Home
In this issue
April 9, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?

Samuel G. Freedman: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Jessica Ivins: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Kim Giles: Asking for help is not weakness

Kathy Kristof and Barbara Hoch Marcus: 7 Great Growth Israeli Stocks

Matthew Mientka: How Beans, Peas, And Chickpeas Cleanse Bad Cholesterol and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

Sabrina Bachai: 5 At-Home Treatments For Headaches

The Kosher Gourmet by Daniel Neman Have yourself a matzo ball: The secrets bubby never told you and recipes she could have never imagined

April 8, 2014

Lori Nawyn: At Your Wit's End and Back: Finding Peace

Susan B. Garland and Rachel L. Sheedy: Strategies Married Couples Can Use to Boost Benefits

David Muhlbaum: Smart Tax Deductions Non-Itemizers Can Claim

Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E : Before You Lose Your Mental Edge

Dana Dovey: Coffee Drinkers Rejoice! Your Cup Of Joe Can Prevent Death From Liver Disease

Chris Weller: Electric 'Thinking Cap' Puts Your Brain Power Into High Gear

The Kosher Gourmet by Marlene Parrish A gift of hazelnuts keeps giving --- for a variety of nutty recipes: Entree, side, soup, dessert

April 4, 2014

Rabbi David Gutterman: The Word for Nothing Means Everything

Charles Krauthammer: Kerry's folly, Chapter 3

Amy Peterson: A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children

John Ericson: Older Women: Save Your Heart, Prevent Stroke Don't Drink Diet

John Ericson: Why 50 million Americans will still have spring allergies after taking meds

Cameron Huddleston: Best and Worst Buys of April 2014

Stacy Rapacon: Great Mutual Funds for Young Investors

Sarah Boesveld: Teacher keeps promise to mail thousands of former students letters written by their past selves

The Kosher Gourmet by Sharon Thompson Anyone can make a salad, you say. But can they make a great salad? (SECRETS, TESTED TECHNIQUES + 4 RECIPES, INCLUDING DRESSINGS)

April 2, 2014

Paul Greenberg: Death and joy in the spring

Dan Barry: Should South Carolina Jews be forced to maintain this chimney built by Germans serving the Nazis?

Mayra Bitsko: Save me! An alien took over my child's personality

Frank Clayton: Get happy: 20 scientifically proven happiness activities

Susan Scutti: It's Genetic! Obesity and the 'Carb Breakdown' Gene

Lecia Bushak: Why Hand Sanitizer May Actually Harm Your Health

Stacy Rapacon: Great Funds You Can Own for $500 or Less

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Ways to Save on Home Decor

The Kosher Gourmet by Steve Petusevsky Exploring ingredients as edible-stuffed containers (TWO RECIPES + TIPS & TECHINQUES)

Jewish World Review July 13, 2010 / 2 Menachem-Av, 5770

Too Much House

By Mona Charen




http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | ASHEVILLE, NC -- Biltmore House, the extravagant mansion built by Cornelius Vanderbilt's grandson in the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina, makes the White House look like a gardener's cottage.

George Washington Vanderbilt opened his new home -- the largest private residence in the U.S. -- in 1895 with what must have been a resplendent Christmas party. Guests dined in a medieval-themed banquet hall complete with thrones, flags, and ancient tapestries. A 40-foot Douglas fir Christmas tree completed the decorations.

The French chateau-inspired residence boasts 175,000 square feet, 250 rooms, 43 bathrooms, 65 fireplaces, a library holding 10,000 of Vanderbilt's 23,000 books (as well as Napoleon's chess set), three kitchens, a bowling alley, an indoor swimming pool, a gymnasium, stables, and sumptuous gardens designed by Frederick Law Olmstead. When it opened, the Biltmore estate (the name is a contraction of the owner's original Dutch name, "van der Bilt," and "more," an old English word for rolling hills) also encompassed 125,000 acres of land.

Late 19th- and early 20th-century visitors were agog at the modern conveniences. The mansion was equipped with central heating, electricity, running hot and cold water even to the upstairs baths, a fire alarm, cold-storage mechanical refrigeration, an elevator, an electric communication system for calling servants, and, perhaps the real mindbender of 1895, underwater lighting in the swimming pool.

But while the many bathrooms had hot and cold running water, those in the guest suites lacked something that even the poorest hovel now has -- a sink. Members of the upper class wouldn't think of washing their hands and faces in the bathroom. When they needed to wash, they simply rang for a servant who arrived with a towel, a bowl, and a pitcher.

That detail more than any other suggests how much attitudes have changed in a little more than 100 years. America continues to produce its mega-rich, of course -- more than ever -- but that sort of languid dependency has very much gone out of style. Bill Gates built a mansion in Washington worth an estimated $147 million. But when he and his guests get their hands dirty, they doubtless manage to manipulate the handles on the sink and would be appalled at the idea of having someone do it for them.

Similarly, the changing rooms near the pool at Biltmore had call buttons for servants so that the ladies and gentlemen could get assistance changing from their clothes into swimsuits and vice versa. A modern person, one suspects, no matter how rich, would snort at the idea of being helped into and out of a bathing suit.

Biltmore (it's never "the Biltmore," a modern Vanderbilt descendent sniffs; that's a hotel) had its heyday between 1895 and 1914. Though George was bookish and intellectual (he read about 80 books a year in at least four languages), he and Edith Vanderbilt lived and entertained luxuriously. But by the time of George's early death in 1914, it was becoming clear that even the Vanderbilts could be guilty of that most American of vices -- wanting too much house. George spent most of his inheritance on Biltmore and when Congress created the income tax in 1913, he had trouble affording the upkeep. He died suddenly at age 51 in 1914. His widow was forced to sell more than 86,000 acres of forest around Biltmore to the federal government and undertake other (always unspecified) economies to keep the elaborate white elephant from sinking. A dairy and later a vineyard helped to pay the bills.

The estate was intended to be a self-sustaining retreat and aerie for the leisured Vanderbilts, but by 1930, the family began to admit the paying public as they do to this day. Biltmore remains the property of George and Edith's descendants, but as a business, not a home. A million tourists pass through the house and grounds annually to marvel -- but perhaps also to reflect that while Biltmore is certainly something to see, it is, in the end, a monument to excess. To live in that style seems not so much unreachable as unseemly today. This recession notwithstanding, we are wealthier than ever as a society, but also perhaps (and as someone who does not hobnob with the superrich, I could be mistaken) more appropriately modest in our personal styles.

Tocqueville noted almost two centuries ago that "The soil of America absolutely rejected a territorial aristocracy." Yes, but the commerce kings of the Gilded Age made quite a run at aping them.

Every weekday JewishWorldReview.com publishes what many in the media and Washington consider "must-reading". Sign up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.


Comment on JWR contributor Mona Charen's column by clicking here.

Mona Charen Archives

© 2006, Creators Syndicate

Columnists

Toons

Lifestyles