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- photo by Mitch Waxman

As longtime readers of this, your Newtown Pentacle, realize- your humble narrator spends a lot of time wandering around cemeteries. Seldom am I in such a place to attend a service, but in the case of today’s posting, one found himself deep in Nassau County for a family funeral. While waiting for the services to start, however, my interest was taken by an assortment of bird houses installed upon a tree.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Cemeteries, especially the large estates like Calvary or in this case – New Montefiore in Farmingdale- perform the unintended task of serving as bird sanctuaries. To avian eyes, the grassy plain of sorrow is a welcome meadow. These bird houses, however, filled me with some nameless dread.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Strictly utilitarian, these tiny structures were obvious downtime projects of some idle groundskeeper. Simple in design and rustic in execution, there was nevertheless something “creepy” about them that caused me to reach for my camera and record their presence.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Perhaps it was a desire to separate myself from grieving relatives, or some notion that I should make productive use of the day. Can’t say, as I’m all ‘effed up, and the motivations which drive me are quite byzantine. It was an uncle who died, btw, who lived a long and healthy life and passed at an astounding 97 years of age. He was quite mobile up until the end, independent of nurses and aides and in full possession of his faculties.

As my relatives would say: “We should all be so lucky.”

Written by Mitch Waxman

January 18, 2013 at 12:15 am

Errata Hari

with one comment

- photo by Mitch Waxman

As often mentioned in posts since the very inception of this, your Newtown Pentacle, when I screw up- whether it be a place name, roadway, or some other variance from reality- I’m counting on being called on it and corrected by you assembled Lords and Ladies of Newtown.

Often, when contacted on such matters- an unnecessarily confrontational tone is offered by the petitioner to your humble narrator. Sometimes, wild accusations of defaming the past or purposely smoothing over inconvenient truths are put forth. Before we discuss the rather lengthy list of errors that I’ve been made aware of regarding the Vanderbilt Mansion postings published earlier this month, allow me to restate and clarify things…

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The pitiable mendicant who calls himself “your humble narrator” is an unlettered amateur, untempered by the crucible of academic review, whose flawed attempt at presenting a cogent overview and glimpse into an often hidden world of relict infrastructure and unseen corners found around the great metropolis is sometimes successful.

There are certain subjects which I refuse to delve too deeply into- famously NYFD history and Rail- for there are amateur experts out there whose depth of knowledge on these topics is staggering. Intelligent discussion of historic Newtown can be had “off the top of my head”, but it’s when I leave “my beat” that I tend to get into trouble.

The Vanderbilt Mansion revealed certain lapses in capabilities, and remind one that I am an expert on nothing except embarrassing myself in public. If I’m wrong about something, please contact me through the comments, so corrections may be offered to your fellow Lords and Ladies.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Thankfully, Eric Weaver, who served as Horticultural Educator at “Vandyland” from 2004 to 2007 contacted me with a lengthy list of corrections regarding the Vanderbilt Mansion posts and has given me permission to post them here. All the following text (in blue) is from Mr. Weaver.

ERRATA Vanderbilt Mansion 1

- photo by Mitch Waxman

He also flew, having been the first to circumnavigate South America and cross the Andes in a “flying boat.”

He collected fauna not flora.

He didn’t have a fleet, his boats and ships were owned in succession.

His dock was too shallow to accommodate ocean going ships. He moored the Alva at Price’s Bend off of Eaton’s Neck. JP Morgan had to moor his ship there too which gave his son HP Morgan the idea of buying up 500 acres on Eaton’s Neck which is still known as the Morgan Estate.

The Guatemalan church only influenced the design on the Marine Museum.

He wasn’t powerful, just rich.

There was no fleet of vessels and the only collection was at Eagle’s Nest.

ERRATA Vanderbilt Mansion 2

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The Vanderbilt family were farmers, hence the boat to take the vegetables into Manhattan.

Willie K I  did not want to compete making money like his father and grandfather, so he decided to spend it. He seemed to compete with his brothers building houses.

Willie K II did not compete building houses. His places are modest compared to his father’s generation.

The planetarium was built by Suffolk County, not the state.

