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BerlinRocks's Avatar
Join Date: Dec 2005
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1880-1910s New York Gilded Years
I went to the Museum of NYC, today.
pretty much randomly.

They have two interesting exhibitions (in a revival colonial 5th Av./Central Park address, from the 1930s ~ on 103th street... i merely go after 90th, it was the 1st time i visited this museum - and i think i will more often): one about the Mad Men age (I find this crazy that this tvshow's become an adjectif/a style to define the 1950-1960s) illustrator: MC CONNER.

and there is a small exhibition on the third floor, a one year exhibition - (ongoing they say on the website - it closes in nov. 2014) in a purple room called Gilded Years (about wealthy american society/aristocracy/ the 1% of early modern days in NYC). There's like hardly 6 paintings (2 portraits of children - in retrospective this is pretty interesting to think they show 2 portraits of heirs), I would say a dozen window displays, and 1 "period room/scene" - at the end of the room.
Mostly vitrines showcase WONDERFULLY BEAUTIFUL jewelry, accessories of this time. There's a bit of silverware, "beauty kits" and "opera-cocktail-dinner kits" (gloves, accessories to handle the gloves, perfume bottle crafted with attention, details, gold, platinum, diamonds and more ravishing things - that you'll be able to carry in a tiny clutch - i was amazed how tiny certain things were). fans with amazing feathers. a wonderful and amusing pair of opera glasses with fan integrated.

In the hallway, one of the videos broadcasts images of the gilded years traditions of "bals costumes" (only balls in english, and not costumed balls... anyway). that was the beginning of the concept for this exhibition.

That was very eye-candy ! and pretty interesting.


How the Original 1 Percent Showed Off
‘Gilded New York’ and ‘Beauty’s Legacy,’ Two Lifestyle Shows

The staggering sums spent on art at last week’s auctions were interpreted by dealers and critics alike as evidence of a new Gilded Age. At such a moment, it may be useful to take a hard look at the old one, the late-19th-century period defined by the aggressive buying sprees of a few newly minted industrialists.

Right now, New York, already blessed with the Frick and the Morgan museums and countless other examples of Gilded Age architecture, has two temporary monuments to that earlier era’s excesses in “Gilded New York,” at the Museum of the City of New York, and “Beauty’s Legacy: Gilded Age Portraits in America,” at the New-York Historical Society.

Art lovers, be warned: These shows are about lifestyle, not connoisseurship. Collecting, as seen here, is a particularly transparent form of social gatekeeping. And the exhibitions dutifully guard those gates: They don’t tell us much about the Gilded Age’s extreme disparities of wealth, aside from passing mentions in the glossy catalogs.

They do, however, have much to say about the imbalance of money and taste: that the spending of unfathomable amounts of money on art, fashion, parties and real estate had a tendency to stave off any discussion of taste.

“Gilded New York,” the smaller of the two shows, is a one-room affair. But it’s quite a period piece; the gallery, upholstered in eggplant-colored brocade and stuffed with silver and porcelain, could serve as a set for the latest Wharton adaptation or Julian Fellowes’s much-anticipated American follow-up to “Downton Abbey.”

Thematically, the show, curated by Donald Albrecht, Jeannine Falino and Phyllis Magidson, revolves around the ritual of the fancy-dress ball: an occasion for lavish expenditures by both host and guests. Two mannequins wearing evening dresses by Maison Worth of Paris have been posed conversationally before a fireplace surround of Italian marble; one of them is clad in the sparkling “Electric Light” dress, festooned with silver bullion, worn by Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt II at the Vanderbilt Ball of 1883. In the catalog, and just outside the gallery, photographs show guests at other balls dressed (with no apparent irony) as kings, queens and courtiers from Versailles.
NDLR: These 2 dresses are no longer in the show !
Unfortunately, there aren't enough costumes !!!!!

Jewelry cases hold accessories that would have been shown off at balls, operas and other society gatherings: diamond tiaras, fans made from the colorful plumage of exotic birds, gem-encrusted perfume bottles and bonbonnieres. The men’s items are no less extravagant: Sapphires and rubies adorn a pocketknife, and a cane has a secret compartment that opens to reveal a carved ivory figure of a female nude.

These and other decorative objects are the mainstay of “Gilded New York” — don’t miss the Far East-inspired earthenware that actually hails from Trenton and Brooklyn — but a few portraits animate the formal setting. One is Thomas Wilmer Dewing’s creamy, Whistleresque painting of DeLancey Iselin Kane as a coltish boy in a white sailor suit, with a carved and pierced wooden frame designed by Stanford White. Another is John Quincy Adams Ward’s bronze bust of August Belmont, the financier and sportsman for whom the Belmont Stakes race is named and reputedly the inspiration for the character of Julius Beaufort in Wharton’s novel “The Age of Innocence.”

