Newport, Wall Street, the Gilded Age and its Collapse!
Richard J. Garfunkel
November 28, 2006
It is not a long drive to Newport from, Tarrytown New York. One goes east on the Cross Westchester Expressway and since it’s about twelve miles from the Tappan Zee Bridge to the Connecticut border it should only take about 15 or so minutes to reach the New England Thruway. Once on the New England (I-95) one keeps going slightly northeast past Greenwich, Stamford, New Haven, and New London and across Connecticut until the Rhode Island frontier. One could stay on I-95 until Route #138 in Rhode Island, or one could drive along the scenic ocean on Route 1 and go past the little towns that dot the Block Island Sound coast. In fact, if one wanted to go to Block Island one could pick up the ferry docked along the State Pier, Galilee, at Point Judith and take a leisurely 12-mile trip out in the Atlantic. One would dock at Champlin’s Marina, in the Great Salt Pond (New Harbor) at Block Island in about 45 minutes depending on how rough was the water.
Block Island is a quaint get-away place that has a lot of beach, about 17-miles worth, 250-foot bluffs and 350 freshwater ponds. The island has a winter population of about 800, but many people own and live in houses for the summer. I was up there twice, once in the early 1980’s with our kids and the second time in the mid 1990’s. Both times we stayed with our friends from White Plains, the Keating’s, who own a Dutch Gambrel house a few miles from the small downtown. But there are a great many day visitors who take the ferry from Point Judith, Providence, New London, or even Orient Beach on the north fork of Long Island.
Meanwhile it’s about 150 miles or so to the Claiborne Pell – Newport Bridge that leads from Jamestown right into Farewell Street or the northern part of Newport. Of course when we first took this bridge across to Newport the toll was about $2.00 and I jokingly asked the toll-taker why it was so expensive, and she retorted that, “Newport was an expensive town!” She was right about that. But ironically the toll hasn’t changed much in many years. On the other hand, one could spend $8.00 to go back and forth on the Whitestone Bridge and one would only be in and out of Queens. Speaking of the bridge and its new name, when Claiborne Pell (born, 1918, went to Princeton, Class of 1940) retired from the United States Senate 1997 (He served from 1961-1997.) they renamed the bridge in his honor. That was a nice touch. He was quite well liked and was largely responsible for the educational “Pell” Grants (1973). His fore bearers went way back to colonial times and he is a descendent of a number of Congressmen, at least two Senators, and is the great, great grandnephew of Senator and Vice-President George M. Dallas, a Democrat, who served as Vice-President of the United States with James Polk, from 1844 to 1849.
Newport was the home of the super rich of the late 19th century, and the best-known family name that built their summer “cottages” in Newport were the Vanderbilt’s. They were descendants of Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt (1794-1877). He was descended from an indentured servant named Jan Aertson, who emigrated (1650) from the Village of De Bilt, which was located in Utrecht in the Netherlands to New York. In Dutch “van der” means “of the,” so Jan Aertson, who was van der (of the) Bilt, added Vanderbilt to his name. The Commodore first made his money in steamboat ferries that plied their trade along the Hudson. In the 1840’s with over 100 of these boats his fortune was soon established. It was said that he was the largest employer in the United States in those days. He eventually supplied ships for those hardy souls that wished to sail around the Horn to San Francisco and partake in the Gold Rush of 1849. Eventually the Commodore sold his ship holdings, became a director of the Long Island Railroad, acquired the New York and Harlem Railroad, and by 1869 merged a number of these lines into the New York Central and Hudson Railroad. He then built the Grand Central Station. On the same day as his death, in 1877, the glass roof of the Grand Central Station collapsed in a snowstorm. He left a large fortune of $100 million. The bulk of it went to his son William K. ($95 million). His eight daughters and his second wife (his first wife died in 1869) were left $500,000 each. He also left 2000 shares in the New York Central Railroad to his second wife, whose mother was a distant cousin to his own mother. It was that part of the family that had convinced him to leave $1 million for the creation of Vanderbilt University.
Two of the most famous of these “cottages” of that era were the Breakers and the Marble House. At William K. Vanderbilt’s death (1821-1885), only nine years after his father’s demise, he had increased his inherited fortune to over $200 million. Therefore it was left to his sons, Cornelius Vanderbilt II (1843-1899), who built the Breakers and his brother William K. Vanderbilt (1849-1920) to built the Marble House to establish the Newport society that we know of today. Another brother, George Washington Vanderbilt II (1862-1914), built the fabulous Biltmore in Asheville, North Carolina that helped usher in the Gilded Age, an era of profligate spending and American noblesse oblige.
