Jul 26, 2010

A Gem from the Gilded Age, PA

Business: Party at Lynnewood
Monday, Oct. 24, 1932

There were 300 guests at Lynnewood Hall one day last week, more than could be seated in the dining room with its dark red French tapestries and the majestic bust of the great Prince de Conde. The ballroom, with its Louis XV and XVI furniture, its Chinese vases, its four crystal chandeliers, was filled with tables. Joseph Early Widener, master of the Hall, was having a large party.

If an uninvited guest had mingled with that company, first amusing them with witticisms but finally enacting a Poe-like "Masque of the Red Death," there would have been havoc throughout the land. Boards of directors would have rushed to urgent, solemn meetings. The stockmarket would have roared downward. Life insurance companies would have faced an emergency. For the guests at Lynnewood Hall last week included not just a dozen or so millionaires but at least 100 of the country's richest men. Among those who broke bread with the Master of the Hall that night were Harvey Samuel Firestone, Frank A. Seiberling, William Kissam Vanderbilt, Sebastian Spering Kresge, Byron D. Miller (Woolworth), William Wallace Atterbury, Daniel Willard, Henry Latham Doherty, Joseph and Robert Graham, William Larimer Mellon, Col. Edward Howland Robinson Green (son of the late Hetty Green), Charles and William Fisher, Albert Russell Erskine, Frank Ernest Gannett, Bernard Gimbel, Cyrus Hermann Kotzschmar Curtis.

This company had not been gathered by its host to ponder a class crisis. The meeting was purely social. Each guest was a member of Miami's Committee of 100, a group organized by Clayton Sedgwick Cooper following the 1926 hurricane to raise Miami morale. From a civic body it evolved into a social one with more than 300 members, mostly winter residents. Four times during Miami's season the Committee meets at some member's house for dinner and to talk about those things tycoons like to talk about when the plates are cleared, the liqueur glasses empty and the highball glasses filled.

Last week's party in Philadelphia was the third held in the North. Social as the meeting was, there were speeches. At a luncheon given by Publisher Curtis the members shouted their applause when Hugh Bancroft of the Wall Street Journal told them that "in all probability the economic crisis has passed." They agreed thoroughly when he spoke against high taxes and said, "The cost of government constitutes the gravest obstacle to economic recovery." At dinner the members forgot that they were nonpartisan. Cheers drowned out hisses when Rubberman Firestone urged rhem to "set yourselves to stem the swelling tide . . . and work for the re-election of Mr. Hoover so that the advance of business may continue."

Going home from the Philadelphia party, the members read with approval that the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad has cut its winter schedule between Boston and Manhattan and Florida, that a new low rate has been made for automobile shipments in connection with passenger tickets.

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