“Beauty’s Legacy,” at the New-York Historical Society, on the other hand, consists entirely of portraits. Although less opulent-looking than “Gilded New York,” it’s richer in context and more character-driven, with plenty of information on the New York social set known as Mrs. Astor’s 400.

Organized by Barbara Dayer Gallati, it opens with a section on the Portrait Loan Exhibitions at the National Academy of Design, which were organized by leading society women and displayed their likenesses alongside earlier examples of American and European portraiture. Not surprisingly, many of the works selected for these events imitated the old masters; they include Daniel Huntington’s full-length, Gainsborough-inspired painting of Caroline D. Roberts, as well as Raimundo de Madrazo y Garreta’s homage to Velázquez in his portrait of the banker Robert Livingston Cutting Jr.

The watercolor-on-ivory miniatures from the collection of Peter Marié, meanwhile, represent a more casual form of portraiture, one with popular currency; they show society women in costume from the latest ball. But one of the show’s major insights concerns the changing representation of men, as captains of industry pushed aside the soldier-heroes of the Civil War era in the social hierarchy. A highlight is Theobald Chartran’s painting of the Equitable Insurance Company heir James Hazen Hyde, whose come-hither stare is conspicuously modeled on Bronzino’s “Portrait of a Young Man.”

Also intriguing is the relationship between the American elite and its European counterpart, joined by “Downton”-style marriages and the quickening pace of trans-Atlantic travel. As the show reveals, artists like Émile Carolus-Duran and his protégé, John Singer Sargent, were in demand in both markets.

Our Gilded Age is, of course, a much more global affair, which makes it difficult to compare with the one in these exhibitions. The “400” have been superseded by an international register of 2,000-plus billionaires, the fancy-dress balls by Art Basel.

But we may observe, in these galleries, a confluence of art, wealth and celebrity that looks very familiar.

“Gilded New York” runs through November 2014 at the Museum of the City of New York, 1220 Fifth Avenue, at 103rd Street; 212-534-1672, “Beauty’s Legacy: Gilded Age Portraits in America” runs through March 9 at the New-York Historical Society, 170 Central Park West, at 77th Street; 212-873-3400,
NYTIMES ; images source WWD
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Here is a review of a book centered around James Hazen Hyde : AFTER THE BALL: Gilded Age Secrets, Boardroom Betrayals, and the Party That Ignited the Great Wall Street Scandal of 1905, By Patricia Beard
The year, 1905. The setting, New York City. Flamboyant heir to the controlling interest in Equitable Life Assurance Society, James Hazen Hyde becomes the central figure in a financial scandal that shocks the country. The media's intense coverage discloses the corporate secrets of financial manipulation, and policyholders are enraged. When Hyde's father died in 1899, he assumed the elder Hyde's duties at Equitable and believed his responsibilities were a sacred trust. Yet his playboy inclinations were on display at his opulent costume ball in 1905, and false charges followed that Equitable was billed for that extravagance. Those charges led to a series of discoveries resulting in a major corporate scandal, and Hyde fled to Paris where he made a place for himself in cultural circles. The author draws parallels to the financial excesses recently revealed at Enron and Worldcom and shows us how the system at Equitable almost 100 years ago was rigged with techniques similar to those used today. Mary Whaley

Portrait, James Hazen Hyde and Mrs. Joseph Widener, Hyde Ball.

"le Mardi 31 Janviere 1905" JAMES HAZEN HYDE'S COSTUME BALL
(read a complete review of this ball, including details like the crazy menu HERE)
and see more portraits HERE (museum of the city of NY)

Interior of a tented dining room at Sherry's at the James Hazen Hyde Ball, January 31, 1905.

James Hazen Hyde and his sister Comtesse de Rougemont at the Hyde Ball at Sherry's in 1905


Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt, Mrs. Robert Goelet, Mrs. Edward Post, Mrs Edward L. Baylies, August Belmont, Cornelius Vanderbilt, James A. Burden and others.

A scene depicting the great James Hazen Hyde Ball of January 31st, 1905. Hyde is shown greeting French actress Gabrielle Rejane in the Ballroom of Sherry's Restaurant ~ decorated to replicate a garden at Versailles, with real turf and thousands of roses.

Madame Rejane (Gabrielle Charlotte Reju) posed with others who are costumed in the "garden of Versailles" at the James Hazen Hyde Ball, January 31, 1905.

Group Portrait of debutantes Nora Iselin, Miss Warren, and six other women holding baskets of flowers at the Hyde Ball, Feb. 1905.

a special ! i laughed so much when i saw this one ! only white old males having dinner on a horse. that's cool. and (as one would say on tumblr) very "white people".

