On Tour in the Berkshires
After stoking up on the groaning-board buffet breakfast at the Cranwell Resort in Lenox, our brave band of twenty-five good KUSC listeners bussed into the wilds of western Mass. to see how the rich folks lived in America’s first Gilded Age – which we were unconvincingly told by our otherwise admirably and acerbically convincing historian-guide Carole Owens was distinctly different from the current age of disproportionally distributed wealth.
First stop: the “cottage”(as it was called) of Naumkeag in Stockbridge. (Even the name smells of $.) Here, Joseph Choate, the N.Y. lawyer who helped beat back income tax in 1894, summered with his family. These people did more than just kick off their flip-flops and frolic in the high grass of the rolling hills. They lived in a galling ostentation that a century later has lost its gilded gall in favor of nonprofit museumdom and now displays one wow moment after another – from the Pyramid Steps of the South Lawn to the Oak Lawn to the Top Lawn to the Tree Peony Terrace to sixteen beds of floribunda roses, etc. And that’s just the outside. Inside the 44-room “mansion” (for let’s call it what it really is) designed by Stanford White we could sense the aura of good times and gracious living lived by the nation’s ultra-elite. Ghosts of Vanderbilts & Astors permeate the overstuffed sitting rooms, up and down the three-story hand-carved oak staircase. Asian ceramics, European furniture, painted silk wallpaper. Our collective jaws dropped.
photos by Erin Kyle
After a couple of hours of such wow, we bid a wistful farewell to Naumkeag (similar, I like to think, to how the Choats bid adieu to their cottage in the Berkshires as the summer waned each year), and boarded our bus for the next house of tamed vaingloriousness, Edith Wharton’s The Mount.