So far we've looked at how media-star Anderson Cooper, newly out and proud, is the great-great-grandson of William Henry Vanderbilt and his wife, Maria Louisa Kissam Vanderbilt, who had four sons and four daughters. William Vanderbilt died in 1885, the world's richest man, with close to $200,000,000. All of this money has come to confere on the Vanderbilts a status akin to Great Britain's royal family. Much as sorting out which royals might have been gay in the past is challenging, so it is with the Vanderbilts. To date we've considored posibilities among six of Cooper's Vanderbilt great-grandaunts and uncles and their families. Already four cantidates suggest a strong posibility of having been L, G, B or T. In the list below, lavender-colored letters indicate Vanderbilts alreay examined. Two remain, the two elder brothers who inherited the lion's-share of their father's millions.
2. Margaret Louisa Vanderbilt (1845–1924) who married Elliot Fitch Shepherd
4. Emily Thorn Vanderbilt (1852–1946) who married William Douglas Sloane and later Henry White
5. Florence Adele Vanderbilt (1854–1952) who married Hamilton McKown Twombly
6. Frederick William Vanderbilt (1856–1938) who married divorcee, Louise Holmes Anthony Torrance
7. Eliza Osgood Vanderbilt (1860–1936) who married William Seward Webb
8. George Washington Vanderbilt II (1862–1914) who married Edith Stuyvesant Dresser
Rich, industrious, pious and handsome, Cornelius Vanderbilt had an unfortunate reputation as something of a joyless man who lived only to work. In 1867 he married Alice Claypoole Gwynne whom he met at St. Bartholomew's Episcopal Church where both taught Sunday School. Also rich, also virtuous and pretty, if not a great beauty, Alice Vanderbilt is said to have found society tiresome, entertaining a burdensome and fashion frivolous. Clearly those who voiced this opinion, did not know her well. For motivated from the great pride she felt for her husband, their family and for its accomplishments, she belied such dismissiveness in all she did. Her houses for instance, were always the best obtainable, so much so, that in widowhood, despite a great fortune, she felt her vast income unequal to the task of maintaining, opening and dispensing hospitality from both. One was a chateau designed by George Brown Post. It was built in two stages, between 1886-1893, so that it stretched from 57th to 58th Street in Fifth Avenue. Unequaled in size, with 130 rooms, or grandeur, it had required the acquisition and demolition of 8 brownstone row-houses and had an annual property tax bill of $130,000. by the time of its demolition in 1927. Mrs. Vanderbilt's other house was a vast four-storey High-Renaissance style villa, by Richard Morris Hunt, the Breakers, completed in 1893 at Newport, Rhode Island. If she opened her city house one year, then she would summer traveling abroad. Summers that the Breakers was open, were followed by winter sojourns in warm climes.
While her husband lived, running the New York Central Railroad, such trivial economies had been unnecessary, and even after he died, had his widow not cared about providing further legacies for her children and grandchildren her thrift would have not mattered.
Even as an old lady, she was always well and fashionably dressed. And then there is her golden Worth gown, made for her pushy, boastful sister-in-law Alva's housewarming ball in 1883: Alice portrayed the new electric light and the statue of liberty rolled into one, and no one there was half as striking or original.
Fifth Avenue and 57th Street.
Fifth Avenue and 58th Street.
Entry gates at the Breakers.
The Breakers' billiard room.
The Breakers' library.
1932: Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt, II and her daughters, Gladys and Gertrude, by William Bruce Ellis Rankin.
Large staffs of servants were essential for 'cottages' like the Breakers.
Anderson Cooper's great-granparents' eldest child, a daughter named Alice Gwynne Vanderbilt, died of a childhood illness in 1874 at the age of five. Their second child, the all-important eldest son William Henry Vanderbilt II died of typhoid fever while a junior at Yale University, and Cornelius endowed a large dormitory there. Before he died William Henry Vanderbilt had met a fascinating and beautiful young woman. Grace Wilson came from a nice family who were doing alright if not millionaires. Because they were good looking and made matches with such prestigious and rich families like the Astors and the Herberts in England, they came to be called 'the marrying-Wilsons '. Close enough to his older brother to be in on his secret engagement, if not consciously, perhaps out of a feeling of protectiveness, the Vanderbilt's second son, Cornelius Vanderbilt III, with his brothers sudden death saw his chance. It would not have been the first time a girlfriend had gone from one brother to another. Grief-stricken they, especially the boy's father, felt horrified at what seemed an almost adulterous prospect.
Cornelius Vanderbilt III, William Henry Vanderbilt by Augustus Saint Gaudins.
