Why are there no jewels as lovely as these in Downton Abbey?
A necklace left behind by Eleanor Elkins Widener.
Who, one wonders, was the AMY to whom this bracelet once belonged?
One enduring indicator, suggestive of the beauty and riches that RMS Titanic represented, is the small, still sparkleing cache of bejeweled ornaments, pictured above, remarkably recovered from the ocean's depths. What handsome jewels were made a century ago to adorne the elite. Even as elderly and unasuming a woman as Mrs. Isidor Straus, habitually wore, as her photograph shows, a long and delicate chain of platinum and diamonds.
Still another testament of lost Belle Epoch opulence, can be seen in Stefano Papi's spectacular new book, Jewels of the Romanovs: Family & Court, published by Thames & Hudson. Could it possibly be, that such material splendor always portends sorrow and retribution?
Whether diminutive or massive, the finest jewels made during the Edwardian era, by Tiffany & Co. Cartier or Boucheron, blazed with diamonds and shimmered with pearls. Set most stylishly in platinum, they were designed withintricate settings evolcative of Louise XVI festoons and classical wreaths. Certainly, they not always feature jet, as Downton Abbey might lead one to believe. Moreover, in order to make an impression, married women were all too happy to wear a far greater quantity of jewelry than many would countenance today. Although there would not have been been any tiaras worn on Titanic, jeweled fillets and diamond dog collars, like the one owned by Madeleine Astor, would not have been out of the ordinary.
Appropriate night or day, by far, pearls were the most ubiquitous jewels of the era.
No one on board ship would have been as bejeweled as Grace Vanderbilt is in the photograph above.
Why are there no jewels as lovely as these in Downton Abbey?
Even in mourning, Madeleine Astor wore the diamond dog collar and pearls her husband had given her.
Why is there no jewel as lovely and evocative as this in Downton Abbey?
Was jet ever so pervasive? No! But, diamonds were.
Titanic's collision occurred at 11:40 P.M. on Sunday, April 14, 1912. Prior to disaster, merry-making of a high order of refinement occurred. A superb meal, in a splendid setting, demanded fine clothes. Arrayed mostly in evening dress, Titanic's first-class passengers were up to the challenge. At the start of the new century, when society ladies at Sherry's had dared to wear gowns exhibiting decolatage, as they did for dinner at home and in private houses, as opposed to high-cut dinner dresses, they'd been asked to leave. On Titanic, neither this, nor ladies so bold as to smoke in public was any problem.
A dinner to remember!
Large muffs and fox stoles were in vogue during the Edwardian era. Gloves were de rigueur.
Made between 1910-1913, gowns simular to the exqusite frocks seen hereafter, might plausably to have been worn on board Titanic. That is, except for, the flowered dress pictured imediately below. Like the day dress above, it was meant for warm weather wear.
Sometines those who seem to have everything to make us wish that we were in their place, actually lead quite sad lives. John Jacob Astor, IV, born July 13, 1864, was an heir of the 18th Century German immigrant John Jacob Astor, I, whose colossal fortune had been made in opium, furs and real estate. Titanic's wealthiest passenger, Astor had attended St Paul’s School and Harvard University. His mother, Caroline Webster Schermerhorn Astor, was the undisputed queen of New York and Newport society, said to consist of just 400 members, as that was the number Mrs. Astor's private ballroom accommodated.
1894: Colonel John Jacob Astor, IV.
Intrigued by mechanics and technology, Astor also loved horses, fast cars, tennis and yachting. In 1891 he married Alva Lowle Willing, of Philadelphia. Considered one of the great beauties in society, their alliance was seen as ideal. Both, particularly Astor, were thought quite fortunate. A bridge fanatic, who shared none of her husband's interests, Alva Astor openly mocked him. Just the same they had had two children, William Vincent and Alva Alice Muriel. As a break from matrimonial discord, Astor saw action in the Spanish American War, earning the rank of Colonel.
1892: As the years passed, Alva Astor seemed only to grow in beauty.
Sharing houses with his mother, in New York on 5th Avenue, at Newport and near Rhinebeck, on the Hudson, Astor took pleasure in the technical aspect of building; be it the Hotel Waldorf-Astoria, resulting form a family quarrel, a double-house in the city or a sports-playhouse based on Versailles' Grand Trainon, at Rhinebeck, designed by Stanford White.
Even the fabulously rich have their economies, Richard Morris Hunt's imposing double house on 5th Avenue at 65th Street, had a common ballroom. It was shared by Col. Astor with his mother , wife and children. On inheriting it, the Colonel quickly made the houses into a single dwelling.
1909: William Vincent Astor and his dad.
1911 and 1925: Alva Alice Muriel Astor, the poor little rich girl who married and divorced 4 times, before committing suicide.
Col. Astor in one of his numerous cars, at Ferncliff.