Newport is much different today, as one could understandably assume. The Gilded Age probably had ended with World War I and Woman’s Suffrage. But it certainly ended with the stock market crash of 1929. The Dow Jones Average had hit a high of on September 3, 1929, at 381.17. The market had been a bit shaky throughout the fall. Richard Whitney (1888-1974), who had graduated from Groton and Harvard, as did Franklin D. Roosevelt, but was admitted to Pocellian, unlike the late President, was a Wall Street legend. He was a member of the New York Stock Exchange at age twenty-three, was elected to the Board of Governors at thirty-one, and was the head of his own investment company. He was the mirror of the “old guard” of the New York Stock Exchange, which was a loose group of wealthy investors who crafted and guided its direction and destiny. As the leader of this group and at that time in the fall of 1929, he was a Vice-President of the Exchange and its acting President. At the beginning of the Panic on “Black Thursday”, October 24, 1929, he moved on the floor in the midst of the selling frenzy, and placed huge orders in an attempt to bring confidence back to the marketplace and to try to stem the avalanche of selling. He placed an order for 10,000 shares of US Steel at 205, which was 40 points above its current selling price. He also placed other orders for his group in a number of other blue-chip stocks. These orders were estimated to be in the range of $20 million. No one in history had ever spent that type of money in a single afternoon. Of course since he was associated with the House of Morgan, many traders assumed that Morgan was behind such incredible action. This legendary effort seemed to work for a while, and the market, which had dropped precipitously, seemed to take pause. That day over 12.9 million shares had changed hands and the market had lost an incredible amount of its value. Over the weekend investors thought over the situation and decided to sell their holdings and the market absorbed a record 13% loss in value. This set the stage for its ultimate collapse. On “Black Tuesday”, October 29, 1929 the selling reached a historically un-reached crescendo. The losses were incredible and with record 16.4 million shares traded, the market lost another 12%. The market crash had wiped out an incredible amount of wealth. It would eventually bottom out at 41.22 on July 8, 1932 to a level not seen since the 1800’s. By April of 1942 it would have lost 75% of its 1929 value and the Dow Jones Industrial Average would not recover to its 1929 levels until November of 1954. Richard Whitney would still represent the “old guard” as its spokesperson. He served multiple terms as its President from 1930 onward and would be a frequent witness in front of Congressional Hearings until 1935. Because reform elements had indicated he would be opposed fore re-lection in 1935, he chose not to run again. Ironically, he was a terrible manager of his own money. He borrowed from friends and investors by using the name of JP Morgan as his assumed backer. It was estimated that he had borrowed over $30 million and by 1938 he declared bankruptcy and owed over $6 million personally. He was indicted, and pled guilty to misuse of funds and spent three years and four months of his five-to-ten year sentence in the Big House at Sing Sing.
Of course, when I worked on Wall Street in the summer of 1969 many things had changed, but much had still stayed the same. I was at Bache & Company, a well-known brokerage house located high up in the 40 Wall Street skyscraper. The year before, in 1968, Wall Street had enjoyed a terrific year. Volume was at all-time high. Trading on the New York Stock Exchange, on a daily basis, was exceeding those record-setting disastrous days of October 1929. If one would include the Over-the-Counter (the fore runner of the NASDAQ) volume and the American Stock Exchange, the street was now trading daily 30+ million shares on an average. Of course, just like 40 years earlier, big changes were also on they way. The “artificial” volume brought on by the peace-feelers in Paris regarding the ongoing Vietnam War, the withdrawal of LBJ from the Presidential race, the murders of Martin Luther King, and Robert Kennedy and the Presidential campaign of 1968, that elected Richard Nixon, had created money and paper work for the “pre-computer age” Wall Street. Those 30 million shares were causing processing problems that were unheard of just a few years earlier. The “street” which, of course included Bache & Company, had to process its “paper” somewhere. It had to lease out space, hire secretaries and all sorts of back-office help. Bache was the second biggest brokerage house with 100 offices around the country. But, Merrill-Lynch, which had over 1000 offices, dwarfed it, and all of its smaller competitors. In fact, Merrill had more offices than all the rest of the industry combined. Therefore, when the country returned to a more normal state in the spring and summer of 1969, volume dropped off dramatically. It wasn’t that the market had crashed. It was an era of relatively high interest rates, government debt had escalated over the eight Kennedy-Johnson years and war, and the market was incredibly flat. There just wasn’t any volume. The price/earnings ratio had been growing upward until 1967 and, again, after the turmoil of 1968, it started to shrink until the computer revolution of the 1980’s. So the market would hover around the 1000-point mark until the early 1980’s.
As a consequence of that volume drop, business on Wall Street started to slump. Many companies had over-extended themselves because of the paper processing and storage dilemma and therefore went broke. There were incredible lay-offs, old companies merged and many disappeared. It was tough to create investor interest in a market that went sideways. Inflation has always been the bane of the capitalist. When money markets rival the return on equities, the buyer will beware. Most people would love to find fixed and guaranteed rates of return in the seven percent range. They would run from the stock market in a moment.
Of course the Gilded Age and Newport’s grand society had gone out of fashion way before my time on Wall Street. The panic and collapse of the economy, brought on by the crash resulted in a massive deflation that President Herbert Hoover called the “Depression.” The New Deal, authored by Franklin D. Roosevelt stopped the bleeding, but because of the severity of the collapse it could never resurrect the artificially inflated, halcyon days of the 1920’s. Of course present day business -oriented “talking heads” like to say that the New Deal prolonged the slump. Of course they have conveniently forgotten that the 1920’s made the “Techie Bubble” of 2000 look like a walk in the park. The post-World War I years were artificially sustained by the collapse of European economies. During the war American railroads, our biggest employer and the farms were booming. Farms couldn’t grow enough food for needy Europe and between coal and grain shipments the railroads were booming. After the war, the European economies were still devastated and the American economic juggernaut continued its happy charge. But there were economic rumblings being heard and even though there was a return to the pre-war wealth, there would be great change in the wind.
Meanwhile, Newport was founded in 1639 by a small group of Boston colonists who had first settled on Aquidneck Island at Portsmouth and then made their way south, where there was an excellent harbor leading into Narragansett Bay. By the mid 1700’s Newport was a center of commerce and shipbuilding. Because of all the sea borne commerce between New England and the Caribbean, piracy also sprung up in the region. Even the infamous Captain Kidd broke bread with Thomas Paine in Jamestown, which is located east of Newport, across the Bay. Colonial Newport was an unusually sophisticated and cosmopolitan place and even other religious groups, besides the Anglicans were welcomed. It continued to grow until the revolution disrupted life and commerce, and after the war its commercial importance declined rapidly. Even in the period from 1825 to about the mid 1850’s Newport started to develop as a vacation and tourist haven. Bellevue Avenue, the present location of most of the old Gilded Age mansions, became home to many hotels, and in 1839 Kingscote, a Gothic-style edifice, was erected by a Georgian planter George Noble Jones. The British writer Anthony Trollope wrote of Newport as a resort center in 1862. Eventually it was not fashionable to stay in a hotel while summering in Newport, so people staying for the season had to rent or own a cottage. By the 1860’s there were over 250 summerhouses and about 100 were available to be rented. The Civil War stopped the flow of Southerners, who had originally migrated from the hot climes of the south for the summer. As a result of that change, Newport became dominated by the beautiful and rich from Boston and New York.
