‘Living History’: In the Mansion, It’s 1936

Popular Tours Return for Summer, through Labor Day Weekend

The Vanderbilt Museum will turn back the clock once again when it offers weekend Living History tours beginning on Memorial Day weekend, Saturday and Sunday, May 27-28. Tours will be given at regular intervals on summer weekend afternoons through September 3. Tickets: $8 per person, available only at the door.

Living History cast, from left: Ellen Mason as Elizabeth Arden, Peter Reganato as Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, Beverly Pokorny as Ann Morgan, and Florence Lucker as Consuelo Vanderbilt, the Duchess of Marlborough.
Vanderbilt Museum photo

For more than a decade, Living History tours have delighted visitors to the elegant 24-room, Spanish-Revival waterfront mansion, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. These special, time-machine events feature the Vanderbilts and their servants, who are portrayed by Museum tour guides.

The stories told on the tours are based on the oral histories of people who worked for the Vanderbilts as teenagers and young adults. Some stories originated in Mr. Vanderbilt’s books of his world travels and extensive sea journeys.

This summer it will be 1936 again. “The movie Captains Courageous with Spencer Tracy is playing in the theaters, and Agatha Christie’s new novel, Dumb Witness, is in the bookstores,” said Stephanie Gress, director of curatorial affairs. “Legendary aviator Amelia Earhart is lost at sea in July, and European leaders are faced with threats of German expansion. And the U.S. Post Office issues a commemorative stamp in honor of the women’s voting rights activist and social reformer Susan B. Anthony on the 30th anniversary of her death in 1906.”

Earlier in 1936, New York City Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia – who supported women’s voting rights – had been the keynote speaker at a dinner at the city’s Biltmore Hotel to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the founding of the Women’s City Club in New York. The Living History presentation is set against this background of national and international news.

LaGuardia is invited to Eagle’s Nest to join a few of the Vanderbilt family members – including William K. Vanderbilt’s brother, Harold; his sister, Consuelo, the Duchess of Marlborough; and her guests Elizabeth Arden, Anne Morgan, and her nephew, Henry Sturgis Morgan, Gress said. Mr. Vanderbilt’s sister, Consuelo, and her guests reminisce about their younger days at Suffragette rallies.

Beginning Memorial Day weekend, the Museum will display items in two guest rooms that commemorate the centennial of women’s right to vote in New York State. Included will be an enlargement of the Susan B. Anthony stamp, suffrage banners and sashes, and an authentic outfit worn in that era by Consuelo, the Duchess of Marlborough. (Mr. Vanderbilt’s mother, Alva, also had been active in the movement.)

The Living History cast: Peter Reganato will portray Mayor LaGuardia, who will be reading the comics in the kitchen, practicing for his radio address for later that day. Ellen Mason will play Elizabeth Arden, who created the American beauty industry. Yachtsman Harold Vanderbilt – Willie’s brother, three-time winner of the America’s Cup, and expert on contract bridge – will be portrayed by Jim Ryan and Gerard Crosson. Anne Morgan will be played by Judy Pfeffer and Beverly Pokorny.

The Vanderbilt has been called a “museum of a museum” – the mansion, natural-history and marine collections galleries are preserved exactly as they were when the Vanderbilts lived on the estate.

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