The Marine Museum has not been officially called the Hall of Fish since they put the second story on in the late twenties.

There are some nice totems and artifacts on the second floor.

The ironwork at the door of the second floor of the ‘fish house’ was used to haul up the large objects.

ERRATA Vanderbilt Mansion 3

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Willie K did not own a fleet. Did you visit the ship model room?

The ship Alva that you write about was Willie K I’s ship. Willie K II’s Alva was built in Kiel, Germany in the same shipyard that the U-boat that sunk it was built. (Did I mention that Lindbergh was one of Willie K II’s friends?)

The narrative goes that it takes five generations to make the fortune then squander it.

ERRATA Vanderbilt Mansion 4

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The Breakers was Cornelius V  II. GWV was the Biltmore in North Carolina. These were two of the Uncles of Willie K  II who competed in building.

Eagle’s Nest is in Centerport on Northport Bay. Maybe the fumes of formaldehyde (since replaced with alcohol) from the second floor overcame you.

Consuelo was forced to wear hoops on her neck to elongate it. Alva locked her in her boudoir for long periods.

The historic castle doors are ornamental. Security is too lax as golden things get stolen frequently. The curator was offered half a million in cash for one artifact on the second floor of the fish house. There are valuable things there.

The Alva didn’t dock in Northport.

ERRATA Vanderbilt Mansion 5

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The property is NOT  owned by the State of New York but Suffolk County. Willie K left an endowment of six million dollars. It was up over twenty in the late nineties. Graft and corruption by the former director brought them back to six mil. The county is loaning them money now to make ends meet. If not, the property reverts back to the family.

The photography policy is no professionals and not in the mansion because they make money on photo shoots, especially wedding pictures.

To get to the beach you need to go to the seaplane hangar.

There have been numerous Newsday articles about the wheelchair access. To make the place totally wheelchair accessible it would no longer be a museum.

Eagle’s Nest being decrepit serves as an indication of what happens to wealth.

Eagle’s Nest was started in 1909 but he kept adding on until the 1930s.

The portcullis is fake and does not move but there are iron bars on all lower windows   on most buildings – did I mention Lindbergh?

He had his own wells and a power plant to generate electricity.

Willie K did contribute to science, discovering and naming many new species.

Thanks to Mr. Weaver, who unfortunately doesn’t maintain a web presence that I can send you to check out.

Written by Mitch Waxman

April 26, 2010 at 10:33 am

Vanderbilt Mansion 5

with 3 comments

check out the prior Vanderbilt Mansion posts: 1, 2, 3, and 4

I’m in a bit of a conversational mood tonight, lords and ladies… forgive the indulgence of a personally opinionated voice in this posting-

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The rest of the Eagle’s Nest Estate are landscaped grounds, whose manicuring has certainly seen better days. No sleight is meant toward the current custodians, of course, but one must assume that the status minded Vanderbilts undoubtedly spent a great deal more on gardening than a museum can. Observation revealed many places where the unlimited budgets of earlier times would be helpful in shoring up the estate.

note: I’ve been to the Hellenic Republic, commonly called Greece, a few times. Those people have the good taste to just accept ruination of aging structures.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Built fancifully, to satisfy the whimsy and taste of landed gentry, the buildings that dot the Eagle’s Nest are all in differing stages of dissolution. Researching the Vanderbilt Mansion, here at Northport, repeatedly turned up tales of financial strife. The property was willed, ultimately, to the State of New York which has inconsistently funded it. Forced to accede to popular culture by financial reality, the planetarium presents Laser Rock shows- a vestige of Long Island’s 1970’s and 80’s “head culture”.

note: despite the reputation of the five boroughs of New York City as the center of mortal sin and drug culture in the tri-state area held by suburban residents, the psychedelic culture calls Long Island, New Jersey, Upstate New York, and Connecticut home. How many Fish bumper stickers do you see in Brooklyn?