This is one of the most famous photographs of the Gilded Age in New York. It is the “Dinner on Horseback” given by Cornelius Kingsley Garrison (CKG) Billings at Sherry’s Restaurant on 44th Street and Fifth Avenue in March 1903.,, and wonderful source:

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I don't know if they have threads here, on tFS, but here are some bio of "major" people from the time.
(in the title i chose the period of time 1880-1910 pretty randomly, but it kind of is a generation time).

Elsie de Wolfe, aka Lady Mendl
Elsie de Wolfe, also known as Lady Mendl,[1] (December 20, 1859?[2][3][4] – July 12, 1950) was an American actress, interior decorator, nominal author of the influential 1913 book The House in Good Taste,[5] and a prominent figure in New York, Paris, and London society. According to The New Yorker, "Interior Design as a profession was invented by Elsie de Wolfe."[6] During her married life, the press usually referred to her as Lady Mendl. She was born in New York and died in Versailles, France.
in AD: ELSIE DE WOLFE, The American pioneer who vanquished Victorian gloom

in The New Yorker:
A Life in Good Taste. The fashions and follies of Elsie de Wolfe. BY RUTH FRANKLIN, A Critic at Large SEPTEMBER 27, 2004 ISSUE

BOOK available online:
The House in Good Taste By Elsie de Wolfe is available on Guttenberg project !! this is great news.

Elsie De Wolfe: A Life in the High Style (The Elegant Life and Remarkable Career of Elsie de Wolfe, Lady Mendl)

this page HERE seems well informed, too. and there are good quotes !

Some like
“Good dressing is largely a question of detail and accessories.”
or “To conform within rational limits to a given style is no more servile than to pay one's taxes or to write according to the rule of grammar.” and “I believe in plenty of optimism and white paint.” and “My business is to preach to you the beauty of suitability.”

About the Colony Club - only NYC example of her work still remaining HERE


interesting anecdote (story told by a woman rescued from the Titanic)
In one group I recognized Elsie de Wolfe 21, Miss Marbury 22, Bainbridge Colby 23, and Mr. Merritt 24, the editor of the Sunday American 25. A few minutes later we were down the gangway and they were alternately laughing and crying over us. Only then did I begin to realize the agony of mind they were in while they waited for us. They had only been told we were among the survivors but had no confirmation of the news to depend on. All had been in suspense when it became known that many of those rescued had since died on the Carpathia. Nobody dared to do more than hope for the best until they had actually seen the passengers disembarked.

We drove to the Ritz where we found a suite of rooms had been prepared for us. Elsie had filled them with flowers, and there were new clothes laid out for us. At dinner that night we were all very gay and drank champagne. Every few minutes the telephone would ring and I was kept busy answering the messages of congratulations while flowers and other presents were showered upon us. But I could not be quite happy even in the warmth of our welcome for I kept remembering the men and women who had sat at dinner that last night on board the Titanic. It seemed so long ago. I could scarcely believe only four days had passed.

linked to one the picture:
Interior designer Elsie de Wolfe was famous for her morning exercises. She wrote in her 1935 autobiography that her daily regimen at age seventy included yoga, standing on her head, and walking on her hands. If she could work out at 70, I think the least the rest of us can do is take a walk! Note to self, buy a workout turban.

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very very very rich people...

this elsie de wolfe reminds me of diana vreeland...
but with more money and family connections...

i must say that i adore that last quote...

thanks for starting the thread sir...

i'm going to go and stand on my head now...

"It is not money that makes you well dressed: it is understanding."

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you're welcome softie ...

so yesterday I was browsing through family trees - the Astors, the Vanderbilt, the Morgans etc. (I think I'll post more about the socialites, men and women, and the group of "Poor little rich girls" - the first Paris Hilton crew - and some of the Cafe Society - the early modern days kind of "Saint Germain" crew, mixing rich people and artists and intellectuals etc.) ... and discovered I wasn't far in terms of dates for the Gilded Age (which is basically 1870-1900 ... so it is up to you mods... if you still read what's going around) ....

I thought maybe take 2 costume balls as date frontiers would good, too - starts with the 1883 Vanderbilt Ball, ends with the 1905 Hyde Ball. But we are not writing a thesis here ... (that would be a good subject for high school, and college people - something more general on history, and more detailed on Fashion and Lifestlye ...)