1887: The sons of Mr. and Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt II: Cornelius Vanderbilt III, Reginald C. Vanderbilt, William Henry Vanderbilt II and Alfred G. Vanderbilt.
William Henry Vanderbilt.
1890: Miss. Grace Graham Wilson.
1894: Mrs. Richard T. Wilson, 'the marrying Wilson's mother.
Because Vanderbilt men rashly observed the aristocratic English custom of primogenitor, whereby the eldest son gets most of what's to be gotten, besides his stricken brother's griving fiancee, Cornelius II must have expected much more besides by way of riches. Instead, as he repeatedly refused to renounce his beloved Miss Wilson, he was disinherited for marrying without his parents approval. His mother, who was inclined to be less hard, felt duty bound to support her husband, particularly so, as no sooner did her son marry, and her husband suffered a paralyzing stroke in 1896.
Yale's Vanderbilt Hall.
1894: The Vanderbilt patriarch who, when he died in 1899, was found to have kept his word: leaving his disobedient eldest son $1,000,000., instead of $55,000,000.
Alice and Cornelius Vanderbilt's third son Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt developed into an accomplished horseman and whip from an early age. He was especially fond of, and famously adapt, at coaching, a sport almost as expensive as yachting. Like his baby brother Reginald he married twice.
1886: Alice and Cornelius Vanderbilt's third son Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt developed into an accomplished horseman and whip from an early age. He was especially fond of, and famously adapt at coaching, a sport almost as expensive as yachting. Like his baby brother Reginald he married twice and went down with the RMS Lusitania.
Unexpectedly the wealthiest of the Cornelius Vanderbilt's sons, Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt, was expected to make an advantageous match. He did. On January 11, 1901 Alfred Vanderbilt married Ellen French, known as Elsie, in Newport, Rhode Island. She was the beautiful daughter of Francis Ormond French, president of the Manhattan Trust Company, and his wife Ellen Tuck. Later that same year, on November 24, Elsie gave birth to their only child, William Henry Vanderbilt III, later governor of Rhode Island. Recipient of a kings ransom in pewsious gems, Elsie Vanderbilt was ever afterward wonderfully bejewelled.
A scandal erupted in April 1908 after Elsie filed for divorce, alleging adultery with Agnes O'Brien Ruíz, the wife of the Cuban attaché in Washington, D. C.. Publicly humiliated, Agnes Ruíz committed suicide in 1909.
In 1911 Alfred Vanderbilt was remarried in London to fellow American Margaret Emerson who was also divorced. She was the daughter of wealthy drug manufacturer, heiress to the Bromo-Seltzer fortune. Alfred and Margaret had two children: Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt II and George Washington Vanderbilt III.
Recalling the Vanderbilt disinheritance and the ensuing family feud, as we are discussing Vanderbilt's, the eldest son's disinheritance meant a legacy of a single million — which was afterwards augmented to eight millions by a re-division of the estate among the heirs. As it was, even following the re-allotment, Cornelius Vanderbilt III was not actually placated. He felt his little brother had promised to make things right by giving him half of what was to have been his. A paultry $7,000,000. more was an insult.
Mr. and Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt III, who gambled they couldn't loose-and did.
Grace Wilson Vanderbilt: the woman who aspired to rule fashionable society.
The irony of the story is, that absent so much opposition, Grace and Cornelius might never have married, nor should they have wrote their journalist son Cornelius Vanderbilt IV. Both he and his sister divorced, but as both their parents were highly conservative, they abhorred the idea of divorce. And of course after the affront of his father's terrible injustice, Cornelius Vanderbilt III was terribly eager to do all he could to make up for what he viewed as the wickedness of an enbittered sick man. Here his mother was helpful, as even before her mourning had ended, she was making peace. Showering Grace with the most glittering bijou to be had, her husband threw himself, with gusto. into the lavish, innovative, frequent entertaining and party going required to secure for his, wife her rightful place as queen of New York society. Their efforts succeeded, they were intimates of Alice Roosevelt Longworth and dined often with Queen Mary and George V. However, after a while, how the appeal of yet another gala opera night, small dance or formal dinner started to pall, For General Vanderbilt at least. As for Grace, ruling society was her career, apart from her family, it was her entire life really. Neither of her childrn were gay, but thanks surely in part to the example of their parents, Cornelius IV married 7 times and his sister Grace married twice.
Grace and General Cornelius Vanderbilt in latter years.
William Henry Vanderbilt's 640 Fifth Avenue, transformed as Grace and General Cornelius Vanderbilt New York base, was demolished in 1946. By then, city property taxes alone cost around $150. per week, equivalent to what lawyers earned.
