a step back in time at the Vanderbilt mansion

April 15, 2013 |  Category:   life outings

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Do you know about the Gold Coast Mansions on the North Shore of Long Island? If you’ve read the Great Gatsby, then you do. Yes, the Gilded Age, where new fortunes were made in steel and other industries. These were the lavish homes of some of the wealthiest American families like the Astors, Whitneys, Guggenheims and Vanderbilts. At one point there were over 500 mansions built along this 16 mile stretch, but less than half survived; only a handful are open to the public.

 

We’ve been to 2 of these mansions located near my parents’ house a number of times – Old Westbury Gardens (where the family threw me the best birthday surprise) and The Nassau County Museum of Art. On Saturday, we visited the Vanderbilt Museum.
 
When William K. Vanderbilt II passed away in the 40s, his will mandated that the grounds be donated to the county as a museum for his collections. Sometime in the 70s a planetarium was built which reopened last month after major renovations. We took the girls to a show at the planetarium, but we weren’t expecting to see such an extensive collection of taxidermy, marine and ethnographic objects housed in the main mansion and other buildings. Apparently Vanderbilt was quite the explorer and collector and he built natural history habitats for tigers, polar bears and other mammals, much like you would find at the Museum of Natural History. The Hall of Fishes was quite impressive, as was the room of birds, insects and butterflies. Some of the objects on display are quite odd, including 2 large rooms full of hundreds (thousands?) of aquatic specimens preserved in jars and a 32 foot long whale shark, thought to be the world’s largest mounted fish. Oh, and a 3000 year old Egyptian mummy. Oh, rich people…
 
The financial struggles of the museum have been well documented and the renovation of the planetarium is to bring more visitors and revenue to the museum (there are areas of the estate that are boarded up and in disrepair, like the boathouse pictured above). We’ll certainly be going back. On a warmer summer day I can imagine exploring the grounds a bit longer and perhaps taking a tour of the 24 room mansion. While the kids were in one room upstairs looking at this huge stuffed alligator, I saw a room off to the side with the door ajar on the other side of the hallway. What did I see when I peeked inside? A wall full of shoes, presumably dated from the 20s and 30s. I’m certainly intrigued.

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  • unha engels April 15, 2013 at 10:54 am

    hah.. didnt realize it was whole suite of mansions in LI. I only did one tour in new port in RI.
    will have to check them out. looks beautiful.

  • Carol April 15, 2013 at 1:08 pm

    That looks right up my alley! How easy is it to get to from Brooklyn? I’ll be visiting in June.

    • Jenna April 15, 2013 at 3:53 pm

      I think car is the best option. Not sure how easy it is to get via public transportation…

  • Amber April 15, 2013 at 4:28 pm

    Beautiful. Would love to visit one day. We have been to the Biltmore in Asheville, NC several times, but was not aware of how many homes the Vanderbuilt’s built, including this one. Thanks for the beautiful photos and sharing.

  • joy @ OSS April 15, 2013 at 8:11 pm

    I just saw Anderson Cooper the other day, what a coincidence. I would love to visit here one day.

  • Henna | HENNA BLOSSOM BLOG April 16, 2013 at 12:35 pm

    Ooh wow, so interesting. Thanks for sharing.

    Oh, and what an awesome birthday surprise (I just went back and read that post). At the end of it, I remembered that we just bought some prosciutto and got excited. Off to go eat a snack. 🙂 Unexpected reminder, ha. 🙂

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