What Takes Shines off The Majestic Mansions?
If the caretaker of a house lives in a 15000 square foot “guest house,” what is the main house called?
The answer is easy: it is called a mansion. In this particular case, Lynnewood Hall which, in its glory days, hosted President Franklin Roosevelt.
Built on a 480-acre estate outside of Philadelphia, the main house boasts a 110-room complex spanning a 70,000-square-foot area. Lynnewood Hall was once called “the last of the American Versailles;” regardless, it is in a pitiful state now.
The elegant fountain in front of the building was dismantled and sold years ago by a poverty-stricken church that had bought the place in 1952 for the paltry sum of $190,000, but could not keep up the maintenance. Its once talk-of-the-town French garden, designed by the legendary landscape architect Jacques Greber of France, is now overgrown with weeds.
The mansion was constructed in 1900 at a cost of $212 million in today's dollars. The ballroom could accommodate 1,000 people, and the mansion was complete with a bakery, a full-time upholstery and carpentry shop. It once had its own power station, horse track and stables, and a 220-acre farm managed by a staff of 100. From a humble beginning as a butcher, its owner built an empire investing in railroad lines, steel, tobacco, and oil.
A house with such a quixotic history intrigues me. Traveling the memory lanes, I regress in time and visit its grand ballroom on a busy night. I witness the gala parties, hear the rich orchestra and the laughter of the revelers, taste the expensive wines, and become overawed in the company of countless rich and powerful people under one roof.
The palace nonetheless had dark alleys, and in there, under its dark shadows, I meet those less fortunate people that worked there and jostled each other for the attention of their masters. I see the games they play on each other, and I see them getting caught for their collusion, getting punished, and being banished to the palaces' darkest quarters.
And, I muse, is it not the same story of all palaces-in-ruin?
I often wonder: is it the sighs of the small people persecuted by their masters, and the tears of those hapless that ultimately bring down the shiny palaces? Is that the unknown history of Lynnewood Hall and all such mighty abodes which are in ruin?