Whitemarsh Hall, built outside Philadelphia in 1916-21 at a cost of $10 million, was a wedding gift from the wealthy septuagenarian Edward Stotesbury to his second wife.
Relying almost entirely on numerous archival photos, this modest volume documents the rise and fall of the magnificent house which, together with its extensive gardens, was once known as the Versailles of America.
Several phases of the construction are shown including the planting of an avenue of mature trees.(The elderly Stotesbury could not afford to wait for small trees to grow up). As for the finished interiors, one yearns for a massive coffee-table book. Alas, the smallish black and white photos of the lavishly decorated principal rooms can give only an impression of their grandeur during the house's heyday in the 1930's, but are a sufficient and tragic record of its decline as later decades of neglect, vandalism and decay preceded the wreckers' ball.
Although there is only one page of text, the authors cleverly manage to convey many delicious tidbits of trivia about house and family by means of the voluminous captions accompanying each photo. For instance: that Douglas MacArthur was briefly Stotesbury's son-in-law and a luxurious suite was reserved for the General's visits; that Mrs Stotesbury's son Jimmy was married to the heiress of the Dodge fortune and later to tobacco heiress Doris Duke. The elder Stotesbury, ever conscious that the huddled masses might be aroused to rebellion by the sight of so much luxury in their midst, installed four machine guns on the roof to ward them off.
In spite of their reputation for frequent and lavish entertaining - 600 guests to a party were not unusual - the Stotesburys did not encourage visitors to stay over. There were only 7 guest bedroom suites in the 147-room house and on the morning of the third day of his visit, a houseguest's breakfast tray would contain a note offering to assist his arrangements for departure. (One presumes General MacArthur was exempt from this rule). The great humorist Will Rogers was not asked back after a flippant remark upon the quality of the champagne, nor was another female guest who likened the coloured lights set up for a garden party to Coney Island (though the lights were taken down).
I enjoyed the book and appreciate its value as a historic record, but I had expected a lengthier written history of the Whitemarsh Estate and its owners, and was, therefore, a little disappointed to find it is essentially a picture book. Nevertheless, the book is entertaining, informative & certainly a boon to those who believe a picture is worth a thousand words.