The Playhouse at Astor's estate, Ferncliff, at Rhinebeck, New York.
Free to divorce after his mother's death in 1901, Astor waited until 1909. He then wasted no time before, at the age of 47, he married 18-year-old Madeleine Talmage Force, who was a year younger than his son Vincent. Recalling the scandal of his sister's divorce and remarriage, Astor thought it expedient to take his new bride abroad. The couple's extended honeymoon in Europe and Egypt was only cut short when they learned Madeleine was expecting. Among the few Americans who had not spurned them outright was Margaret Brown, "The Unsinkable Molly Brown". She accompanied the Astors to Egypt and France and, by coincidence, was called home to the U.S. at the very time the Astors also had decided to abbreviate their touring.
Madeleine Astor, with her hair dressed in the fashionable Psyche knot coiffure. In the period from 1912, to around 1918, this graceful hair style swept up everyone, from Mrs. Astor to Consuelo Vanderbilt, including heiress A'Leia Walker. Failure to have adopted this style is yet another example of Downton Abbey's inability to grasp fully, nuances which once defined an epoch of elegance.
1911: The J. J. Astors driving and out walking their Airedale, Kitty. Those who knew him were in agreement, Col. Astor had never before seemed so happy, as he did after marrying Madeleine.
J. J. Astor's yhact Nourma. As an experienced sailor, once Titanic had stuck an icebreg, Col. Astor could have had no doubt whatsoever, as to what lay ahead.
Roused passengers forgather to go on deck, as portrayed in A Night to Remember.
Ragtime tunes were all the rage and so the band had playrd on, to encourage calm.
Rockets were fired to summon help. But...
Rockets were of no avail, as help never arrives.
Sickened by the desperate echoing cries for help from imperiled loved ones and fellow passengers, those in the lifeboats, numbed by cold and loss, rowed and rowed, nearly till dawn.
In no time at all, in the bitter chill of a moonless night, below a canopy of stars, billions and billions, all is eerily quiet, time seems frozen, as the earth stands stilled by the night's cold emptiness.
A few who were saved.
Young Jack Astor is shown a picture of the Titanic.
For some, a suitor from a family as prominent as the Astors, even today, would be considered to be a sterling catch. Little'Jack Astor', Vincent Astor's half-brother, born after their father had gone down on the Titanic, and after the birth of their English cousin, John Jacob Astor, V, was to grow up willfully spoiled and indolent. Even accompanied with a $3-million trust fund, one which had greatly accrued funds since it was established, it might have been best, to have thought twice about Jack.
Just seventeen, at the time of her engagement to the 'boy next door', who lived across Sixty-Fifth Street from her Grandmamma Sherman, my friend Eileen Gillespie said that she was bedazzled, at first!
A fleet of ten cars, including a yellow Brewster-bodied Rolls Royce, a private railway car and a steam yacht followed. His engagement ring was an Astor heirloom, reportedly worth $100,000. Previously, it had belonged to the consort of Napoleon III, the Empress Eugenie.
Across 65th Street from Jack Astor's house was the 5th Avenue residence of Elieen Gillespie's widowed grandmother, Mrs. William Watts Sherman.
Much transpired in the aftermath of Eileen Gillespie's big break-up with Jacck Astor so long ago. Not the least occurrence was her happy union with John Jermaine Slocum in 1940.
Judging by Jack Astor's diminished looks, my friend got lucky away by breaking their engagement.
What happened, whatever was the matter, I once asked Eileen Slocum, "I don't exactly know what it was. I think it was the curse of the Titanic." she replied. "When one is with child, and suffers the blow of such a loss, as she, [Madeleine Astor] did, the trauma, the whole tragic experience, it's bound to effect the mother and impact the child as well..."
From design, to realization, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney's Titanic Memorial lost something. Dedicated to the heroism of the men of Titanic, errected in Washington, D. C., it was emasculated by censors. Gertrude Vanderbilt had grown up just a few blocks away from Col. Astor's house on 5th Avenue.
Since the death of Millvina Dean, May 31st of 2009, there are no longer any living survivors of the Titanic tragedy. Millvina Dean was just nine weeks old at the time of the Titanic's sinking.
Eileen Slocum who died at 92 at Newport in 2008, was as close as I ever came to the Titanic. She knew Madeleine Astor whose son she almost married, and I knew her. As a child, my great-grandmother twice introduced me to people who were born slaves in America. I have known several people who fought in the First World War and a few survivors of the Holocaust as well. I ought not to be surprized at how people who can connect me with these past tragadies are gone from the scene or are rather rappidly departing, but I'm schocked actually. I'm reminded of how many questions I ought to have asked of Mama Willie, my great-grandmother, of Mrs. Slocum and of others about Titanic, slavery, the rise of Hitler and lots of things. Why? Because although Logan Pearsall Smith was not exactly right, George Santayana, he certainly was.