In 1879, James Gordon Bennett, Jr., the owner of the New York Herald, and a yachtsman, was snubbed by some of the members of Newport’s leading club. He therefore built the Newport Casino, where people could dine, listen to music and play tennis. In truth, he was right, and the “beautiful” people eventually started to come to The Casino. Also let us not forget that Bennett owned a polo field at the corner of 110th Street and 5th Avenue in Manhattan. The New York Giants, after they had moved from Troy, NY in 1883 and the owner John T. Brush contracted to play baseball on his field. Eventually a new street had to be made through his property and the Giants again moved uptown. The Newport Casino, which opened up on August 2, 1880, still sits on Bellevue Avenue across from where Bennett’s home used to be. Now there is a shopping center. It was immediately a great success. One can still sit today in the La Forge Restaurant and look out on the original lawn tennis court. Newport and tennis became synonymous and the first United States National lawn tennis championships were held there in 1881. Richard Sears, a 19-year old Harvard student won the inaugural event and went on to win six more championships without losing a set. Eventually there was doubles competition and Sears entered into it in 1882, and with both James Dwight and Joseph Clark, won five titles in a row. The championships stayed there until the onset of World War I and after 1914 never returned. Time and democracy moved on, and Nationals moved to the West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills, NY for the next 63 years. Even the Forest Hills facility became antiquated as the Nationals eventually became an “Open” and the professionals started to dominate the game. The National Tennis Center at Flushing Meadows became the next and present venue.
But there were still amateur grass-court tennis events every summer through the 1960’s. Some of the most memorable champions of the Casino Invitation were Bill Tilden (1919,1926-7,9,30), Ellsworth Vines (1931-2), Don Budge (1935,37-8), Bobby Riggs (1936), Bill Talbert (1942,48), Pancho Gonzalez (1949), Tony Trabert (1953), Rod Laver (1960) and Chuck McKinley (1962, 64), who later on, happened to be married to my AB Davis classmate Fran Sanders, who I see once a year during the High Holidays.
Today Newport is still a stop on the men and women’s professional tennis tour. It is not a great field usually, but one can easily get up close and personal with the players. Our first visit to The Casino to see a tournament was in July of 1984. On this occasion the Miller’s National Tennis Hall of Fame, which is located in The Casino had it’s annual inductions. Francisco “Pancho” Segura, Neal Fraser, Manuel Santana and the Australian tennis pair of John Bromwich and Adrian Quist were inducted. As a youngster, in 1957, I wound up being a ball boy in a tennis match that featured Pancho Segura and Ramu Raju, a top-notch Indian player against the great young amateur brothers, Lloyd (age, 18) and Leslie Moglen (age, 16) who happened to be from Mount Vernon, NY, my home town. They were handsome blond demigods who lived down Lorraine Avenue hill and just to the right on Esplanade. They were probably in their late teens in those days and I knew nothing about them except they were ranking Eastern players. Later I met and became friendly with Dave Brechner, who was their contemporary. Dave was a great ambidextrous player from Princeton, who got to meet the Moglen’s a number of times on, and off, the courts. He wasn’t their greatest fan!
Lloyd M. Moglen M.D., psychiatrist, Newport Beach, Ca., died on July 27, 2002. Moglen was born in Brooklyn on November 23, 1939, and earned his M.D. from the University of Louisville in 1966. During his undergraduate years, ar Colombia, Moglen played No. 1 for the freshman and varsity tennis teams and captained the team in 1960. He won the boys’ and junior New York State Championships for six consecutive years, retiring both trophies. One of his tennis career highlights was a first round upset of the then No. 1 seeded junior, Butch Bucholtz, 6–4, 6–3, at the Junior National Tennis Championships. His senior term paper on the Sacco and Vanzetti case was instrumental in their posthumous pardon. Moglen was a loyal brother of Tau Epsilon Phi. After two years of psychiatric residency at the University of Cincinnati, he entered private practice in Foster City, Calif., and enjoyed an active practice for the next 32 years. During this time, he earned the love and gratitude of thousands of patients and the deep respect of his fellow psychiatrists. He pioneered the psychiatric counseling genre of radio talk show for seven years on KQRA in San Francisco. Moglen is survived by his former wife, Diane; daughter, Laurel; son, Brandon ’98J; brothers, Les ’62 and Leland ’66; and sister, Betty Lou.
Leslie Moglen, MD- A newspaper article about him in the San Francisco Examiner, September 14, 1998!
The misgivings, for both women, started immediately, moments after emerging from the haze of anesthesia. As they lay in the recovery room, both felt instant, grave doubts. “The room was dirty, there were spider webs on the ceiling,” remembers Beverly Leonard. “It was a cattle-herding operation,” remembers Tere Brenner. “A girl was lying by me in pain; she was moaning. The doctor said to me, “She's a baby.' ” I thought, “Gee, I hope I'm not a baby.' ” The women don't know each other, but their experiences with the same San Francisco plastic surgeon, Dr. Leslie Moglen, are remarkably similar. Both say they wound up in excruciating pain from complications after breast augmentations, both required corrective operations, both wound up suing Moglen. Brenner settled her case; Leonard's is pending. And both women live with abiding regret, blaming themselves for not investigating Moglen's track record before undertaking elective surgery. “I think it is terrible that that man is allowed to practice medicine at all,” says Leonard, 37, a paralegal who lives in Concord. “It is appalling to me that he was allowed to continue to practice considering all the many problems he's had,” says Brenner, also 37, a San Mateo resident. “And it's appalling that, as a physician, he would allow himself to practice. You would think that he would wake up one morning and say, “Maybe I'm not good at this.' ”
Leslie Moglen, MD, A San Francisco Plastic Surgeon, responds:
Moglen says he has had innumerable patients happy with the results of their elective procedures. The subjective nature of plastic surgery, he says, inevitably leads some to unrealistic goals. “I don't think I'd be in practice . . . if the vast majority of my patients were not satisfied with the results,” he says. “You occasionally operate on a patient who has unrealistic expectations. If the result falls short, there is frequently sadness and anger.” Some of Moglen's former patients say their cases epitomize profound lapses within a medical watchdog system designed to ensure consumer safety. State medical authorities are failing to sufficiently monitor doctors, the patients say, thus allowing problem-prone physicians to practice without enough scrutiny, without adequate public warning, without malpractice insurance. Moglen, they say, has remained in practice despite clear-cut signals of incompetency. Between 1983 and 1997, Moglen was a defendant in more than 24 lawsuits lodged in San Francisco Superior Court by patients accusing him of malpractice, negligence or personal injury. San Francisco lawyer Michael Fitzsimons, who has represented Moglen in civil litigation, says the majority of cases were dismissed, resolved in the doctor's favor, “or there was a nominal amount paid.” Moglen says the largest settlement was $60,000.