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The actual mansion is a hodge podge of architectural themes and styles. Bas reliefs, which repeat and amplify the hideous battrachian implications found on the Hall of Fishes, seem to be randomly placed throughout the main building. On the lowest level of the place is a room of taxidermy, whose prize possession is a whale shark. An accidental byproduct of the stuffed skins is produced by the searching horror of their glass eyes. I chose not to showcase this section of the trip, as blood sport is not something which Newtown Pentacle editorial policy is very fond of, and because of some misguided sympathy for the long dead animals which line this rich man’s walls.

note: Your humble narrator is a carnivore, and is more aware than most of how an animal’s flesh hits his plate. The companionship of many a Vegan has been enjoyed at Newtown Pentacle HQ, and that group of folks aren’t exactly shy about sharing their viewpoints with me.  Hypocritical, I nevertheless don’t see the value of publishing a photo of a stuffed Tiger skin which is caked with dust.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

As is the case with many quasi public-private institutions, signs adjuring the practice of photography abound. I can understand a regulation saying “Not Tripod, No Lights”, but am flabbergasted by the notion that a public building or Non-Profit corporation which welcomes visitors forbids the collection of photons. As mentioned in the past, your humble narrator is employed sometimes as a photo retoucher and all around desktop publishing guy at major metropolitan advertising agencies, and has developed a rather sophisticated knowledge of intellectual property law and custom. Did you know that the Empire State building itself, I mean the actual building, is a zealously protected and trademarked intellectual property? If you want to use an image of New York and the Empire State appears in it as a main element (over 30% of the shot), you need to seek permission from some landlord.

note: Yes, I claim copyright on the photos and text that appear in this blog. Yes, I want to use a “creative commons” approach, but counsel has informed me that while it sounds great, there is no significant legal precedent or body of case law covering such status- especially in international agreements. Yes, the Empire State people need to protect their “brand” and try to make a few bucks at the same time. Should the Catholics claim copyright on the cross, by this logic?

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Remnants of the Eagle’s Nest’s role as a port can be observed just at the water’s edge, beyond fences of brush and bush. Shame, the beach was unreachable along any path I attempted. Signage forbade the use of stairs as unsafe, but I felt that the area was closed merely in the name of not having to maintain it in the expensive manner required for disabled access which would be demanded under state law. The entire estate, incidentally, was not geared well for wheelchairs or other ambulatory contrivances. It is constructed on a steep and sloping shoreline which is subsected by a series of smaller yet remarkable hills and the connective tissue of the place are stairs.

note: Northport hosts many impressive and attractive homes, and is obviously a moneyed community even today. My family has one of its branches here, in nearby Melville, which established itself in the 1960’s as part of the enormous eastward migration from Brooklyn and Queens of the same ethnic urban hordes which the Vanderbilts and other “bosses” had established these country home communities to escape from in the early 20th century. I would mention that my Uncle’s down payment for his house near “Old Country Road” was accomplished via the GI Bill and the sweat of his brow, not by inheritance. He’s a depression era Jewish kid from Brooklyn.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

There’s no possibility, you see, that I cannot react to this vulgar display of financial power without comment. Another one of the little things about history that emerged when researching this series of posts is this- the Vanderbilt family won the battle. So did Carnegie, and Rockefeller. Their wealth, won by the literal slaughter of their workers, built a series of these monumental structures across the Americas and endowed University, Library, and Charitable Organ. Within a mere three generations, who they were and what they did- these Robber Barons- is forgotten by the population at large. The names of these men and women are carved in modern stone as benificent, yet their business practices and corrupting influence over government and finance are overlooked. Philanthropy, as a strategic tool of historical reputation, works.

note: I ain’t no commie, don’t get a humble narrator wrong- however- the obscene splendor enjoyed by these few at the expense of the many resulted in a lot of death and trauma in the 19th century. Conveniently, the working class then as now were willing to focus in on comical personnages of the “dirty politician” like Boss Tweed- who had risen from their own social group- rather than focus on the real bosses in the overclass. The banks, the trusts, the corporations- Andrew Jackson and Dwight Eisenhower warned us a long time ago. Tea Party? I drink coffee. Black.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The Eagle’s Nest was built in 1910, same year that Henri Rousseau died and the Earth passed through the tail of Halley’s Comet. In Tibet, the 13th Dalai Lama was forced to flee to India, and Typhoid Mary won release from Blackwell’s Island, while over in Manhattan, and Brooklyn, and Queens- the immigrant working class found themselves fighting over crusts of bread. There was real fear of a communist revolution in the United States in this period, and the Robber Barons built concentric rings of security into their houses. William K. Vanderbilt II felt the need for a porticullis, for instance.

