On January 1900, Caroline Astor greeted the new century with her annual Opera Ball. Dressed in a black velvet gown, she was draped with diamond necklaces and brooches and wore her famous diamond tiarathe jewels alone worth over $2.3 million in today's dollars. Her guests danced all night in her palatial ballroom, stopping only for a ten-course supper that included consommé, supr'eme de volaille, filet de boeuf, terrapin, duck croquettes, pâté de foie gras, salade Orientale, and bonbons.
Small in stature, but as determined as ever to maintain the rigid social structure she established decades earlier, Mrs. Astor was every inch an American queen surveying her subjects: families whose wealth and power dominated New York City society for nearly forty years. Just fourteen years later it all came to a crashing end, first with the sinking of the Titanic and then the start of World War I. Caroline Astor would not live to see it.
A Season of Splendor takes you on a spectacular journey through this Gilded Age, the period from roughly the 1870s to 1914, when old-money bluebloods and patricians confronted the nouveau richerailway barons, steel magnates, and Wall Street speculatorsand forged an uneasy and dazzling new social order in New York City. Together, their extreme wealth, elaborate parties, marble mansions, shocking excesses, and delicious scandals transformed the social, architectural, and sartorial landscape.
Author Greg King places you in the heart of this glittering era. You'll meet the rich and famousAstors, Vanderbilts, Belmonts, Goulds, and othersand tour sumptuous estates furnished with marble and silk and filled with antiques, tapestries, and European art. You'll sit at the table of lavish dinner parties that start with two soup courses (consommé and bisque) and include up to twelve more courses, plus sherry, wine, champagne, and liqueurs. You'll attend society balls, go yachting in Newport, buy dresses in Parisand for everything, the more extravagant, the better.
"Money was poured out like water," one society lady recalled. "No one thought of the cost." But by the time parties began to include cigarettes rolled in hundred dollar bills, each stamped with the guest's initials in gold, or live elephants wandering from room to room in mansions to amuse the guests, even Caroline Astor was disillusioned by the excess. The Gilded Ageso named by Mark Twain to capture the essence of its avaricewas beginning to disintegrate from within. In A Season of Splendor, you'll discover all that was beguiling and appalling about this altogether extraordinary epoch.