Disciplined by state<
Moglen also has been disciplined by the state. In 1993, the Medical Board of California suspended him for 30 days and placed him on probation for seven years over his handling of three patients, including Brenner, in what the state termed a “pattern of repeated negligent acts.” Then, his probation was extended another three years for business violations. Two years ago, while he was on probation, one of his patients, Jennifer Ha of Santa Rosa, died following surgery. The state now seeks to revoke the medical license Moglen has held for 31 years. He is charged with gross negligence, incompetence and dishonesty in the Ha death, and with mishandling the case of another patient just five months later. “Dr. Moglen has demonstrated that he cannot safely practice medicine in a surgical field,” says Dave Carr, San Francisco-based deputy attorney general prosecuting Moglen. “It puts people at risk. We have demonstrated more than a risk, but a death. The board wants to ensure it doesn't happen again.”
Getting back to Newport, on that day in July, the semi-finals matched up Vijay Amritraj (who later played a tennis-playing British agent in the Bond film “Octopussy”) against Leif Shiras and then Tim Mayotte against John Sadri, Amitraj would go on to win the event as he did earlier in 1976 and 1980. The whole venue was so entertaining that we decided to come back the next year and see the 1985 Virginia Slims of Newport tournament held between July 15th and the 21st. The semi-finals featured the great Chris Every-Lloyd, the Floridian, who was then 31, versus Eva Pfaff, age 24, from West Germany and in the other match, Wendy Turnball, who was a 33 year old Australian, versus Pam Shriver, who was a Baltimorean then just 23 years old. It wasn’t a surprise that Evert won both the singles and the doubles partnering with Wendy Turnball. I vividly remember standing right next to Chrissy while she leaned against the railing, as she watched some of the other players warming up, and thinking to myself how small she was at 5’ 4” and 114 pounds. Today women tennis players are much, much bigger, and for sure much more powerful. The Williams sisters and Lindsay Davenport are over 5’ 10” and weigh at least 150+ lbs! After an interruption of one year, we made it back to Newport for the July 6-12, 1987 summer edition of the Volvo Tennis/ Hall of Fame Championships. The Men’s field was a lot weaker with only a few name players, which included Wally Masur, Paul Annacone, and Bill Scanlon. There were upsets in the second round as top seeded David Pate (ranked 19) lost to the eventual winner Dan Goldie (ranked 99) and Scott Davis (ranked 21), the second seed lost to the other finalist and runner-up, Sammy Giammalva (ranked 85). In 1987 the inductees to the Hall were a formidable group, which included some real greats, as with Bjorn Borg and Billie Jean King. The others, Alex Olmedo, Dennis Ralston, and Stan Smith, weren’t so bad either, but they weren’t really in Borg or King’s class.
Of course, the reason The Casino was built in the first place was the aforementioned incident, involving the quirky newspaper man James Gordon Bennett, Jr., who had earlier caused a stir by sending reporter Henry Stanley to Africa to find the lost and reclusive Dr. David Livingston, of “Dr. Livingston, I presume!” One dull day in 1879, in a fit of spirited good times and fun, Bennett dared Captain Candy, a visiting polo player, to bring his horse into Bennett’s club, The Reading Room. His fellow members weren’t amused by having a horse cantering around their sanctum and threw the horse out along with Bennett. Therefore since they couldn’t take a joke, Bennett established is own place, The Casino. Years later, another Candy- Candace Van Alen, asked her tennis-playing enthusiast husband, Jimmy Van Alen, “Why doesn’t tennis have a Hall of Fame like baseball.” A year later, in 1954, Van Alen posed the question to the US Tennis Association. Therefore, with that question posed, the Tennis Hall of Fame started to come into existence. A few of the early inductees were Oliver Campbell, James Dwight, Richard Sears, the first champion, Henry Slocum, Jr., Malcolm Whitman and Robert Wrenn. Even Jimmy Van Alen was inducted in 1965. It only took another 21 years, for the Hall of Fame to be renamed the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1975 with the induction of the great Englishman Fred Perry.
The Casino is quite unique because it is the only Hall of Fame that has a real championship played there. Baseball and football are played at Cooperstown and Canton, but they are only exhibition games that do not count in the seasonal standing. But, of course sports aside, Newport is still the home of many, many rich people. Some of them did liked to be inconvenienced, and when a cold rain comes through there is not much shelter. Jimmy Van Alen’s mother, Mrs. Louis S. Bruguiere, was one of the Grande Dames of Newport society, and a large contributor to The Casino. Shenever liked to be vulnerable to the weather and the winds of chance and therefore she would attend the matches and remain in her Rolls-Royce, which entered the grounds through a back route. She would park behind the grandstand and watch from the comfort of her very luxurious car. By the way, tennis at The Casino wasn’t always economically successful. In 1967, after attendance had been slipping for years a desperate move was made, and James Van Alen, always the tennis innovator, suggested that the “Virginia Slims Invitational,” an all-female event come to Newport. Finally, in 1971, with the likes of Margaret Court, Françoise Durr, Billie Jean King, Chris Evert, and Kerry Melville, it was standing room only. Miss Durr stayed with Countess Szapary at the Breakers and it was said that her bedroom was large enough to practice her game. This eventually bolstered Newport’s tennis reputation and the women have been there ever since.
