Wednesday, August 12, 2009
Recently I went to Newport to tour the mansions with some girlfriends. I had been to Newport once before, and admired the homes in the passing blur of the driver's seat, but this time, I was going to get up close and personal.
When we were sitting in the car on the drive up, someone made the comment that the amazing thing about them was that they were summer homes. I heard the scratch of a record screeching to a halt. WHAT?! These giant estates were constructed with the knowledge that they would only be used eight to ten weeks a year?!
I'm glad I understood that from the get-go, because it made me see the homes in a whole new light. While you can't help but be sucked in by their splendor and all the minute detail, it's hard to not have in the back of your mind "This is an utterly disgusting display of wealth and frivolity!"
From the wall panels that were not silver leaf but platinum, yes platinum, to the service entrance circular drive that is invisible from upper floors due to a massive wisteria, viewing these homes was an exercise in vascillating between utter awe and mild indigestion when thinking of all the work and money that went into maintaining them.
Some of the families spent as much as $300,000 in order to entertain for a single 'season'.
I was disappointed that we weren't able to look at the servant's quarters, but the self-led audio tour was great, full of fun facts and optional detours. We only got through two of the homes and plan to return to see three more with our tickets.
I also learned the fun fact that Mark Twain coined the phrase the gilded age in reference to these grand estates and their budgetless summer fun; and he did not intend it as a compliment.