note: Our society’s lack of what I’ve termed “institutional memory” is what is going to destroy us in the end.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Your humble narrator started working at 7 years old, shining shoes in a mafioso barber shop in Canarsie. It’s been a series of humiliations since, once I enjoyed a job whose task list included- literally- shoveling shit. For a while, I was an Aquarium Service Technician and found myself in Gypsy Rose Lee’s former mansion, down the block from the Vanderbilt Library in midtown Manhattan (which was owned at the time by the painter Jasper Johns- nice guy). Another professional incarnation found me laboring as a Fine Art Mover, installing Giacometti sculptures in a private gallery in Croton on Hudson. Corporate jobs have included work at a midtown investment bank, on the night shift, which had the portrait of George Washington that is found on the Dollar Bill prominently displayed in its executive wing- literal corridors of power. I can tell you this- the bosses don’t care about you, and view everyone outside of their social class as either inferior and lacking in ambition or worthy of pity.

note: OK, that sounds pretty “commie”, but the inequitable split of capitalist reward is a trend which had abated somewhat between the Great Depression and the 1980’s and has been operating in a retrograde fashion since the Reagan years. The death of organized labor and collective bargaining, as well as the cult of Ayn Rand and the smaller government mantra is a disturbing trend and an example of “the rubber band stretching back to its original shape”.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Inside the mansion, the offices and drawing room of William K. Vanderbilt the 2nd. From here, expeditions were launched across the seven seas which plumbed the benthic depths, searching for some elusive prize. Organic specimens and detailed charts were compiled, hidden knowledge organized, and ancient mariner’s secrets revealed in the pages of worm eaten books. What secrets were uncovered, and hidden from coarse eyes?

note: you don’t really believe that what the Vanderbilts made public was all they found, do you?

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Go take a look for yourselves:


Vanderbilt Museum April Hours
March 27 – April 5, 2010 (Closed Easter)

Mansion, Marine Museum, Natural History Exhibits and Grounds Open Tuesdays and Fridays 12-5. Saturdays 11-5 and Sundays 12-5. Closed to general public Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays except by appointment. For more information please call 631.854-5579. Please check back for May and June Hours.

Observing Friday Nights (weather permitting)

[The closing times listed above is for the closing of the Buildings/Grounds and Exhibit Areas. The ticket booth will close one hour earlier. The last mansion tour is one hour before closing.]


Vanderbilt Museum
180 Little Neck Road
Centerport, New York 11721-0605

From the LIE Exit 51, The Northern State Parkway Exit 42N, and The Southern State Parkway Exit 39N:
Drive North on Deer Park Avenue, bear left at the fork (at traffic light), onto Park Avenue. At 3rd light, make a right turn onto Broadway, continue for 4-5 miles until you reach Route 25A. Cross 25A (to left of Centerport Automotive), and you are on Little Neck Road. The Vanderbilt Museum is 1.5 miles on the right.

From the South Shore:
Take the Sagtikos Pakway North to the Sunken Meadow Parkway north. Take the last exit, 25A West. Travel about 8 miles and make a right at the Centerport Automotive in Centerport, onto Little Neck Road. We are 1.5 miles on the right.

From Route 110 or 25A West:
Travel north on 110 to Huntington Village. Make a right turn onto 25A/Main Street. Travel about 4 miles to Centerport, at the flashing yellow light, bear left onto Park Circle, then turn left onto Little Neck Road. We are 1.5 miles on the right.

Written by Mitch Waxman

April 17, 2010 at 3:39 pm

Vanderbilt Mansion 3

with 2 comments

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The Hall of Fishes, nestled squamously against a steep hill, displays certain motifs and thematic elements that are mockeries of Roman proportion and restraint. The individual who commissioned this structure was a railroad tycoon and adventurer whom men called William K. Vanderbilt II (or Jr. depending on time period).