But Newport has many other attractions. When one crosses the Pell-Newport Bridge and turns right onto Farewell Street, within a few short blocks one could find a very different and old neighborhood centered around Touro Synagogue. Thought it is just down the block and across Memorial Boulevard, it seems light years from the glitter and faux image of The Casino and Belleview Avenue.
Because religious freedom was scarce in Portugal and Spain in the late1400’s and both Jews and Moslems were given the choice to convert to Christianity, leave or die. Many Jews moved to the New World and to Dutch colonies specifically. Roger Williams, who was forced to leave the Puritan Colony of Massachusetts because of his own religious beliefs, was convinced of the necessity of the separation between “church and state.” Therefore, Williams and his fellow colonists were able to convince King Charles II to go along with what was called the “lively experiment.”
…that no person within the said colony, at any time hereafter shall be any wise molested, punished, disquieted, or called into, for any differences in opinion in matters of religion.
For that reason, information reached backed to the West Indies of a colony based on religious freedom, a stream of Sephardic Jewish families immigrated to Newport in 1658. They eventually grew, prospered and looked to Amsterdam for a Rabbi. In 1758 Isaac Touro came to Newport, and officiated as a cantor, and functioned a rabbi. Eventually the congregation grew and an architect was hired to construct a place of worship.
Therefore, in this section of Newport, the old Touro Synagogue, named in honor of Isaace Touro, remains the home of the oldest Jewish congregation in America. The architectural landmark, designed by Peter Harrison, was dedicated in 1762, and completed in 1763 after four years of planning and work. One can see, in front of the synagogue, a bronzed copy of President George Washington’s answer to a letter sent by the congregation’s warden, Mr. Moses Seixas. It reads the following:
To the Hebrew Congregation in Newport Rhode Island.
While I receive, with much satisfaction, your Address replete with expressions of affection and esteem; I rejoice in the opportunity of assuring you, that I shall always retain a grateful remembrance of the cordial welcome I experienced in my visit to Newport, from all classes of Citizens.
The reflection on the days of difficulty and danger which are past is rendered the more sweet, from a consciousness that they are succeeded by days of uncommon prosperity and security. If we have wisdom to make the best use of the advantages with which we are now favored, we cannot fail, under the just administration of a good Government, to become a great and happy people.
The Citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy: a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For happily the
Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.
It would be inconsistent with the frankness of my character not to avow that I am pleased with your favorable opinion of my Administration, and fervent wishes for my felicity. May the children of the Stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other Inhabitants; while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid. May the father of all mercies scatter light and not darkness in our paths, and make us all in our several vocations useful here, and in his own due time and way everlastingly happy.
Right along Touro Street is an old neighborhood of many 18th century buildings. Walking along the narrow alleys of Bull, Spring, Marlborough, and Sherman Streets one could see the Colony House, the Court House, the Newport Historical Society, Hazard House and many, many quaint shops. Also along Touro Street is the Viking Hotel, which at one time was one of the best places to stay. Now there are scores of “Beds and Breakfast” places to stay that range from $120 to $200 per night. They are basically clapboard or wood-shingled one to two-storied edifices that have been kept in excellent condition. People live in some of them, there are offices in others, and some of the larger ones are now “Bed and Breakfasts.” Almost all have an historical designation sign placed near their front door or at the corner of the house. One year we stayed in the Admiral Farragut Inn and, as I can recall, it was quite pleasant. We even went to a Friday night service at Touro Synagogue one evening. Touro Synagogue was and remains affiliated with the orthodox movement and therefore there are two different levels with a women’s gallery upstairs, reached by a separate staircase. Each level has twelve columns, carved from a single tree representing the twelve tribes of Israel. But today most of the membership is no longer Sephardic, but Askenazic and few are orthodox. I can recall quite vividly that Friday night that there were many men in uniform.
Newport is still home to the US Naval War College. The college was founded in 1884 and wargaming and strategy became part of the early curriculum in 1887. The main building of the College is named for the famous naval visionary, Captain Alfred Thayer Mahan (1840-1914), who led the Naval War College from 1886-89, and again from 1892 thru 1893. Eventually the NWC was expanded to its present size in the 1970’s, and the last major additional, Spruance Hall, was named after NWC head, Admiral Raymond A. Spruance (1886-1969) who commanded our fleet victoriously at the Battle of Midway. Spruance eventually was promoted to the high rank of Fleet Admiral, despite having his promotion blocked numerous times by Congressman Carl Vinson who was a friend of his rival Admiral William “Bull” Halsey.
