When the Astors Owned New York : Blue Bloods and Grand Hotels in a Gilded Age by Justin Kaplan, the airport find that saw me home and quite appropriate after my luxurious Titanic top deck without the sinking experience.
The Titanic link quite relevant because John Jacob Astor IV not quite so lucky as me and took that fateful voyage in April 1912. The story goes that JJ helped his wife into her life jacket, at which point she presumably also had the same trouble as me and couldn't see where she was going so he led her to a lifeboat and waved her off saying "I'll see you in the morning".
Good chap abided by the women-and-children-first law of the sea and went off to play a game of cards while the ship's owner jumped into the first available lifeboat (just let him try that in my lifeboat) Astor's body was eventually found floating erect in his lifebelt with a soggy $2500 dollars in his pocket.
It is amazing to consider the wealth that must have changed hands after the sinking of the Titanic because so many others on board had a bob or two to their name, Benjamin Guggenheim, Isidor Strauss the owner of Macy's store, rare book collector Henry Elkins Widener. Astor himself was thought to be worth about $150 million (translates to $2.4 billion now)
Cousins and enemies John Jacob Astor and William Waldorf Astor enjoying the massive private fortunes that enabled them to create the golden age of the hotel and accommodate the likes of Henry James in the process.The hotel became a great source for fiction and many of the writers of the day used it accordingly including Edith Wharton (think House of Mirth and Lily Bart ) Theodore Dreiser (Sister Carrie) Vicki Baum (Grand Hotel).
This is truly high society and wealth of unimaginable proportions and Justin Kaplan has written the most fascinating of books showing just how they spent it and ultimately how very little pleasure and joy it seemed to bring them.
The Waldorf-Astoria on Fifth Avenue "the epitome of fin-de-siecle luxury...a thousand guest rooms and half a hundred public rooms". Opened in 1897, demolished in 1929 and replaced by The Empire State building.
I knew that the Astor family have local connections to us here in Plymouth, Nancy Astor (daughter-in-law) MP for Plymouth and the first woman MP to sit in the House of Commons back in 1919.Their benevolence and philanthropy such that the name Astor still crops up around the city.
I was unaware how Nancy had arrived and that she had married into the William Waldorf-Astors who had decamped to England buying up Cliveden in Berkshire and Hever Castle in Kent and also the Pall Mall Gazette "written by gentlemen for gentlemen".
Page after page of fascinating reading in this book and factual revelations that filled in quite a few gaps for me, a really good read and some great photographs including a classic painting of Caroline, Mrs William Astor looking, with apologies to living relatives who may stop by here, a bit like she's just caught a whiff of something dead and decaying.