Vanderbilt Ball – how a costume ball changed New York elite society

In the spring of 1883, the solemnity of Lent didn’t stand a chance against the social event on the mind of all of New York’s elite society: Mrs. W. K. Vanderbilt’s fancy dress ball. The invitations had been hand delivered by servants in livery, young socialites had been practicing quadrilles (dances performed with four couples in a rectangular formation) for weeks, and “amid the rush and excitement of business, men have found their minds haunted by uncontrollable thoughts as to whether they should appear as Robert Le Diable, Cardinal Richelieu, Otho the Barbarian, or the Count of Monte Cristo, while the ladies have been driven to the verge of distraction in the effort to settle the comparative advantages of ancient, medieval, and modern costumes” (New York Times). The best dressmakers and cobblers had spent months poring over old books making costumes — which were already being breathlessly described by the New York Times — as historically accurate as possible.

Prior to the ball, Gilded Age New York society had been dominated by the Mrs. Astor. (Emphasis, hers – to even ask which Astor was a sure sign that you were thoroughly ignorant in the most basic points of New York’s social hierarchy.) Mrs. Caroline Schermerhorn Astor and self-appointed “society expert” Ward McAllister were the authorities in all things upper class. It was up to them to decide if your last name was venerable enough or if your bloodlines were pure enough for entry into the upper ranks of society. They were the champions of old money and tradition.

But New York’s social hierarchy is not known for being static. Thanks to the meteoric increase in millionaires in New York due to the Civil War and the Industrial Revolution, many of whose fortunes rivaled or even surpassed the oldest of families, Mrs. Astor and Ward McAllister had a whole new challenge in deciding who of the nouveau riche was acceptable. This led to the creation of the famous List of 400 — the Four Hundred people who were New York’s high society. One family that they deemed wholly unsuitable were the Vanderbilts. The willful crassness of Cornelius “Commodore” Vanderbilt, the ambitious entrepreneurial shipping and railroad industry mogul, and patriarch of the family, was still the stuff of legends.

The Commodore’s grandson, William Kissam Vanderbilt, married the determined, pugilistic and socially ambitious Alva Erksine Smith from Mobile, Alabama (but schooled in Paris). Alva made it her mission to bring the Vanderbilts into what she thought was their proper place in society, and onto the list of the 400.

Her first move? Building an opulent French château style mansion designed by Richard Morris Hunt at 660 Fifth Avenue at 52nd street that literally overshadowed the dour, albeit luxurious, town homes that lined the avenue.

As grand as the mansion was, the ball which served as her housewarming party was even grander. On March 26, 1883 Alva threw one of the most incredible parties that New York had ever seen. With her access to seemingly endless amounts of money, she used every available resource – including the power of the press by inviting journalists to come in and preview the decorations before the ball began – to build excitement and to make it bigger than any ball before it. According to an apocryphal tale, Alva used what was possibly the simplest weapon in her arsenal to gain admission to the New York 400: good old fashioned manipulation. The story goes, that like all marriageable young girls Mrs. Astor’s daughter, Carrie, was anxiously awaiting her invitation and even began practicing for a quadrille with her friends. Then the unthinkable happened: all of her friends got their invitations and hers never came. She immediately got her mother on the case. Due to complex social customs, Alva claimed she could not invite Miss Astor since Mrs. Astor had never called on the Vanderbilt home. Mrs. Astor really had no choice but to drop her visiting card at 660 5th Avenue, thus formally acknowledging the Vanderbilts. The Astors’ invitation was received the next day.

At ten in the evening carriages began arriving at 660 5th Avenue, dropping off nearly 1200 outrageously costumed members of the highest ranks of society. Crowds, held back by police, strained to catch glimpses of debutantes and society stalwarts attired in their costumes as they were escorted into the mansion. Even Mrs. Astor (with her daughter) and Ward McAllister were there.

It is easy to see the casual display of over-the-top excess of the ball in these portraits of attendees in their costumes taken by Mora.

Miss Edith Fish was dressed as the Duchess of Burgundy, with real sapphires, rubies and emeralds studding the front of the dress. One of the most amazing costumes was Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt II ‘s representation of “Electric Light” which even had a torch that lit up, thanks to batteries hidden in her dress. The dress is actually in the Museum’s costume collection and you can see it as it looked on Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt II in the cabinet card below, and how stunning it is in the full color collection image. (To take a closer look at the dress, visit our Worth/Mainbocher online exhibition here.) At exactly 11:30 the ball began with the hobby-horse quadrille, the first of five quadrilles where the young people of society danced down the grand staircase in lavish costumes.

Dancers in the Dresden Quadrille wore all-white court costumes evoking the time of Frederick the Great and giving them the eerie and intentional look of living porcelain dolls.

