Bellevue Avenue is the main street to access all the Gilded Age mansions of Newport. Bellevue can be horrifically congested during the summer, so drive with a lot of patience, and do not be in a rush. A visitor should definitely visit as many of the mansions as possible. Buy a 5 mansion ticket from the Preservation Society for the best deal.
The mansions are all Big Ego Mansions of the 1% in the late 19th, and early 20th century. When the average wage was around $400 yearly, the 1% would budget an entertainment expense of $200K, which translates to $1 million in today's money. They lived in a bubble, and the bubble travelled with them wherever they went.
The mansions are all about power and money, and out-impressing their neighbors. The extravagance of the mansions, and their owners, showed a callous indifference to the average citizen. The owners basically raised their middle finger to the rest of the country. I know they contributed a lot of money to many philanthropic organizations, and they should be commended for that. I also know that it was their money, and they could do with it whatever they wanted to do. Listen carefully to their individual stories, and learn how peculiar some of them were, and their high sense of entitlement.
My reaction was twofold: awe and anger. The mansions are indeed awe inspiring from both the interior design and exterior grounds and landscaping. I got angry thinking about how much all that money could have done for education, community health, and poverty relief. It just seemed to be such a grand waste to build a huge mansion that was used 6-8 weeks a year, just to impress themselves and their neighbors.
The Gilded Age is still with us today, but on a smaller scale. Just look around in any city today, and you'll find that each city has its own 1%. It's just basic human nature for people to sort themselves out according to their individual socio-economic status. So, has anything changed since the Gilded Age? No, not really. The only rivals today to the Gilded 1% are hedge fund managers, private equity managers, corporate CEO's, and the like.
It's interesting to note, that no one lives in these mansions anymore. The descendants cannot afford them, so there they sit empty, for your touring enjoyment. There is a lesson to be learned from the emptiness of these mansions. As our country's financial inequality widens, remember the events in France in 1789. Our middle class is the social fabric that is keeping the country stable. Once they give up hope, then anything can happen, and probably will
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