William K. Vanderbilt II (WKV2 from this point on) commanded a fleet of what he called “steam yachts” but were actually maritime research vessels that also happened to carry the amenities and luxuries that a scion of the Vanderbilt clan had come to expect.

Death of the Alva- from

“The Alva, named for William K. Vanderbilt I’s wife, was designed by St. Clare J. Byrne as a three-masted bark-rigged screw steamer with a steel hull. The Harlan & Hollingsworth Company built the Alva at Wilmington, Delaware, and launched her October 15, 1886. The Alva had an overall length of 285′, and a length on the waterline of 252′. Her measurements were as follows, extreme beam 32.25′, depth 21.5′, and draft 17′. Her tonnage was 1,151.27 gross and 600.55 net.

“Late Saturday afternoon, the Alva departed Bar Harbor bound for Newport. Captain Henry Morrison, a sturdy Englishman, was in command of the Alva. The Alva’s crew totaled 52 men, including officers. Proceeding South, Sunday morning, the Alva encountered a dense fog off Monomoy Point. Immediately, the Alva’s crew sounded her steam whistle. The Alva anchored at precisely 6:30 am to wait for a clearing. Although he did not know it at that time, Captain Morrison had anchored the Alva in Pollock Rip Channel, about 4.1 miles East of Monomoy Point Lighthouse.

“At 8:20 am, a tremendous crash followed by the sound of flying timbers and deck fittings instantly brought everyone to the Alva’s deck with little more than the clothes on their backs. Captain Morrison went forward to examine the damage and found a mortal wound in the Alva’s port side. He gave the order to abandon ship. Eventually, everyone made it from the Alva to the Dimock, which had anchored about 500 yards from the Alva.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Gently raised, grandson of the richest man in America, WKV2 had a taste for dangerous fun. An enthusiast for the razor’s edge of technological advancement, his youth was spent racing about in that most modern of conveyances- the Automobile- or on the water. The apogee of the european colonial and mercantilist system witnessed a golden age of ship building in the late 19th and early 20th century, with ever larger and faster steel hulled ships challenging the seas. Steam driven, these ships carried cargo to and from the great ports, and the Vanderbilt family had dominated the shipping industry in the Americas since the time of the Commodore.

Here’s part one of “Over the Seven Seas with Mr. and Mrs. Vanderbilt” via

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Baroque and florid, this is the capitol that sits over the main entrance to the structure. By the time of WKV2, the great fortune of the Commodore had been divided many times over, and the Vanderbilt family had become part of the “establishment”. Extravagant whimsy expressed in architecture became one of their trademarks, and the landscape of the United States is dotted with their palaces. None, though, are quite like WKV2’s “Eagle’s Nest”.

Here’s part two of “Over the Seven Seas with Mr. and Mrs. Vanderbilt” via

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The Samuel Yellin iron work, in some detail, which writhes about the Hall of Fishes.


The Harlan Hollingsworth Company has just finished for Mr. William K. Vanderbilt the steel yacht Alva, the finest pleasure ship afloat, at a cost of $650,000, and she will be launched at Wilmington next Saturday if conditions and circumstances are propitious.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

A tenebrous attraction layers the wrought metal, some terrible magnetism evocative of the cubists- or the degenerate graffiti one finds scrawled on the steel of those bridges which span an assassin of joy called the Newtown Creek.

It’s organic shape and lack of convention suggests a radical soul, rebelling against social class and high society which has both nurtured and confined its powerful intellect. When researching WKV2, again and again one word kept popping into the search engine narrative – Illuminati.


During the 1920’s, Mr. Vanderbilt set out on a series of scientific expeditions around the world. He collected thousands of sea specimens and brought them back for display in his marine museum. There are 4,000 specimens on display, from the manatee, a 10-foot-long aquatic mammal from the tropics currently on the endangered species list, to the blue, yellow and striped unicorn surgeon fish from the waters of New Caledonia. They represent collecting efforts made over many years and many oceans.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

WKV2, like the entire Vanderbilt clan, are meant to be part of some overarching global conspiracy which stretches out from the ivory towers in which they hide. The story goes that there are 11 families in the United States, oligarchs all, who secretly control and manipulate both the government and economy to guarantee their favor. Getty’s, Rockefeller’s, Dodge’s, Vanderbilts etc. these families- or houses- vie with each other for secret control over mankind and are all working toward some elusive and secret agenda. Just like the same stories about the Freemasons, your humble narrator puts little stock in such tales.