For the Opera Bouffe quadrille, the costumes were just as elaborate. The New York Times described the dress below as, “Miss Bessie Webb appeared as Mme. Le Diable in a red satin dress with a black velvet demon embroidered on it and the entire dress trimmed with demon fringe-that is to say, with a fringe ornamented with the heads and horns of little demons.” It’s not everyday that you hear the term “demon fringe”.
Speaking of things that you don’t hear or see on a daily basis, this is the costume of a cat that Miss Kate Fearing Strong wore. Miss Strong, who Henry James described as “youthful and precocious,” went as her nickname “Puss”. Somewhat disturbingly, the entire costume consisted of the taxidermied cat head as seen in the image, but also seven cat tails sewn onto her skirt.

Continuing with the animal theme, Alva’s sister-in-law went as a hornet, with an imported headdress made of diamonds.
After the last quadrille ended, the ball really began. Dozens of Louis XVIs, a King Lear “in his right mind”, Joan of Arc, Venetian noblewomen and hundreds of other costumed figures danced and drank among the flower filled house, including the third floor gymnasium that had been converted into a forest filled with palm trees and draped with bougainvillaeas and orchids. Dinner was served at 2 in the morning by the chefs of Delmonico’s working with the Vanderbilt’s small army of servants. The dancing continued until the sun was rising, diamonds and other jewels glinting in the changing light. Alva led her guests in one final Virginia reel and just like that, the ball was over. The fantasy world that Alva created turned back into reality as men in powdered wigs stumbled down Fifth Avenue, much to the amusement of children on their way to school.


Most contemporary sources put the cost of the ball at $250,000 (nearly 6 million dollars in today’s money), including such costs as $65,000 for champagne and $11,000 for flowers. It was conspicuous consumption at its finest and it worked. Newspapers across the country reported the most minute details and extolled Alva’s tastes and classiness. (This is not to say that there wasn’t a backlash to the ball. The New York Sun published this very stern article, critiquing the excess when there was so much suffering in the same city.). But as of March 27, 1883 the Vanderbilts were at the top of a new New York society that was not just limited to 400 people. (same source for text and images)

Last edited by BerlinRocks; 30-10-2014 at 07:25 AM.
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More costumes photographed by the socialite portraitist Mora
(see more of her portraits HERE, and more images of the Vanderbilt Ball HERE)

same source

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some more books
- i feel like going to Strand ...
what I really like about this period in the USA, is that we actually witness the growing and birth of a future #1 country, but also have to meet some of the first europeans aristocracy traveling to the New World and marry "New Money". It is like Old Continent meets the New World, and I happen to learn about the "Belle Epoque" US equivalent (which I knew almost nothing about, but names and small stories - which happened to be linked more than I thought).

The Vanderbilts

Consuelo and Alva Vanderbilt: The Story of a Daughter and a Mother in the Gilded Age

The Vanderbilt Women: Dynasty of Wealth, Glamour, and Tragedy

The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt

Last edited by BerlinRocks; 30-10-2014 at 07:54 AM.
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In regards of what I talked about in previous post. HERE is a text about weddings between old continent aristocratie and new world wealth.
# museum of the city of new york is a true pleasure/treasure to look through.
HERE is the link to their blog, with the "Gilded Age" search tag on.

I've read that Downton Abbey creator/writer was working on a TV show for American public about this period (the news is from 2013, I don't know how it has evolved since then - see the mcny link posted above dollar princess).

I haven't quietly searched through tFS, but I'm not sure there are a lot of threads (in Icons of the Past) about these past Ladies, from the early days.
But here is a thread about Consuelo Vanderbilt

I guess we could open one thread about Elsie de Wolfe, and more women.

Another costume ball: the Bradley-Martin Ball (1897, Warldorf-Astoria, NY)
# costume ball is a grand tradition still operating in high circles - and I'm not talking about Halloween... only...
i know especially about the lawyers and doctors costume dinners, and parties (more than big extravaganza balls). but we could count some Fashion industry balls - the MJ Halloween Party is probably one of the most famous one, non ? is it still going on ?

# what's interesting here to read is the importance of such balls in economy and trades. the beginning of globalization, i guess.

History Box Entry
Wikipedia Entry

another entry...

The Bradley Martin Ball, which took place at the Waldorf Hotel in New York City on the night of February 10, 1897, was described in a newspaper as "the most splendid private entertainment ever given in this country. " Eight hundred socialites spent about $400,000 imitating kings and queens. At a midnight champagne supper they dined on twenty-eight courses--including "Sorbet Fin de Siecle." 28 courses.....
And I'm not sure how much would be $400,000 now, but I guess an average of $8-10 million
.... for a party.

