Saturday, May 18, 2013

The Biltmore House or Hey! You Can't Take Pictures Here!

This is the sun room you see when you first enter the house.  Just as I clicked this picture a smiling lady with a name tag politely told me taking pictures was not allowed.  Since she was smiling I wondered if I should take her picture.  If I had, I bet the smile would suddenly disappear. 

These pictures was taken on the outside, on sort of a what we commoners might call the back porch.

On a previous blog about a year ago I stone-carved ugly faces that graced a buildings 3 floor ledge in downtown Asheville.  The story behind those ugly faces was that the builder was not happy the way the customer  paid him (in bouncing checks) so the ugly faces resembled the customer with the bad checks.  The faces were to embarrass him no doubt.  Now, that we discovered these faces on the top edge of the "back porch" I am wondering him Mr. George Washington Biltmore paid the builder correctly?  

Here is the second  picture I took from inside, but I thought it might be OK because technically,  I was taking a picture of the outside.  Nope.  So said another smiling face. 

You heard of the Beefeater Guards that guard that guard the Buckingham Palace that do not change their expressions, what ever you do or say to them?  Well, these Sentry Lions are the exact way.  Really!  Their expressions didn't change at all, even when I slipped up behind one and slapped my hands near his ear.

I didn't get to take pictures of the basement,, or any other place inside. The basement there is a two-lane bowling alley; an indoor headed swimming pool; the laundry; the kitchen; gym and a long table where the help eats.

On our tour guide audio machines they had a voice of a lady with the last name Kuykendall who worked in the kitchen as a server.  I remember that name because Kuykendall is a genealogical line I am researching.  The lady said one time in front of guests she dropped a tray of food  and it was a disaster.  Which made her a nervous wreck trying to pick it all up until the owner, George W. Vanderbilt, came to her rescue and helped her.  From then on he would kid her about it, referring to her as Sweet Cake or something similar.  I take it that is what she dropped, .  We will never know if he truly shown his compassion for work people or it was a PR stunt.  However, on another tour in another year we learned that he had a church built for his workers who lived in or near Biltmore Villege, just off the property and he taught a Sunday School class.

There is another example of their compassion for ordinary people was that one morning  Mrs. Edith Vanderbilt  was having her breakfast and a little boy was at her knees looking at her.  She gave him something  to eat off her plate and picked him up and jokingly or lovingly asked him what he was doing there.  She addressed him by his name which could mean she cared enough about the help to know them and their family members.  She was also known to be always visiting the housewives of the workers and bringing them gifts and maybe a little cash if the family was having a hard financial time.  If the wife was ill or just had a baby usually Edith would relieve her of her dirty laundry and have it done at the mansion.

 However, it also should be remembered that workers were not allowed to use the nice road with all the beautify scenery, they had to use the back woods trails.  

Inside the mansion is a huge room at least two floors, maybe three high.  It has ladders on wheels where you can go up the side of the wall any place you choose and go up the side.  It is a huge library.  On each level is a walk along the side.  Back then, you probably could find any book in print, in any language.  George Washington Vanderbilt was known for his love of reading.   He was considered a very well read person.
Here is what confuses me:  He also loved to entertain and spent millions up millions to make it comfortable for his friends and relatives to visit, some stayed weeks at a time.  George and Edith kept them entertained.
He also had a huge amount of enterprises on his huge amount of land, then of course, he had a wife and daughter, so he needed family time.  And he loved to do active exercises to stay in shape.  There are only 24 hours in a day and 7 days a week.  More than of one of these that I named probably required eight to ten hours a day, like entertaining, reading, and managing his property... all are worthwhile things to do, but the clock and calendar just won't allow you to do all.  Wow!

After George died Edith continued to run things.  It appeared that George had bitten off more than he could chew and poor Edith had to make some hard financial decisions.  It seemed to be a gift from George ready to spring forth:  George had acquired 125,000 acres of land in North Carolina.  Edith made a deal with the United States Parks Commission to purchase the 125,000 acres, and name it Pigsah National Forest, that way the land would remain undeveloped, which Edith and George wanted anyway.  She sold it for enough money to keep the Biltmore going.  At least she didn't have to sell apples from basket on 42nd Street .


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