William  K.  Vanderbilt’s  “Ara”  collected  a  new  shark  species:  band-tailed  cat  shark (Pristurus arae). They took 5 tortoises from Duncan Island for the New York Zoo.  In 1931 he returns in the “Alva”.

November. The “Svaap” with William Albert Robinson and Bill Wright. They found one person on Floreana, the Norwegian fisherman, Urholt.

There were 136 inhabitants on Isabela Island. The total in Galapagos: 507. Tuna boats from San Diego, California began to arrive.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The Walker’s, a clan of Texas slave owners who contributed the W. to George W. Bush, are meant to be a part of these illuminati, as are the Bush’s themselves. Just as I answer the controversy about 9/11, when the inevitable “Bush did it” line comes up- What exactly, on the resume of these people, suggests to you that they had the acumen to pull a job of such scale, based on their performance in other areas? The Vanderbilts, in their first three or four generations, were capable of enormous things- but do you really believe that CNN’s Anderson Cooper (son of Gloria Vanderbilt) is one of the secret rulers of the world?


…Off the equatorial west coast of South America lie the Galapagos Islands, longtime home of quaint fowl and ancient reptiles, onetime base of buccaneer expeditions. Now Ecuador owns and the U. S. explores them. Most recent pryers about the islands have been William K. Vanderbilt II and his wife, trapping sapphire-eyed cormorants, penguins pompous as bartenders, Galapagos tortoises with leathery shells, fish whose pied throats pulsate languidly. Such catch Mr. Vanderbilt carried on his yacht Ara to Miami, Fla., where on an off-shore island he maintains his private aquarium and tropical bird reservation and where, insouciantly clad in bathing suit, slippers and tennis hat he directed the unloading of his craft.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

WKV2 spent years at sea, visiting Pacific Atolls and European Courts. Rumors suggest that he was, covertly, conducting back room diplomatic work for the United States government- but I haven’t been able to find anything conclusive to prove this.

Travel broadens one’s mind, or so the saying goes, but perhaps there are things that are better left forgotten. Dark ancestral things whose secrets are handed down from father to son in sweaty jungle lodges which smell of blood and smoke, or in tapestry clad castle towers. Everywhere he went, his men dredged the waters… searching…


After spending years hanging in a rotting and decrepit state, a 32-foot whale shark, believed to the largest real mounted fish in the world, has been restored and is ready for viewers of the Vanderbilt Museum’s Habitat collection.

Caught in 1935 off Fire Island by Arie and Nicholas Schaper, the 16,000-pound shark was the northernmost catch on record at the time. William K. Vanderbilt II bought it from the Schaper brothers and housed it in his Habitat room at his Eagle’s Nest mansion amid his collection of specimens gathered on his many worldly jaunts.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Across the world’s oceans, the American Playboy and his bride drove their crew to exertion and discovery, creating a thorough and scientific recording of the life form’s collected. One can only guess what Vanderbilt decided the world had no need for knowledge of, and omitted from his logs. Or, perhaps he kept another set of books, a practice he’d have been familiar with from his years as a New York business man.

from wikipedia

Some of Cornelius Vanderbilt’s offspring gained fame as successful entrepreneurs while several achieved prominence in other fields such as Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt (1877-1915), who went down on the RMS Lusitania. His son Alfred Jr. became a noted horse breeder and racing elder. Harold Stirling Vanderbilt (1884-1970) gained fame as a sportsman, winning the most coveted prize in yacht racing, the America’s Cup, on three occasions. His brother “Willie K” launched the Vanderbilt Cup for auto racing. Cornelius Vanderbilt IV (1898-1974) became an accomplished writer, newspaper publisher, and film producer. However, others made headlines as a result of drug and alcohol abuse and multiple marriages.

