Wednesday, January 6, 2010
2 - Gilded: How Newport Became America's Richest Resort; Deborah Davis
Gilded: How Newport Became America's Richest Resort, by Deborah Davis provides a light, but interesting glimpse into how Newport, Rhode Island became the place to vacation. More than a seaside resort, Newport has a mesmerizing history as a Victorian Era getaway for the rich and famous.
The author Deborah Davis is a Rhode Island native who spent three summers conducting research and private interviews for this book. Some of the interesting people and facts covered in the book were:
* The Astors - Mrs Astor began summering in Newport back in 1880. To her Newport was like a gated community (no easy access), so that the undesirables were kept out. It was she who gets the credit for the gala affairs hosted for the rich and famous.
* The 19th century "ladies" of Newport required 280 wardrobe changes for their eight week summer stay. The men worked and showed up basically on weekends for the social functions which were attended by as many as 400 party goers.
* Name dropping and one upmanship was commonplace. The Astors, the Vanderbilts, Edith Wharton, JFK and Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis, Doris Duke, and Claus and Sunny Von Bulow were just some of the individuals mentioned in this book.
* Then there was Oliver Belmont's 60+ room mansion: a bachelor pad which he shared with his horses.
* Doris Duke the so called "poor little rich girl", at twelve years of age inherited 100 million dollars from her father, a tobacco tycoon, making her the richest girl in the world. Her money, however, did not necessarily bring her happiness, married twice, numerous affairs, and when she died in 1993, she left 5 million to her butler, Bernard Lafferty and named him co-executor of her estate. He also received an annual salary of $500,000 from her 1.2 billion dollar estate.
MY THOUGHTS - I am familiar with Newport and have toured many of the famous mansions (now open to the public): The Breaker, Marble House, The Elms and Rose Cliff. For me I enjoyed this book even though I was looking for something a bit more in depth about the people who made Newport famous. However, the book is only 300 pages, so it only lightly touches on some 200 years of Newport's history. Each chapter of the book held my interest and was written in a way that injected humor where the reader would not expect it. One thing that was disappointing were the photographs -- approximately 30 of them. The photographs were small black and whites printed on the same stock as the text --not at all impressive. Despite this, if you are looking for a light overview of the Gilded Ages of Newport and the people for made it famous, then you might consider giving this book a try. Recommended - 4/5 stars