As one comes back up the hill past Touro Synagogue and the Viking Hotel one reaches Memorial Boulevard. On one trip we stayed in a private home that overlooked Memorial Drive just north of Bellevue Avenue and not far from the beginning of the North End of the Cliff Walk. One can look down Memorial Boulevard heading towards Middletown and see the land bridge that cuts across an inlet of the Rhode Island Sound. On the side that faces the Sound is Easton’s Beach. On the other side of the road is Easton’s Pond. Past the land bridge, and at the entrance to Middletown are beach houses and seafood restaurants. Crossing Memorial Drive from Touro Synagogue, is The Casino and a well-off end of Bellevue Avenue. This section of Bellevue is the home of many of the remaining mansions. The big attractions are The Elms, Chateau-Sur-Mer, The Breakers, Rosecliff and the Marble House. The Breakers, which is Rhode Island’s most popular tourist Mecca, is the grandest of all the mansions. Even its surrounding concrete wall and wrought iron fence would cost a fortune to replicate today. Cornelius Vanderbilt II originally paid $450,000 for the 71-acre site, which has the most magnificent view of the ocean. The first “Breakers” burned down in 1892, and the one that remains today is completely fireproof. It was opened for public viewing in 1948, and the Newport Preservation Society purchased it in 1972. The front wrought iron gates weigh seven tons, and the scrollwork arch is thirty feet high. Of course the view of the ocean, and Ochre Point is breathtaking and unique to this mansion. The Great Hall rises to 50 feet and the first floor and logia open on to a panoramic view of the Cliff Walk and the Atlantic Ocean. We have always visited The Breakers when we were in Newport In our recent trip we also visited the equally incredible Marble House. It took four years to build this white marble palace. It was finished in 1892 for Mrs. William K. Vanderbilt, and Harold S. Vanderbilt, the yachtsman, gave it to the Society in 1963. The high Corinthian columns and its balustrade drive make it the most impressive of the Bellevue Avenue cottages. The rooms in the Marble House are even more impressive than The Breakers. The dining room and the Gothic Room are incredibly impressive, but the Gold Ballroom is almost unlike anything outside of the Versailles Palace. Its chandeliers, carved gilt wall panels, mirrors, ceiling and mythological figures make this room incredibly unique. It is just breathtaking! Going to the rear of the Marble House one would find the Chinese Tea House, a lavishly decorated outdoor structure built in 1914 for the former Mrs. William K. Vanderbilt, who had divorced her husband and had remarried one Oliver Hazard Perry Belmont.
One of the earliest of the super-mansions built was Chateau-Sur-Mer, which was built out of Fall River granite in 1852, for William S. Wetmore. Seth Bradford and Richard Morris Hunt, the most popular Newport architect, remodeled the mansion in the early 1870s’for Wetmore, who made his fortune in the China trade. The rooms are interesting, especially with its wood paneling, but they pale in comparison with The Breakers or the Marble House. The Elms, built for coal magnate EJ Berwind in 1901, is a copy of Chateau d’Agnes, at Asniere, France. Its immense stairway and triple doors leads directly to its unique divided stairs. The grounds are superior to all of the other houses with its fountains, lawn and statuary. Its rooms are almost in the league of The Breakers, or Marble House, but not as ornate. In the back is a marvelous sunken garden with two gazebos that flank the upper terrace. Rosecliff, built in 1902 for Mrs. Hermann Oelrichs, is a 40-room French chateau that was modeled on the Court of Love, designed by Augustus Saint Gaudens, after Marie Antoinette’s home at Versailles. It was given to the Society in 1971. Rosecliff was the location for the filming of the Great Gatsby in 1973.
Of course not all of Newport is tennis and Mansion hopping. Though at one time one could drive out on Ocean Drive and find their way to Hammersmith Farm. Hammersmith Farm was established in 1640, when a surveyor for the English crown, one William Brenton was awarded 1100 acres for his efforts for Charles II. Hammersmith Farm, up until recently was owned by only three families. Brenton’s loyalist descendents owned it until1780, when it was confiscated by the local colonists. For a hundred years, a family named Ayrault owned it until it was sold it off to John Auchicloss in 1887. A few summers later it was deeded to his younger brother Hugh. Hugh had a son, Hugh Jr., who married Janet Lee Bouvier (1907-1989). Ms. Bouvier had divorced her husband, a rake named John Vernou “Black Jack” Bouvier III (1891-1957). Bouvier, a notorious womanizing stockbroker fathered two daughters Jacqueline (1929-1994) and Lee. Jacqueline, who as a young gal, went to the Chapin School in Manhattan, Mrs. Porter’s School in Farmington, Connecticut and Vassar. She eventually worked for the Washington Times-Herald as the Inquiring Camera Girl in 1951. Her job was to interview interesting people. It was through this job that the engaged Jackie Bouvier ( to one John Husted), met the young Massachusetts Senator, John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Her mother, Janet Lee, was opposed to her engagement to Mr. Husted because of his supposed lack of wealth. As things happen, Jackie broke her engagement, became romantically involved with Senator Kennedy, a most eligible bachelor. Eventually they were married in a remarkable ceremony held on the lawn of Hammersmith Farm on September 12, 1953. There were over 2000 guests at this social event of the season. One of them was not the father-of-the-bride. It was said that the Auchincloss family did not want “Black Jack” to give away the bride. It was rumored that friends of the family effectively lubricated him, the night before the wedding, and in his inebriated state he was unable to make the event.
Years later when, after I met my future wife Linda (who worked actively in the Robert Kennedy Campaign of 1968), I came in contact with her cousin the famous Frederick W. Rosen, Lt. Commander (retired) who had just happened to have served in the PT Boats and was a contemporary and friend of Jack Kennedy. Fred was born in Brooklyn in 1917 (the same year as JFK), and moved to Georgia in the 1930’s when his older brother sought opportunities in the textile industry. Fred enlisted in the US Navy and met Jack Kennedy in Charlestown when they were both assigned to the Commandant’s staff in the code-deciphering department. Kennedy had been stuck in this unglamorous duty and some historians thought that he was there being “set-up” by the FBI. During that period of time the handsome, single Kennedy was having a relationship with one Inga Marie Arvad, a 28-year-old beautiful Dane, who was suspected as being a Nazi spy. She was then married, and represented one of the leading Danish Newspapers, and had interviewed Goring, Goebbels and even Hitler! Of course, though warned of Inga’s connections, he did not want to give up Inga, who was the most intriguing women he had so far met. As traveled and sophisticated as he was in meeting ambassadors and diplomats, his extraordinary experience as a 24 year old paled in comparison with this worldly 28 year old. She was not only well traveled like Jack, but was smart, sharp, beautiful, sophisticated and sexually experienced.