More tomorrow…

Written by Mitch Waxman

April 13, 2010 at 10:23 am

Vanderbilt Mansion 2

with 2 comments

- photo by Mitch Waxman

William Kissam Vanderbilt II’s great grandfather was the richest man in the world, worth some $105 million in 1877. The upper estimate of what this would be worth in today’s currency would equate to roughly $180 billion dollars. Compare this with the estimate of John D. Rockefeller’s worth at the time of his death in modern terms- the equivalent of $663 billion, or the last Tsar of Russia who was worth approx. $300 billion.


Cornelius Vanderbilt (May 27, 1794-January 4, 1877) was an American steamship and railroad builder, executive, financier, and promoter. He was a man of boundless energy, and his acute business sense enabled him to outmaneuver his rivals. He left an estate of almost $100 million.

Vanderbilt was born to a poor family and quit school at the age of 11 to work for his father who was engaged in boating. When he turned 16 he persuaded his mother to give him $100 loan for a boat to start his first business. He opened a transport and freight service between New York City and Staten Island for eighteen cents a trip. He repaid the loan after the first year with an additional $1,000. He was rough in manners and developed a reputation for honesty. He charged reasonable prices and worked prodigiously.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

William Kissam Vanderbilt II’s grandfather inherited $100 million from his father- the Commodore. A railroad tycoon, he doubled his inheritance and also died as “the richest man in the world”.

William Kissam Vanderbilt II’s father inherited $55 million from his father and retired from the family business in 1903. After a nasty split with his wife (and mother of his two sons- Henry and Willie K.- her name was Alva Smith), the father retired to France to breed race horses and died in 1920.

from wikipedia

Vanderbilt’s first wife was Alva Erskine Smith (1853–1933), whom he married on April 20, 1875. Born in 1853 to a slave-owning Alabama family, she was the mother of his children and was instrumental in forcing their daughter Consuelo (1877–1964) to marry the 9th Duke of Marlborough in 1895. Not long after this, the Vanderbilts divorced and Alva married Oliver Hazard Perry Belmont.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

William Kissam Vanderbilt II had the well bred Vanderbilt instinct for spending the limitless fortune on houses of splendor and whimsical inspirations. He built a race track on Long Island, the first high speed road other than the Long Island Railroad. Fishermen and farmers, native to the area, commented that it was just so Willie K. could get back to the Eagle’s Nest from Manhattan quicker.

from wikipedia

The Long Island Motor Parkway (LIMP), also known as the Vanderbilt Parkway and Motor Parkway, was the first roadway designed for automobile use only.[2] It was privately built by William Kissam Vanderbilt with overpasses and bridges to remove intersections. It opened in 1908 as a toll road and closed in 1938 when it was taken over by the State of New York in lieu of back taxes. Parts of the parkway survive today in sections of other roadways and as a bicycle trail in Queens, New York.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

All around the property, a strange collection of buildings can be found. A planetarium with a Terra Cotta dome (which was actually an add on by the State of the New York in 1971, Vanderbilt needed no help imagining the heavens)


The Vanderbilt Planetarium opened in 1971 on the grounds of the Vanderbilt estate, and it is the largest facility of its kind on Long Island. The Planetarium’s purpose is to provide visitors with information about the nighttime sky. The Planetarium’s main feature is the domed, 60-foot Sky Theater. The theater’s GOTO star projector can display the sun, moon, stars and planets. It also recreates celestial events during our various Sky Shows. The projector can simulate the heavens at any moment in time, from the distant past to the future, as it appeared from any place on Earth. The projector can show 11,369 stars, the Milky Way and several deep sky objects. This allows Planetarium staff to recreate the visible night sky, as seen under perfect conditions.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

And the Hall of Fishes.

also from

The 43-acre museum complex counts among its collections not only the Gold Coast-era mansion [1910-1936], a marine museum, natural history habitats, curator’s cottage, seaplane hangar, boathouse and numerous other estate features [gardens, fountains, balustrades and pools], but also marine and natural history specimens, house furnishings and fine arts, photographs and archives, and an extensive collection of ethnographic objects that make up the former William K. Vanderbilt II estate. A portion of today’s museum – the Hall of Fish – was actually opened to the public during Vanderbilt’s lifetime. Then, as now, the museum seeks to preserve and interpret artifacts that represent his life, collecting interests and intellectual legacy.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Moorish rather than Spanish revival, the small museum forbids visitors to its second floor. Attendants and Curator alike claim that the structure is damaged by weather and the upper level is quite inhospitable to specimen and visitor alike.