The ball was both a triumph and a disaster. "It may not be surpassed in another hundred years," oozed one society reporter (until many other balls); "it was a gorgeous, superb, and wonderful spectacle." Yet a prominent Episcopalian rector warned that such an occasion in a time of depression and social tension was "ill advised." He was right. Newspapers condemned the Bradley Martins for their extravagance; clergymen preached sermons against them; college debating societies resolved their iniquity. And the New York Assessor doubled their taxes. The Bradley Martins permanently retreated to England after a final and characteristic gesture: a farewell dinner for eighty?six intimate friends which, the newspapers faithfully reported, cost $116.28 a plate.

Every year my brother Bradley and his wife spent their winters in New York, when they entertained largely. One morning at breakfast my brother remarked--

"I think it would be a good thing if we got up something; there seems to be a great deal of depression in trade; suppose we send out invitations for a concert."

"And pray, what good will that do?" asked my sister-in-law, "the money will only benefit foreigners. No, I've a far better idea; let us give a costume ball at so short notice that our guests won't have time to get their dresses from Paris. That will give an impetus to trade that nothing else will."

Directly Mrs. Martin's plan became known, there was a regular storm of comment, which arose in the first instance from the remarks made by a clergyman who denounced the costume ball from the pulpit.

"Yes," he raged, "you rich people put next to nothing in the collection plate, and yet you'll spend thousands of dollars on Mrs. Bradley Martin's ball."

The newspapers then took up the subject, and we were besieged by reporters, but my brother and his wife invariably refused to discuss the matter. Threatening letters arrived by every post, debating societies discussed our extravagance, and last, but not least, we were burlesqued unmercifully on the stage.

I was highly indignant about my sister-in-law being so cruelly attacked, seeing that her object in giving the ball was to stimulate trade, and, indeed, she was perfectly right, for, owing to the short notice, many New York shops sold out brocades and silks which had been lying in their stock-rooms for years.

The ball was fixed for February 10, 1897, and a day or two before Mrs. Martin met Theodore Roosevelt in the street. "I'm very pleased that you and Mrs. Roosevelt are coming to the ball," she said.

"Oh," he replied, "my wife's going because she's got her costume, but, as one of the commissioners, I shall be outside looking after the police!"

I think every one anticipated a disturbance, but nothing of the kind took place, and the evening passed without any untoward incident.

The best way I can describe what is always known as the "Bradley Martin Ball," is to say that it reproduced the splendour of Versailles in New York, and I doubt if even the Roi Soleil himself ever witnessed a more dazzling sight. The interior of the Waldorf?Astoria Hotel was transformed into a replica of Versailles, and rare tapestries, beautiful flowers and countless lights made an effective background for the wonderful gowns and their wearers. I do not think there has ever been a greater display of jewels before or since; in many cases the diamond buttons worn by the men represented thousands of dollars, and the value of the historic gems worn by the ladies baffles description.

My sister-in-law personated Mary Stuart, and her gold embroidered gown was trimmed with pearls and precious stones. Bradley, as Louis XV, wore a Court suit of brocade, and I represented a gentleman of the period. The whole thing appealed most strongly to my imagination, and my mind constantly reverted to the friend of my childhood, the dear grandmother who would have been so keenly interested in it all. I remember that Mrs. James Beekman, as Lady Teazle, wore a lovely dress, which formerly belonged to an ancestress, and Mrs. Henry Burnet's satin petticoat was another family heirloom which left the scented seclusion of a cedar?wood chest for this interesting occasion.

Anne Morgan lent a touch of barbaric colour with her wonderful Pochahontas costume which had been made by Indians, and the suit of gold inlaid armour worn by Mr. Belmont was valued at ten thousand dollars. The power of wealth with its refinement and vulgarity was everywhere. It gleamed from countless jewels, and it was proclaimed by the thousands of orchids and roses, whose fragrance that night was like incense burnt on the altar of the Golden Calf.

I cannot conceive why this entertainment should have been condemned. We Americans are so accustomed to display that I should have thought the ball would not have been regarded as anything very unusual. Every one said it was the most brilliant function of the kind ever seen in America, and it certainly was the most talked about.

After the ball the authorities promptly raised my brother's taxes quite out of proportion to those paid by any one else, and the matter was only settled after a very acrimonious dispute. Bradley and his wife resented intensely the annoyance to which they had been subjected, and they decided to sell their house in New York and buy a residence in London.

Four years previously their only daughter, Comelia, had married Lord Craven, and my brother felt that the family affections were now implanted in the Old World. His grandson, who was born in the year of the famous ball, was such a source of pride to us all that I believe the advent of the boy finally decided the Bradley Martins about leaving New York.

Source: Frederick Martin Townsend, Things I Remember. London: E. Nash, 1913, pp. 238-243.