It seemed that the FBI had been trailing Inga for quite some time and was wire tapping her phones, observing her actions and bugging her hotel rooms wherever she went and tracking whomever she was associated with. But with all of their efforts, it was said, that they were only able to chronicle her high level of passion and nothing about codes or secrets. If they wanted to entrap the young Kennedy with a potential spy, it failed. The affair with Inga passed, and more serious business was at hand for the young recruits. As time passed in the de-coding section, news came through asking for volunteers for Midshipman School in Chicago, and both Fred and a bored Jack Kennedy immediately volunteered. They were both originally rejected, seemingly because they didn’t have replacements in Charlestown. Fortunately the demand for officer candidates in Chicago was so great that they were both eventually approved for sea duty training.
Eventually, the famous Lt. Commander John Duncan Bulkeley of New York City, who was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for taking General Douglas MacArthur out of the Phillipines, recruited both Fred and Jack Kennedy for the PT Boat service. Bulkeley was so famous that he was given a ticker-tape parade up Broadway; a best seller (and later a movie was made with Robert Montgomery and John Wayne) They Were Expendable was written about his exploits crossing 600 miles of open sea, in a PT Boat carrying MacArthur from Corregidor to Mindanao, and FDR not only presented him personally with the Congressional Medal of Honor, but also treated him to a private audience. In the seclusion of their meeting Bulkeley extolled the virtues of the PT Boat and requested that 200 be immediately shipped to the Pacific. Bulkeley later related his “fantasies” to Kennedy’s class in Chicago. and requested the “toughest, hard-boiled men who can take all the punishment in the world.” Fred later recalled that he (Bulkeley) was just recruiting volunteers for that service, because that was the only way one could get into that type of service. (Years later I spoke to Fred about Bulkeley, (1911-96), who had been awarded, along with the Medal of Honor, the Navy Cross, the Army Distinguished Service Cross, two Silver Stars, the Legion of Merit and two Purple Hearts had attained rank of Vice-Admiral, and was being honored in his 80’s. Fred did not speak enthusiastically about him! I was quite surprised but didn’t pursue the discussion.)
While they were both at the Melville Motor Boat Training School (Rhode Island), Jack was the only one with a car and they drove into nearby Newport nightly, and NYC on the weekends. Fred who was from Dalton, Georgia was able to experience a pretty exciting night life with the young Kennedy and he clearly remembered his first time at the “21” Club. Another fellow that they “hung out” with was Knox Aldridge, who played football with Fred at the University of Georgia. Fred had played for the Georgia Bulldogs who tied 10-10 the famous Fordham College Ram team, and its Seven Blocks of Granite linemen of 1937.
Of course Fred saw many sides of the young Kennedy, and some of his remarks could be quite offensive. One time Jack said that the “Jews were all going into the Quartermaster Corps to escape combat.” In truth, Kennedy not only misinterpreted the Quartermaster Corps and its role, but Fred got him to admit that his statement was outrageous. There were many other times that the future President had a tendency to reflect his father’s prejudices. Eventually they were sent to New Orleans where the boats were being built in the Higgins Boat Yard. There, Fred and Jack separated. Fred later served in the Mediterranean as skipper of his own ship, PT-207 of the squadron MTB Ron 15. He was a decorated sailor who was engaged in 73 actions and 55 OSS missions. One included support for the bringing of Michael Burke (member of the OSS, later owner of the NY Yankees) into Italy for the purpose of arranging the surrender of Italian Forces and ending their participation in the Axis Alliance. Of course, on the other side of the world, in the Pacific, Jack Kennedy gained fame with his crew of the ill-fated PT-109.
Fred Rosen stayed friendly with Kennedy after the war and was the only PT boat commander in attendance at his wedding in Newport at Hammersmith Farm. He was on the board of PT Boat Men for Kennedy in 1960 and was invited to be in attendance during the President’s swearing in as President. Fred representing Peter Tare, the PT Officers alumni association, presented President Kennedy with a Steuben glass replica of his famous boat that remained a fixture on his desk during his Presidency. My daughter, who worked at the Kennedy Library, during her graduate school days in Boston, gave us a tour of the Library and we looked immediately for the famous model.
We were able to visit Hammersmith Farm a few times before it was closed to the public. Janet Lee Bouvier Auchincloss Morris (her fourth husband.) still lived in a small yellow house on the property when we first toured Hammersmith Farm and its marvelous Frederick Law Olmstead designed gardens. The elaborate gardens, designed in the early 1900’s, were said to need 32 gardeners to maintain its care. By our last visit, the house that had served as the Summer White House during the years, 1961-3 had been recently sold to a private owner. We were actually among the last lucky few to see the house publicly. Our visit was the last ever scheduled by the Foundation that controlled the property. One of my most vivid memories was that of the “deck room.” This was a fantastic windowed porch that looked over Narragansett Bay. The charmingly appointed dining room and the breakfast alcove looked out over the long pasture that led up from the waters of the Bay. The late President would, once in a while, take a cruise to Newport on an aircraft carrier, and fly over to the house in a Marine helicopter. It would land on the lawn outside of the dinning room’s large bay window and door and the President would enter directly into the house and have lunch.
It was never easy to reach Hammersmith Farm, and without the many signs it would have been virtually impossible. The Farm was located quite a distance off the road, and one would never be able to see the house today. When we drove out on Ocean Drive this November trip I was not able to recognize any way to find the Farm. But I did notice the explosions of new modern mansions that were recently built on the cliffs that overlook the ocean.