The first floor of the Hall of Fishes displays a large collection of mounted animals and marine specimens. The second floor contains hundreds of marine vertebrates and invertebrates. Many of the displayed marine forms are the only such specimens in existence, collected, identified, and named by Vanderbilt and his staff.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Striking violations of architectural norms are witnessed here. Metalwork not dreamt of in the fevered mind of the hashish addict is observed. When queried, the posted guard described the madly fanciful use of iron as functional instead. Its fabricator and designer shows the skill of a Vesuvian cyclops.

from wikipedia

Samuel Yellin (1885–1940), American master blacksmith, was born in Galicia Poland where at the age of eleven he was apprenticed to an iron master. By the age of sixteen had had completed his apprenticeship. During that period he gained the nickname of “Devil”, both for his work habits and his sense of humor. Shortly after this he left Poland, traveling through Europe to England, where, in 1906, he departed for America.By 1907 he was taking classes at the Philadelphia Museum School of Industrial Art and within a year was teaching classes there, a position that he maintained until 1919.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

William Kissam Vanderbilt II- it is said- on one of his expeditions, was inspired by a church he had witnessed in coastal Guatemala which influenced the whimsical design of the Hall of Fishes.

A hybrid of wholesome Catholic iconography which had become fused with the atavist worship of some lost tribal sea god, its affect is disturbing. Decadent admixtures such as this speak to declining faith in one’s own culture, and seek legitimacy in a postmodern cocktail of Barbarian and Civilized themes.


The Vanderbilt Marine Museum is the privately owned depository of the marine collections of William K. Vanderbilt, Esquire, and is located on his country estate, “Eagle’s Nest,” Huntington, Long Island, New York. It contains extensive collections of natural history and ethnological specimens, all of which were personally collected by Mr. Vanderbilt, in various parts of the world, during the past thirty- odd years.

The scientific publications of the museum consist of a series of Bulletins, designed to disseminate results of research based on the marine zoological collections, every specimen of which was personally collected by Mr. Vanderbilt, during a series of cruises in his yachts, “Eagle,” “Ara” and “Alva.” Volume I of the Bulletin series consists of reports on the fishes collected during these cruises, by Dr. N. A. Borodin.

Volume II consists of a report on the Stomatopod and Brachyuran Crustacea of the cruises of the yachts “Eagle” and ” Ara,” 1921- 1928, by Lee Boone. Volume III consists of a report of the Crustacea : Anomura, Macrura, Schizopoda, Isopoda, Amphipoda, Mysidacea, Cirripedia and Copepoda of the “Eagle” and ” Ara” cruises, also by Lee Boone. Volume IV consists of a report of the Echinodermata, Coelenterata and Mollusca of the cruises of the yachts “Eagle” and “Ara,” 1921-1928, by Lee Boone. Volume V, the present report, consists of a report of the Crustacea : Stomatopoda and Brachyura of the World Cruise of the yacht “Alva,” 1931, by Lee Boone.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Evocative statuary, owing much to pre columbian native influences, adorns the Vanderbilt collection’s housing. Hybridized and anthromorphized, the relief is icthyan, alien, and ripe with disturbing implications of some forgotten and ancestral memory.


The Vanderbilt Museum on Long Island, New York is housed in the mansion once owned by William K. Venderbilt II (the great-grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt, founder of the New York Central Railroad and the Staten Island Ferry). “Willie K.” was an avid sailor and collector. He traveled around the globe, collecting artifacts and natural history specimens, some from the ocean floor by Willie K. himself, as he loved to dive.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The entrance to the Hall of the fishes, guarded by a medieval vintage fortress door of sturdy arab or north african design, which is studded with iron spikes (that have had their points ground off, for safety reasons).

More tomorrow…

Written by Mitch Waxman

April 12, 2010 at 1:00 am


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