William Kissam Vanderbilt [1878-1944], known as “Willie K.,” was born in 1878 and spent many of his earliest days sailing around the world on various yachts owned by his father. He was educated by tutors, attended St. Mark’s Preparatory School, and studied at Harvard.
When he was twenty years old, Willie K. met Virginia Graham Fair, known as Birdie. She was several years older than he and had been born in poverty. But by the time she met young Vanderbilt she was a wealthy young lady, for her father, nicknamed “Slippery Jim”, was one of the four “Silver Kings” of the rich Comstock Lode in Virginia City, Nevada.
On March 26, 1899, Willie K. and Virginia were married in a Roman Catholic ceremony in the conservatory of the bride’s sister in New York City. Her only jewelry, except the diamond clasps on her veil, was the pear-shaped pearl surrounded by rubies worn as a pendant, the gift of the groom. The couple intended to spend their honeymoon at Idle Hour at Oakdale but the house burned to the ground on their wedding night and they were forced to go elsewhere. They leased the Villa Belvoir at Newport that summer. Then, it was back to work in his father’s office in Grand Central Station, at least for a while.
Willie K. was an accomplished sailor and yachtsman. In 1900 he won the Lipton Cup trophy with his 70-foot yacht Virginia and was presented the award by Sir Thomas Lipton, who initiated the races. In 1904, Willie K. sponsored the first Vanderbilt Cup Race [for motor cars] at Long Island. Later he and a group of investors formed the Long Island Motor Parkway Corporation and built one of the country’s first modern paved parkways.
He served in the Navy during World War I, and was a lieutenant commander in the U.S. Naval Reserve.
After ten years of marriage and the birth of three children, the Vanderbilts separated. Birdie, however, did not file for divorce until April 1927. Willie K. was then at home in Passy, France, Birdie at a hotel in Paris. No alimony was requested, as Birdie had inherited many millions from her father and brother. And, John D. Rockefeller Jr. had recently bought her ornate Gothic residence on Fifth Avenue in New York City for $1,500,000.
In September following the divorce, Willie K. and Rosamund Lancaster Warburton, of Philadelphia, were married in a civil ceremony at the mayor’s office in Paris. Rosamund was born in Worcester, Massachusetts, in 1897. In 1919 she was married to Barclay Harding Warburton Jr., son of Major Warburton and his wife Mary Brown Wanamaker, daughter of the department store founder John Wanamaker, of Philadelphia. She divorced the year before her marriage to Willie K.
Willie K. owned a hunting lodge and preserve in Canada, a farm in Tennessee, a place at Fisher’s Island in Florida (complete with seaplane hangar, docking facilities, an eleven-hole golf course, each hole being named after one of his yachts, tennis courts, swimming pool, etc.), and the summer estate at Centerport, Eagle’s Nest. Willie K. died in early 1944 of a heart ailment; Rosamund died three years later, and the estate along with a $2,000,000 fund for its perpetuation, was left to Suffolk County, Long Island.