Monday, March 11, 2013

“The Breakers” Ghost

The mansion called The Breakers is one of American’s best examples of the Golden Age, which lasted from 1900 until the stock market crash in 1929. 

Cornelius Vanderbilt ll, a businessman * and a member of one of American’s wealthiest families had this beautiful mansion built on land in Newport, Rhode Island. ** This estate has formal gardens, a private beach and a spectacular view of the Atlantic Ocean.

Today this mansion is a National Historic Landmark and is owned and operated by the Preservation Society of Newport. 

The family still owns all the furnishings and retains ownership of the third floor for the families’ use during the summer season—this floor is not open to the public. Some speculate that the reason for this is an ancestor of the family, Alice Vanderbilt, still haunts the home.

The Breakers has 70 rooms, it was first built between 1893 and 1895, at the cost of over $12 million. Vanderbilt had America’s foremost architect Richard Rothschild Hunt design his new home in the Gout Rothschild style. *** 

Electricity was installed in 1933. Today the mansion is worth over 335 million dollars. 

The home has three main floors with an attic and basement. The first floor includes a great hall, grand staircase—that visitors can not use, a library, a lower loggia—formal living room, separate ladies and gentleman’s reception rooms, arcade, billiards room, music room, dining and breakfast rooms, morning room, porch, pantry, and kitchen. 

The second and third floors have 14 bedrooms combined. Plus each of these floors has a sitting room. There are also thirty servant bedrooms. ****

The attic has servant quarters as well as a cistern that supplies fresh water to most of the home's bedrooms. The laundry room and servant restrooms are in the basement.

This mansion today is one of the largest and most opulent homes in the very wealthy community of Newport.

Cornelius Vanderbilt ll died of a stroke in 1899, at the age of 55. His wife Alice Claypoole Gwynne Vanderbilt inherited the property. She outlived her husband by 35 years—she died at the age of 89 in 1934. She willed The Breakers to her youngest daughter, Countess Gladys Szechenyi because Gladys loved the estate. 

In 1948, Gladys leased the high-maintenance property to the non-profit Preservation Society of Newport for $1.00 a year. The one condition set forth was that the family was to be allowed to continue living on the third floor. Gladys passed away in 1965.

In 1973, the society bought the mansion from Sylvia, Gladys’ daughter for $345,000. But again the family retained ownership of the third floor. 

Sylvia died in 1998, Gladys and Paul Szapary and Sylvia’s children still spend summers there.

This estate is the most visited museum in Rhode Island. It hosts over 300,000 visitors a year.

Family members first saw the ghost of Alice Vanderbilt after her death in 1934. In the years following, the family, servants, tour guides, and visitors all have seen her ghost. 

Witness descriptions of her always match Alice’s appearance while she was alive. The family admits her ghost has been a constant presence, but they have never allowed an investigation of the mansion.

As they state everyone knows who the entity is and they don’t want to disturb her. They feel The Breakers reputation should be maintained. They want their family home to be known for its beauty and grace, and not just as a “haunted house.”

Cornelius Vanderbilt ll

* Cornelius' grandfather--Cornelius Vanderbilt made his money from shipping and the railroad. He was one of the wealthiest Americans in the 19th century. He was known for his competitiveness and his ruthlessness. When he died in 1877, he was worth 100 million dollars. 

Cornelius Vanderbilt ll inherited 5 million from his grandfather and just a tad under 70 million from his father. Vanderbilt ll took over the family business-- the New York Central railroad lines in 1885.

** The former mansion on the property had burnt down, so Cornelius Vanderbilt ll insisted his new home be fireproof. The estate was built with steel trusses with no wooden parts. Vanderbilt had the home's furnace located away from the house. It is placed under the avenue near the estate’s main gate—this area stays clear in the winter for the furnace below melts any ice or snow.

*** The Breakers is also an ultimate expression of Beaux-Arts architecture.
Alice holding an
electric light at a
ball in 1883.

**** Alice Vanderbilt's bedroom is on the second floor. It is shaped in a perfect oval--its doors cut into its' walls in a manner not to disturb the room's geometric perfection. One entry connects to her husband's bedroom. 

Alice had four closets to allow for her seven clothing changes per day. Her room was also her study and has many bookshelves. There is a discrete corridor on this floor like on the others, which permitted the Vanderbilt's servants to move about their duties--serving the family in a seemingly invisible fashion.

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