How could one sum up Newport without two of the most important aspects of that town? Unfortunately both, Jazz and the America’s Cup yacht racing have long since reached their peak in Newport and have been on the decline for years. The Newport Jazz Festival, is an on again, off again, music event held in Newport in August. George Wein, a Boston nightclub owner, established it in 1954, and it probably became famous because of Miles Davis’s solo “Round Midnight” in 1955 and Duke Ellington’s great appearance in 1956. The Festival certainly got a little publicity from the film High Society that was also released in 1956. It was a shallow re-make of The Philadelphia Story, put to music and its venue was moved from the “Main Line” of Philadelphia to the mansions of Newport. Bing Crosby replaced Gary Grant as C.K. Dexter-Haven, the divorced husband of Grace Kelly, who replaced Katherine Hepburn. Music of course was the main feature to this “fluffy” and “tepid” version. With Frank Sinatra playing the Jimmy Stewart role, and the great Louis Armstrong adding Jazz to the score, Newport’s connection with the Jazz Festival was reinforced.
The Festival was originally held at Belcourt (now known as Belcourt Castle) a Bellevue Avenue estate owned by Louis and Elaine Lorillard. Probably the best known of the albums made from those 1950’s events was the Columbia record album Newport 1958, featuring Duke Ellington and his Orchestra with Gerry Mulligan. Some of the memorable cuts were; Just Scratchin’ the Surface, El Gato, Princess Blue, Juniflip, and Prima Bara Dubla. The film Jazz on a Summer’s Day documented the 1958 musical event. But all did not work out well for the annual event. In 1960, overly enthusiastic fans, probably well lubricated, got carried away with the vibes and created a virtual riot. The police were called, and they couldn’t quell the upheaval and the National Guard had to be brought in to douse the revelers. Despite the unpleasantness of the year before, the Festival was resumed once again in 1961. Stars like Dave Brubeck, Nina Simone and Nate “Cannonball” Adderley continued to bring the “house” down. Unfortunately the outdoor performances were plagued by the vicissitudes of the weather and after some, up and down, financial years, along crowd conduct problems in 1969 and 1971, the Newport Jazz Festival moved to New York in 1972. It returned once again to Newport in 1981 and became a two-city event. Remarkably it is still directed by George Wein and since 1984 it has been called the JVC Jazz Festival, as JVC is now its principle sponsor. These Jazz festivals are now played all over the world and are not unique to Newport.
When driving into Newport one realizes immediately that water has always been important to Newport’s existence. Along America’s Cup Way and Thames Street one could look out and see not only extensive wharfs and docks that provides a safe harbor to a multitude of yachts and smaller water craft, but scores of restaurants offering every variety of local seafood. One can also drive over a causeway to Goat Island, which used to house the Fleet Landing and Section base piers for the US Navy. In 1946, at the end of the Second World War, the use of Goat Island Torpedo Station created for torpedo production, came to a close. Goat Island is now the home to a hotel-marina-apartment complex.
It was in Newport that yachting came of age in America. It became the home for the top sailors and designers of yachts because of the America’s Cup competition. Originally the “Cup” was offered as the Royal Yacht Squadron Cup. But the New York Yacht Club, which challenged for it with its ship America. a 30,86 meter schooner-yacht won it, in open competition, in a regatta around the Isle of Wight, on August 22, 1851. Garrard and Company crafted the “Cup”, (one of 3 or 6 that were made) an ornate silver-plated, bottomless pitcher, around 1848 and Sir Henry Paget, the Marquess of Anglesey bought one of them and donated it as a prize. It was originally known also as the “RYS Cup for One Hundred Sovereigns.” That became translated into the “One Hundred Guinea’s Cup.” The America won the race by 20 minutes, and supposedly Queen Victoria asked who was second; the answer famously was: “There is no second, your Majesty.”
The “Cup” was officially donated to the New York Yacht Club in 1857, and the “trophy” was held in trust as “challenge” prize to foster friendly racing competition between other countries. With their pride damaged, the British yachting enthusiasts sponsored plethora of challenges. Over the next 113 years 25 efforts failed and the New York Yacht Club’s fleet of defenders remained invincible. Matches were held in the vicinity of New York from 1870 until 1920. But from 1930 until the early 1980’s the races were held off Newport. One of the greatest challenges came from the tea magnate, Sir Thomas Lipton, who would mount five unsuccessful efforts between 1899 and 1930. His yachts, the Shamrocks, were very large sailing sloops. One, the Shamrock V is still around today, over 75 years since Lipton’s death in 1931.
After the war ended, the huge and costly J-class yachts were replaced by the much more economical 12-meter types. I can remember vividly the 1958 defense of the “Cup” by the Columbia with Briggs Cunningham as its skipper. This was the first renewal of the event since 1937 when Harold S. Vanderbilt commanded the Ranger as he defeated the Endeavor II from England. Vanderbilt captained three successful defenses off his home base of Newport. One could see a room dedicated to Vanderbilt and his efforts at the Marble House. The United States continued to successfully defend the “Cup” in Newport waters until 1980 with the Freedom. In 1883 the Australia II was able to break the long victory string that had begun in1851 with a victory over the Liberty in the seven-race event, 4-3. In the next challenge the United States yacht, Stars and Stripes ’87, with Dennis Connor in command, fended off 13 other syndicates and won back the “Cup” off Fremantle, Australia. A bitter legal challenge between the Team New Zeeland and Dennis Conners ensued over ship design, but with the victory of the United States, the races went to San Diego. It was there that the New Zeeland challenger Black Magic defeated the United States yacht, Young America. The race would move to Auckland and eventually a Swiss yacht took the “Cup” and the next race, in 2007, will be held off Valencia, Spain.
The era of Newport being the host for the America’s Cup races has been over for more than two decades. Will it come back? Who can tell? Like the Gilded Age, the National Tennis Championships, the Jazz masters of the 1950’s and the racing days of the Vanderbilt’s, time marches on. Newport has survived without them, but their memories still evoke a warm feeling among the fans, spectators and the folks that remember the class, opulence and substance of a bygone age.
PS: On December 30, 2006 I received a call from Leland Moglen. He happened to find the article on a “search engine,” was quite shocked and called me from California where he and the other Moglen's live. The last time I saw Leland or spoke to him was 45+ years ago.