Saturday, April 28, 2007

The Beechwood

Thursday afternoon, we took a break and went into town (we are actually meeting in a conference room on Goat Island, just off the coast of Newport) to tour the famous Beechwood, summer cottage home to the Astors. The tour was a real treat in itself, never mind the fact the we were walking around inside one of the most famous homes of the last century. Lady Astor invented the Social Register concept you know (no, I didn't until Thursday).

The hook to this tour is that it's a theatrical performance. The guides are all college graduates who live in the house during their employment. Depending on the day, they play the part of servants, family members, or other historical characters connected to the house. The day we were there, the guides were servants and we were there supposedly to apply for a summer job in the "cottage."

This meant that they could only tell us information and answer questions specific to they year they were "living" in, which was 1891. It was great fun, and quite fascinating. By the end, I decided that I would prefer to be her Lady's personal maid because she would get to travel wherever Lady Astor went, including any of her four other homes (Paris, London, upstate NY, and NY City).

As you might imagine, the home is beautiful. And a servant's life under Lady Astor's watch wasn't all that bad. She treated them very generously, according to these character actors, who had obviously researched the people they were portraying quite thoroughly. They could earn as much as $150 a month and got a free pint of ale every Sunday to drink immediately or spread throughout the week, as they wished.

If they finished their assigned work quickly, they didn't have to do anything else for the day. It was not up to them to help in areas not assigned to them. Doing so would make the other obsolete. So if you finished early, you could sit and relax or read or whatever else you long as it was out of sight of the family.

Photos: The ball room (with a view of the ocean, just past the piano)

Ceiling corner of the ball room

The upstairs "maid" who took us through the "cottage" standing in the entry hall just in front of an enormous portrait of Lady Astor (who is not wearing much jewelry because it was before 6 and that would have been a social fiasco)

Lady Astor's bedroom (in purple because she believed that the color scheme of one's bedroom indicated one's social status and since she was "Queen of Society," all her bedrooms in all her homes were the color of royalty!)

Mr. Astor's bedroom with "Michael," a young man who used to be a servant in the house but who now works for someone in town (I forget). He's quite tall, by the way: 6"6"! The other guide had to go settle a domestic dispute of her own with a "handsome young man with flowers" in his hand =)

1 comment:

Sunny said...

Wow Rondi, that's a cool experience