"the" Mrs. Astor

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The Tale to Two Upstairs

My sister, The Countess du Barry, lives in a modest, Victorian bungelow in which everything is polished. The floors are polished, the silver is polished, and life itself is polished.
On Saturday morning I glided out of my room feeling like Roselind Russell to find the dining room set for a formal breakfast. Du barry showed me how to take pastry sheets, cutting a flat bottom and then slicing pieces to fashion a thing that baked into a puffed basket which held lucious scrambled eggs with a cream topping. (I usually content myself is toasted waffles.)
The home was warm and inviting, everything Newport is about.
Du Barry told my she had a "boarder" upstairs; a nineteen-year-old boy who worked at the equestrian stables in town. While du barry was shopping I gazed at those stairs to his room; knowledgeble of my tawdry past I did not dare climb them without reason and thought long and hard for one. "Fireman" seemed rather far-fetched and I did not have the rubber boots. Having packed a Red Cross uniform, I had a plausible reason for climbing the stairs if I could make a case out of checking for scarlet fever. I even thought of sleeping on the bottom step as if cast upon with a "spell". All this came to an end with the arrival of the guests, and I never met the boy.
Rather more interesting is the story of the third floor of The Breakers, Cornelius Vanderbilt II's summer "cottage" in Newport. His youngest daugher, Gladys, married a rich Hungarian nobleman in the 1908 and became Countess Szechenyi. She was a kind and generous woman whose children used to coast down the grand staircase on silver trays to everyone's amusement. Gladys used her money and influence to rescue hundreds of children trapped in the Nazi nightmare that encirled Hungary of World War II, and in 1948 leased The Breakers to the Historical Society for one dollar a year on the condition that she retained the third floor for her family's, private residence.

The third floor was no attic; it was 30 rooms of elegance from another era. Gladys lived a long and rich life filled with glamour, generosity, and fun. The historical society bought The Breakers for a song from her daughter, Countess Sylvia Szapary, in the 70's with the same residential agreement; I always remember hearing of Countess Szapary's charity balls and benefits. When Sylvia died in 1998, the historical society quietly notified Gladys and Paul Szapary, her children, that they had to leave. Gladys--to this day a social beacon in Newport and a friend of du Barry--replied that they would, if they had to, but would be taking all the original furniture in the 100-room mansion. Their mother had wisely sold only the mansion and not the furnishings.

Needless to say, Gladys and Paul still live on the third floor, although I still haven't found a good reason for climbing those stairs, either.


At 10:14 AM, Blogger Countess Bedelia said...

You captured the spirit of duBarry's home perfectly. So warm and inviting. And breakfast was elegant and delicious!

At 10:40 AM, Blogger It's Me, Maven... said...

Eggs in puff pastry... delish! The story of the Breakers was just as savory!

I enjoy your stories, THE Mrs. Astor!

At 11:15 AM, Blogger Ian-Ivy du Bois said...

3why didn´t you try:

"knock knock, housekeeping"

it´s a classic...

At 12:30 PM, Blogger Knottyboy said...

It seems to me that you've lost some of your panache by not bringing your emergency French Maid's uniform. Goddess only knows what you were thinking. A silver tray, a petticoat and a 'mother's ruin' will make you right as rain. Just try not to run over the papillon when you're sliding down the staircase.

At 5:48 PM, Blogger Mr. Brian said...

Wouldn't a documentary of that 30 room "section" of their home be interesting? What must life be like to live in a castle that's toured by hundreds a day?
One thing I know for sure, our breakfast that morning was fit for a Vanderbilt.

As to Peter's stairs, I bet the 19 year old was hoping you'd go up to see him. I envision Blanche Hudson tied up with her mouth taped.

"You're not selling this house, and ya ain't evah gonna leave it...EITHAH!"

At 10:47 PM, Blogger "the" Mrs. Astor said...

Please...all of you. I am not given to cheap theatrics. I like expensiive theatics like mock sea battles; give me a mock sea battle and I'll give you a Neptune spearing young Roman boys...

Wait, I'm getting carried away.

At 7:39 AM, Blogger That Pimpernel said...

Not fireMAN, fire INSPECTOR. Fireman is hotter, but in a pinch... (do I ALWAYS have to think of these things? Must have a mind for scheming....)

At 7:46 PM, Blogger Glitzy said...

Those stairs are dazzling but scary. I have a falling down stairs phobia


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