A distinguished sculptor of great sensitivity who had trained with Rodin, Gertrude Vanderbilt , Anderson cooper's great-grandaunt greatly pleased her parents by choosing to marry an American, her neighbor on 57th Street, Harry Payne Whitney. In addition to his being friends with their sons and rather handsome, he was immensely rich, even by Vanderbilt standards. One likes to see one's offspring live as well or better than one has, and Gertrude Vanderbilt did. There was yet another reason for being delighted that Gertrude was settling so well. As a rebellious adolescent, she had terrified her mother. If her effusive protestations of love to Ester Hunt, daughter of the Breakers architect were vile to think of, there was no mistaking the implication. Married with offspring, Mrs. Whitney increasingly lived in a converted Greenwich Village mews, where she had a studio. When the occasion demanded, she dutifully put in an appearance at Fifth Avenue, but drag balls and night clubs in Paris and Harlem came to offer far more appeal for her than staid society functions. She is all but notorious today, for the hard role she played in having her sister-in-law declared an unfit mother and thereafter taking charge to raise her young niece, Gloria Vanderbilt. Courtroom intimations that little Gloria’s mother engaged in lesbian relationships seem cruelly ironic as, since girlhood, whispers of Gertrude Whitney’s varied passions for men and women had swirled all around among bon ton New York and Newport.
Ca. 1892: Cornelius Vanderbilt's daughter Gertrude Vanderbilt who married her neighbor on 57th street Harry Whitney.
1897: Mrs. Harry Payne Whitney and son.
Ca. 1912: Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney bedecked in a good portion of her extensive collection of jeweled ornaments.
Employing such extraordinary antique elements as the gilt-iron and bronze gates from the Palazzo Doria in Rome in the porte cochère and Louis XVI boiserie from a château near Bordeaux in the second floor ballroom, then the largest private ballroom in New York, it’s estimated that Stanford White spent $4,000,000 converting 871 Fifth Avenue into a dwelling suitably spectacular to please William Collins Whitney. After the traction magnate died in 1899, his palace eventually became the home of his son Harry and Harry's wife, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney.
871 Fifth Avenue
William Whitney's baronial Dining Room.
The Great Room at Long Leys Farm.
I knew at once that their antique mantelpiece seemed strangely familiar. Because the William Whitney house was razed so long ago, an ocean away, it seemed unlikely that it had somehow supplied this stunning souvenir of Stanford White’s weakness for old-world grandeur. But of course, by the oblique route of the saleroom, as a cautionary testament to impermanence, the vagaries of tastes and the fecklessness of museum collections, it was.
Supremely beautiful, the mirrored screen overlain in ormolu in William Whitney’s ballroom, had started life as two, of a set four doors, ordered by Giacomo Filippo Carrega for the Galleria Dorata, Palazzo Carrega-Cataldi, in Genoa. Sublimely shimmering, they were designed by Lorenzo de' Ferrari 1680-1744, a painter. Devising all the gallery’s appointments; paneling, mirrors, consoles and seat furniture, between 1743 and 1744, Ferrari adopted an aquatic theme, replete with mermaids, scallop shells and dolphins, devices which typify the decorative repertoire of the exuberant Genoese rococo style. This richness made them a perfect addition to the Whitney ballroom.
1906: Miss Gladys Moore Vanderbilt painted by Sargent.
On January 28th 1908 she married Hungarian Count László Széchenyi .
1908: Count Lazlo Széchenyi.
January 28th 1908
January 28th 1908: Curious onlookers outside the wedding breakfast at the Vanderbilt house.
1916: Glayds, Countess Lazlo Széchenyi attired for the coronation of Charrles IV and Zita, the last monarchs of Hungary. The countess' garland tiara, a wedding gift from her mother in 1908, has at its center the 62.05 carat Széchenyi Diamond, which detaches and can be worn as the pendant drop of a necklace.
The Vanderbilt's youngest son, who lived life to the full, if in limited terms, was his mother's favorite. He was neither as dashing or rich as his brothers, but as a Vanderbilt, his name alone lent sufficient allure so that he was regarded as 'terribly attractive'. Like Alfred he married twice and had children from each union. Also like Alfred he died relatively young, just 45 in 1925. This is Anderson Cooper's gradfather, the father of Cathleen Vanderbilt from his marriage to society debutante Cathleen Neilson and socialite of Anderson's mother, glorious Gloria Vanderbilt, from his second marriage to Gloria Morgan Vanderbilt.
Making his name into one better known than Vanderbilt, enjoying modern celebrity almost comparable to his grandfather's notoriety, Anderson Cooper seems to be fining fulfillment and happiness anyhow.
Reggie and Alfred Vanderbilt.
1932: Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt II, the grand dame of Newport.
To Be Continued...