Monday, February 19, 2007

Gilded Age Opulence

For reasons I’d rather not examine, the amazing opulence and extravagance of the gilded age fascinates me. The book(s) I’m working on right now are about one (purely fictional) high-society American family during the Victorian age, which has lead me to research how they lived. This particular family is from Boston, who by in large were far more frugal than the society families of other cities, but “my” family has ties to New York. New York society was “the” society and honestly the worst of them all.

They were, for the most part, the “newly” rich—not like in Boston whose family and wealth could be traced back at least ten whole years before these “bouncers”. (a little sarcasm there). Ward McAllister, the Astors, and later, when finally accepted, the Vanderbilts. The men worked (often bilking poor innocents of money) while their bored, wealthy wives spent their money. In fact, they tripped over each other to prove their worth in wealth. Here are a few examples:

Mrs. Stuyvesant Fish gave a ball for her pet monkey.

C.K.G Billings had a stag dinner where guests arrived in riding habit and rode their horses up to the table.

Alva Vanderbilt, in an effort to become “accepted” by high society gave a ball for her daughter. It cost--in 1880’s dollars!--$75,000!

These same families would summer in Newport RI, where they could play tennis and sale their yachts. They lived in “cottages” which by any standard must be considered mansions. You can view them at:


This is just the beginning of my research. I imagine as time goes by I’ll find out more, which I hope to share, most especially about Ward McAllister and Mrs. Astor, the king and queen of New York society, who started the famed 400 club.


Susan Macatee said...

Sounds like the crazy kinds of things our present day celebrities do.

Christine Koehler said...

Dee, there's no link! :( But it's hillarous to read what they did to prove they could be accepted. Lol, yes I'm certain that's how you go about it; by throwing a ball for your monkey, or inviting guests to dine on their horses.

Denise Eagan said...

Whoops sorry Christine, I'll try and fix it!