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Published: November 26th 2018
Poet, novelist and travel writer William Graham holds a BA and MA in English and a MS in Communication from Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. He lives in Stowe, Vermont. His most recent book is Border Crossings: Travel Essays and Poems.
Have you ever wished that your house had 35 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms and 65 fireplaces among 250 rooms in total? If you did, my guess is that you wouldn't be living there alone and sweeping your own floors. You would have dozens of servants and groundskeepers. Your name would likely be Vanderbilt--George Vanderbilt to be precise. And you would be in the grandiose architectural marvel known as the Biltmore, which is nestled in the mountains outside of Asheville, North Carolina.
This past Thanksgiving week, my family and I visited this stunning home, reputed to be the largest private residence in the United States. During our tour we saw the elegance and splendor that untold millions of dollars could buy at the end of the 19th century. The house was constructed as Vanderbilt's country retreat from 1889 to 1895. The walking tour covers approximately 38 of the 250 total rooms, starting in the grand entrance hall and ending in the basement, where there is
a bowling alley, a pool (now drained), the kitchen and laundry rooms, and the servants quarters. For its time the house possessed all the modern conveniences, including flush toilets and electricity.
When we visited, many of the common rooms were decked out in riotous Christmas finery. I lost count of the number of Christmas trees that the staff had put up and decorated for the benefit of gawking visitors. It was Christmas cheer on steroids.
In addition to the house, there is also a nearby village on the property that features hotels, shops and a winery. The village is a pleasant place to enjoy a meal or a scoop of excellent ice cream.
This is the second Vanderbilt home that I have visited; the other being The Breakers
in Newport, Rhode Island. Both homes symbolize the wealth and social prominence of the Vanderbilt family. And both homes showcase an unabashed glorification of conspicuous consumption that was so prevalent during our country's Gilded Age.
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