This is very interesting (about what women were wearing for jewelry, the craze for "vintage" items. and the role of one big auction in 1887)

Are you drooling yet? Wait, there’s more:

“There is no estimating the value of the rare old jewels to be worn at the Bradley Martin ball. All the jewelers who deal in antiques say they have been cleaned out of all they had on hand, and people still keep calling for old buckles, snuff boxes, lorgnettes, diamond or pearl studded girdles, rings, and, in fact, every conceivable decoration in gems.

“All this, of course, is outside of the costly jewels held as heirlooms by the old families of New York. These have been taken from safety vaults and furbished up for the occasion in such quantities that the spectator will be puzzled to know where they all came from.”

Although there were rumors that some paste might show up, Tiffany’s dispelled the rumor –– all the bling would be the real deal, some the REAL REAL deal because some of the gems at the party came from the 1887 auction of the French crown jewels (you can read about it HERE ), a sale that was heavily attended by American millionaires and Tiffanys (additional acquisitions of the royal jewels had been made in the decade that followed as well). This sale helped to up the ante on the quality of the jewelry at the ball –– (...)
source - if you follow this link, you'll find famous Gilded Age recipes ... : http://lostpastremembered.blogspot.c...d-beef_21.html
a quick quote about food.
The party food is pretty standard for the day with the requisite luxury items of truffles, foie gras, terrapin and canvasback duck. But it also featured Filet de Boeuf Jardiniere. This dish has appeared all over Gilded Age menus that I’ve seen –– it was a huge favorite for an upscale party. It appeared at NY society racing parties and Vanderbilt and Astor–– you can see why when you look at the picture, it’s a stunner. The arbiter of taste of the 19th century, Ward McAllister, said the dish was de rigueur for a good dinner as the Relévé (a large, roasted meat or fowl dish following an entreé) of choice (there were usually a number of roasts and birds in this course at a large dinner).
icono for Bradley-Martin Ball.

(same source)

Last edited by BerlinRocks; 30-10-2014 at 08:40 AM.
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Too late to edit the post above, but here is an IMPORTANT thread for Fashion ...


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I'm onto this subject since yesterday night ...
"To gild refined gold, to paint the lily... is wasteful and ridiculous excess."
~ Shakespeare's King John (1595).

Above, I've posted about Elsie de Wolfe, James Hyde's Ball, the 1883 Vanderbilt Ball (a very important social event for the Vanderbilt family) and here comes 2 new characters important in NYC late 1800s Elite.... The Vanderbilt Women ...

Alva Belmont Vanderbilt 1853-1933 ~ first wife of William K. Vanderbilt, Mother of Consuelo Vanderbilt, and hostess of the 1883 Vanderbilt Ball.

Known for having an aristocratic manner that antagonized many people,[2] she was also noted for her energy, intelligence, strong opinions, and willingness to challenge convention. (...)

Rise in Society

Alva Vanderbilt, costumed for her 1883 ball.
Determined to bring the Vanderbilt family the social status that she felt they deserved, Vanderbilt christened the Fifth Avenue chateau in March 1883 with a masquerade ball for 1000 guests, costing a reported $3 million. An oft-repeated story tells that Vanderbilt felt she had been snubbed by Caroline Astor, queen of "The 400" elite of New York society, so she purposely neglected to send an invitation to Astor's popular daughter, Carrie. Supposedly, this forced Astor to come calling, in order to secure an invitation to the ball for her daughter.[10] This story may be apocryphal, but Astor did in fact pay a social call on Vanderbilt and she and her daughter were guests at the ball, effectively giving the Vanderbilt family society's official acceptance (Vanderbilt and Astor were observed at the ball in animated conversation). The chief effect of the ball was to raise the bar on society entertainments in New York to heights of extravagance and expense that had not been previously seen.

Unable to get an opera box at the Academy of Music, whose directors were loath to admit members of newly wealthy families into their circle, she was among those people instrumental in 1883 in founding the Metropolitan Opera, then based at the Metropolitan Opera House. The Metropolitan Opera long outlasted the Academy and continues to the present day.

In 1886, after her husband inherited $65 million from his father's estate, Alva set her sights on owning a yacht. William had the Alva commission by Harlan and Hollingsworth of Wilmington, Delaware at a cost of $500,000. While J.P. Morgan's yacht Corsair was 165 feet long, Mrs. Astor's Nourmahal was 233 feet and even Alva's departed father-in-law's North Star measured 270 feet, this generation would have a yacht, at 285 feet long, that was the largest private yacht in the world. The Vanderbilts then toured the Caribbean and Europe in the highest fashion.[11]

This being done, Alva then wanted a "summer cottage" in fashionable Newport, Rhode Island. William commissioned Richard Morris Hunt again, and the elaborate Marble House was built next door to Mrs. Astor's Beechwood.[12]

Alice Claypoole Gwynne 1852–1934
~ sister-in-law of Alva Vanderbilt, the one who wore the famous "Electric Light" dress, "stunning gown (...) made of white satin and trimmed with diamonds. It came with hidden batteries, so Alice could light up like a bulb."

