Sybil’s Cave and Unsolved Murder of the Beautiful Cigar Girl

Sybil’s Cave, a recreational destination for 19th-century leisure seekers, achieved its fame, or rather infamy, as the site of an unsolved 19th-century murder. Sybil’s Cave was created in 1832 by the Stevens family as a folly. The man-made cave around a natural spring was adorned with an elaborate Gothic-style entrance and served as a cafe…

The Witch of Wall Street – the legend of Hetty Green

There are people so odd, so easy to loath, that their character loses its human form and becomes the stuff of legends. One such person was the woman who went down in history as the “Witch of Wall Street.”  She was awarded the title of the world’s greatest miser by the Guinness Book of World…

Audrey Munson in New York

“POMONA” of the Pulitzer Fountain   Location: Grand Army Plaza, 5th Avenue between 58th and 59th Streets Sculptor: Karl Bitter/Isidore Konti Built: 1916 The exquisite female figure atop the fountain in front of the Plaza Hotel is an allegorical depiction of Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruitful abundance. Symbolizing bounty, she holds a basket of fruit as the…

Mamie Fish – the “Fun-Maker” of the Gilded Age

    “Can I get something for your throat, dear?” – inquired Mr. Stuyvesant Fish. His wife retorted: “Yes, this diamond and pearl necklace I saw today at Tiffany’s.” The most irreverent broad of the Gilded Age, Marion (“Mamie”) Fish did not shine with beauty. Nore with education. Heavyset, stern, barely literate, and often quite…

Bergdorf Goodman – the Wealthiest Janitors in History and 5th Ave Haute Couture

The year was 1928 and Edwin Goodman was about to move his widely successful women’s clothing store to 5th Ave and 58th Street – the spot previously occupied by Cornelious Vanderbilt’s mansion, the largest single-family residence in New York. As commerce relentlessly marched up 5th Avenue, the palace-like Vanderbilt mansion was demolished to be replaced…

Mrs. Astor and “The Four Hundred”

  The winter social season in Gilded Age New York, which started in October and lasted until Easter, was a whirlwind of frantic activity that featured dinner parties, luncheons, receptions, opera performances and, of course, balls. The single most important event of the season was undisputably the annual ball thrown by Mrs. Astor, which always…

The Waldorf-Astoria: hyphenated hotel and a family scandal

Most family scandals don’t result in hotel construction. However, the famed Waldorf-Astoria owes its existence to the Astor family quarrel. The Astor fortune was divided between two branches of the Astor family headed by the two grandsons of the dynasty founder – John Jacob Astor III and William Backhouse Astor, Jr. Each of them had…

The Knickerbocker – a Hotel and a Dry Martini

There are West Coast and East Coast versions of the origins of a martini cocktail. The West Coast stories usually feature a rough character challenging a bartender to mix him a drink before venturing into the town of Martinez to look for gold, or an even rougher personage coming back from Martinez with a fortune…

The St. Regis or What do Napoleon, Dalí and Marilyn Monroe have in common?

Architects: Trowbridge and Livingston Built: 1904 Although there is seemingly nothing in common between Napoleon Buonaparte and the 17th-century French monk named Francis Regis, these names strangely come together in the story of the St. Regis Hotel in New York. Built in 1904 by John Jacob Astor IV as the most opulent hotel in the world, it…

Consuelo Vanderbilt – A Wedding on Fifth Avenue

The main American export of the Gilded Age was not cotton, not tobacco, not flaxseed, rice, tar, or turpentine… it was the American bride. Refined, educated, and groomed for every social situation, exquisitely dressed, beautiful and fantastically wealthy the American heiresses, joined in matrimony with the English aristocracy, were expected to form a perfect union…