Sometime this spring, I decided I would leave State College during the Arts Festival. I thought the new team would do better by not having me metaphorically looking over their shoulders. Plus, it’s usually beastly hot and town would be dreadfully crowded. While heat and crowds make a memorable festival, they also make it a great time to get out of Dodge.
As I was mulling over what to do, I got an email from the Classical American Homes Preservation Trust announcing a tour of historic estates of the Hudson Valley. It sounded promising.
The Classical American Homes Preservation Trust (CAHPT) was established by Wall Street bigwig Dick Jenrette, one of the founders of the investment bank Donaldson, Lufkin, & Jenrette. DLJ was purchased for megabucks by Equitable Insurance in 1985. Jenrette became chairman of Equitable’s board and retired in 1996.
Instead of scarfing up hideous modern art, mega yachts, or professional sports teams in the manner of today’s hedge fund guys, Jenrette indulged a passion from a seemingly simpler time. He purchased and restored several architecturally significant historic homes, filling them with museum-quality decorative arts and art.
At the time, I gotta admit, I thought the house belonged to another famous—no, make that notorious—Jenrette, Congressman John Jenrette.
But an opportunity like this wasn’t going to come around too often. So, using the “how bad could it possibly be?” font, I signed up.
It’s almost a mile long and over 200 feet above the Hudson River and I’m deathly afraid of heights, so it was going to be a challenge. When I got to the bridge it was raining cats and dogs. The bridge was closed. Oh well. There’s always a plan B.
I checked in just in time to hear the person in front of me in line go on and on (and on, if you wanna know the truth) about the indignity of housekeeping servicing rooms every third day. As I rolled my eyes I thought, “I bet she’s on the tour….”
The tour was to start at 8:45 on Monday. As I checked out the people eating in the hotel’s breakfast nook, I wondered which of them would be on the tour.
I was still mentally sorting diners into yays and nays when our thirty-or-maybe-twenty-something-on-Grindr tour leader gave a quick welcome to the group and passed out tote bags.
The ranger told us that Sara’s father made money in the “China trade” which I wanted to point out was a euphemism for selling opium to the Chinese. If we’re calling a spade a spade (and sometimes calling a spade a fucking shovel) when it comes to slavery in the South, it seems appropriate to also do it when we’re talking about commercial activity above the Mason Dixon Line.
I wasn’t sure which church Zack went to, but I was reminded of my friend Martha—yes, Martha of the good books and borax mine fame--that she’d never date anyone with what she called an “ostentatious presentation of self”. Meaning wackadoodle facial hair, excess piercings, tats, and well, you get the picture.
Of course, I don’t remember what anyone said, other than the folks at my table. But at the end of the tour, I made some notes on the spreadsheet of tour participants.
Trumpy gay from Richmond, UVa '80. Wants to shoot the homeless.
Ginger bear. Works in logistics. Went to Liberty University!
“I’ve known Robert Kennedy Jr. personally for over 20 years. Not only is he a kook, he’s an IDIOT.”
Married to the guy with badly dyed hair. Complained about lack of maid service at hotel.
Ichabod Crane but with better clothes.
Went to Wellesley, but older than Susan. Didn't ask about Hillary.
The guy you’re glad you didn’t sit by on the bus.
In 2013, the Chanler’s great-great granddaughter Alexandra Aldrich wrote a well-received memoir The Astor Orphan about growing up at Rokeby. Apparently, three families of descendants still live on the third floor, busy with not cleaning up all the junk that litters the property. Rokeby was a welcome reminder that history is, well, messy both figuratively and literally.
There was much discussion on the bus about Bard being the alma mater of Walter Becker and Donald Fagen, the founders of my favorite band Steely Dan. Their song My Old School references Annandale, though when I first heard the song, I thought they were singing about the Annandale in northern Virginia rather than New York.
I don’t think there are many tour groups that can elide effortlessly from Duncan Phyfe to Walter Becker and Donald Fagen. I don’t know how I picked this one, but as they say, even a blind hog can get an acorn. Thank you, Dick Jenrette for making it all possible.