along the way that many of the old mansions in the area now form part of a sprawling university complex. Salva Regima University is Catholic, privately owned and founded as far back as 1934. Well, it looked like the University's involvement saved many of these old mansions from the wrecking ball so that can only be a good thing.
We liked this gatehouse that formed the entrance to one of the University buildings.
After been "mansioned out", we do a drive around parts of Newport to see if we can find signs of America's Cup yacht club. Newport is clearly a Mecca for all types of watercraft, but the closest to America's Cup we came was an Avenue in its name. We decide to head back some time around 4pm after stopping at Dunkin Donuts for some coffee. We try their old fashioned donut - not good. We do them better in Oz.
Busy on the roads as we are getting into rush hour and we are not back home until after 6pm via a stop at the grocery store along the way.
Rotisserie Chook and boiled canned potatoes for dinner (plus salad for Di) in the room and a quiet evening after a big day. Good night.