The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

Vanderbilt Mansion 1

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

There are unbearable realities hidden all around the Great City. Not so far from the center, geographically at least, is the North Shore of Long Island- the so called Gold Coast. Saturnian splendors adorn the palaces of these 19th century oligarchs, grand decoration and philosophical landscaping owe much to Versailles in these places, and many grand estates dot the coastline. For Pratt, and Whitney, and Dodge– who made their fortunes along the Newtown Creek- sylvan bliss was available on Long Island.

One of these country houses, The Eagle’s Nest, belonged to William Kissam Vanderbilt II- Willie K. to his friends and the press.

Yes, those Vanderbilts.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Great-Grandson of the Commodore, Vanderbilt was an advocate and early promoter for the sport of automobile racing and was reported on by contemporaneous members of the nautical community as being quite an able mariner.

Born to unnatural splendor, the fortunate son nevertheless launched expeditions to previously unexplored oceanic destinations, creating in the process a splendid catalog of flora and fauna. What else he may have been searching for, and what trophies he held for his private amusement, is the subject of whispered innuendo. His personal navy included the purpose built steamships Tarantula, the Eagle, and especially the Alva and the Ara.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A hired crew of artisans, engineers, and archaeologists accompanied Vanderbilt on his missions. They captured and preserved hundreds of specimens from the benthic depths, and experienced adventure best described as pulp fiction as they moved amongst the colonial holdings of Europe in the Pacific and along the savage coastlines of the equator. If this sounds like Indiana Jones, it should, just replace Indy with Bruce Wayne or Doc Savage and you’ve got the picture. One of the young Vanderbilt’s buddies was a guy named Howard Hughes.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Vanderbilt collected, in addition to everything that flops and flaps in the cold darkness of the sea, what he termed “ethnographic” objects. There’s an actual Egyptian mummy in the house, as well as catalogs of other preserved animals. A disturbing heterogeneousness marks the collection, a connection between items and subjects seems missing. Across the inlet from his mansion- which was deep enough to accommodate ocean going ships at his private dock (there is also a sea plane dock down at the water’s edge), is the Northport Power Station. Its towers oddly mimic those found at the balustrade at the house’s entrance.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The house itself, there are several buildings scattered around the property, is meant to evoke a spaniard’s taste. Such longing for their ancient masters ill befits a Dutch line such as the Vanderbilts, even as it plunged into 20th century degeneracy. Guides at the mansion explained that Vanderbilt was inspired by a church he had seen in Guatemala, which had influenced the design and motif of the entire complex. Vanderbilt was overcome by icthyan motif, one pregnant with hideous implications.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

His city address was 666 fifth avenue, part of the Vanderbilt continuum of mansions present along that stretch of the great thoroughfare, and he took up his ancestral responsibility and assumed a leadership role at the New York Central Railroad.

After the death of his father, Willie K. became known as William K. Vanderbilt II, one of America’s richest and most powerful men. His son, an adventurer in his own right- William K. Vanderbilt III- died in a mysterious auto accident returning from the family estate in Florida- where another fleet of research vessels and another unique collection was maintained.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

When I heard that the first annual Obscura Day tours were going on, and that the New York leg would be visiting the Eagle’s Nest, our Lady of the Pentacle and I jumped at the chance. We travelled via the LIRR, to meet Willie K.

More tomorrow.

Written by Mitch Waxman

April 11, 2010 at 1:00 am

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  1. […] a comment » check out the prior Vanderbilt Mansion posts: 1, 2, 3, and […]

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