She married Cornelius Vanderbilt II (favorite grandson of the Commodore).

~ about the costumes, and "lifestyle" weeks before the 1883 Ball:
It has disturbed the sleep and occupied the waking hours of social butterflies, both male and female, for over six weeks, and has even, perhaps, interfered to some extent with that rigid observance of Lenten devotions which the Church exacts. Amid the rush and excitement of business men have found their minds haunted by uncontrollable thoughts as to whether they should appear as Robert Le Diable, Cardinal Richelleu, Otho the barbarian, or the Count of Monte Cristo, while the ladies have been driven to the verge of distraction in the effort to settle the comparative advantages of ancient, medieval, and modern costumes, or the relative superiority, from an effective point of view, of such characters and symbolic representations as a Princess de Croy, Rachel, Marie Stuart, Marie Antoinette, the Four Seasons, Night, Morning, Innocence, and the Electric Light. Invitations have, of course, been in great demand, and in all about 1,200 were issued.
As Lent drew to a close, everybody having decided what he or she was going to wear, the attention of the select few turned from the question of costumes to the settlement of the details of the ball itself and the practicing of the parts assigned to them in the various fancy quadrilles decided on to make the most conspicuous features of the entertainment. The drilling in these quadrilles have been going on assiduously in Mrs. William Astor's and other private residences for more than a week, while prospective guests not so favored as to be able to witness these preliminary entertainments have had to content themselves with recounting such items of information as could be extracted from the initiated. As early as 7 o'clock last evening, although the ball was not to begin until 11, gentlemen returning from the hair-dressers' with profusely powdered heads were to be seen alighting from coupes along Fifth-avenue, and hurrying up the steps of their residences to complete their toilets. About the same time the passage up the avenue of an express wagon containing the horses for the hobby-horse quadrille attracted a great deal of attention. By 8 o'clock a large crowd of inquisitive loungers was collected in Fifth-avenue and Fifty-second-street watching Mr. Vanderbilt's brilliantly illuminated residence and a group of workmen putting up the awning before the entrance. Inside, long before the ball commenced, the house was in a blaze of light, which shown upon profuse decorations of flowers. These, which were by Klunder, were at once novel and imposing. They were confined chiefly to the second floor, although throughout the hall and parlors on the first floor, were distributed vases and gilded baskets filled with natural roses of extraordinary size, such as the dark crimson Jacqueminot, the deep pink Glorie de Paris, the pale pink Baroness de Rothschild and Adolphe de Rothschild, the King of Morocco; the Dutchess of Kent and the new and beautiful Marie Louise Vassey, but a delightful surprise greeted the guests upon the second floor, as they reached the head of the grand stairway. Grouped around the clustered columns which ornament either side of the stately hall were tall palms overtopping a dense mass of ferns and ornamental grasses, while suspended between the capitals of the columns were strings of variegated Japanese lanterns. Entered through this hall is the gymnasium, a spacious apartment, where supper was served on numerous small tables. But it had not the appearance of an apartment last night; it was like a garden in a tropical forest. The walls were nowhere to be seen, but in their places an impenetrable thicket of fern above fern and palm above palm, while from the branches of the palms hung a profusion of lovely orchids, displaying a rich variety of color and an almost endless variation of fantastic forms. In the centre of the room was a gigantic palm, upon whose umbrageous head rested a thick cluster of that beautiful Cuban vine, vougen villa, which trailed from the dome in the centre of the ceiling.


Alice was responsible for constructing several massive family houses, including the enlargement of 1 West 57th Street, making it the largest private residence to ever be built in an American city.
wiki entry extract

I don't know how the Upper East Side (though 52nd and 57th are rather midtown than ues) got constructed and established as a wealthy zip code (which is a shame because 10021 is my zip code, now ...), but I would say she is one, among others, prominent figure of the Central Park/Fifth Av. real-estate development.
And there's an interesting real-estate website where you can hunt UES townhouses and old mansions history-ies.

William K. Vanderbilt House "occupied the entire block between 51st and 52nd streets on the west side of Fifth Avenue".
"The mansion was built for William Kissam Vanderbilt, (...) from 1878 to 1882. Determined to make her mark in New York society, Vanderbilt's wife Alva worked with the architect, Richard Morris Hunt, to create the French Renaissance-style chateau."

Richard M. Hunt was MET museum architect.

Cornelius Vanderbilt II House (on 57st - it was sold, then demolished and is now Bergdorf store).

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A History Channel doc available on youtube about the Vamderbilts ...
Gilded Age starts around 16'...

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