The Deadly Sin of ENVY

This is the entrance of the summer “cottage” of Cornelius Vanderbilt. I have walked into that room about 7 times over the years and it always leaves me completely breathless. You can’t see it, but to the right of that chandelier are massive doors that lead out to a ridiculously expansive lawn that sits on the Atlantic Ocean.

The square footage of the Breakers is 65,000 and today would be worth $310 million. Today, Vanderbilt’s net worth would be $183 BILLION while Bill Gates is worth a piddly $40 BILLION. Warren Buffet recently lost $27 BILLION when he saw his stocks lose some value. As of March 2011, Mark Zuckerberg was worth $13.5 BILLION and Facebook, in June 2011, was worth approximately $84 BILLION, give or take.
I’m not going to go into the extraordinary history of this place that took only 2 years to build. It is impossible to describe without seeing it but it literally brings tears to my eyes. I get this great sense of ENVY walking around, standing at the top of the grand staircase looking down over that great hall below.
My husband had never been to Newport until yesterday. Along with my daughter we toured 3 houses (the behind-the-scenes servants tour, sort of the American Gosford Park or Upstairs Downstairs, is the most fascinating hour you will ever spend), my husband marveling over the systems–the circuit breakers, hot water tanks and the secret tunnels where coal was driven in on tracks right into the boiler room–while my daughter and I imagined ourselves taking baths in the marble bathtubs and having seven or so “costume changes” throughout the day. The closet space is ridiculous and the writing desks are so fucking ladylike and elegant it makes me want to cry.

Although somewhat masculine, the library above is where I tend to linger the longest on the self-guided tour. The upper rectangular panels are made out of Spanish leather to mimic the leather bound books in the collection.

Okay, let me get to my ultimate point: My 10-yr old, like me, looked over the grand entrance and said:

“This makes me sad that I can’t live here. I mean, the kids used to slide down those banisters on plastic trays!”

“I know what you mean, honey, it makes me kind of sad too.”

Guilded Age Society people wouldn’t like me very much. I’m kind of loud, and I’d put my elbows on the table. My guestroom would be a mess and I’d leave makeup stains on the towels which would really piss off the maids in charge of laundry. I’d push the buttons to call the butler just for fun and send things down the dumbwaiter to see where they ended up (My daughter compared the dumbwaiters to the elevator in her Barbie Dreamhouse.) I’d sleep too late for croquet and they would call me lazy.

On the way home, as we drove the 10- mile loop with the ocean on our left and other ridiculously gorgeous homes on our right, my daughter again mentioned how sad she was that she couldn’t live there. She asked how she could live in a place like that and I told her that basically, people of great wealth have invented something. “But everything has already been invented,” she said. I again tried to explain that people like Vanderbilt invented things that people didn’t know they needed, but then couldn’t live without. “Kind of like facebook,” I said, because God knows, we couldn’t live without facebook. (I’m still praying that someone invents the perfect umbrella which I hope the man who invented the Dyson is working on.)
“You could marry Justin Bieber,” I suggested, who incidentally, as of this writing, is worth $85 million.


  1. We haven't been to Newport either and every summer vow we're going to make it. Maybe this Autumn… It sounds amazing. We did tour Biltmore in Asheville, North Carolina. How many enormous houses does one family need?

  2. Dan

    So you don't have the heart to tell her the truth about Justin Bieber, huh?You always did dig castles…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s