With 2012 clearly in the rearview mirror, many of us are reflecting on the events of the past year before looking forward to the promises of a New Year. If we were to look further back, into the last century, we would discover that the Vanderbilts and their friends celebrated the holiday in many of the same ways as we do today.
In 1901, George and Edith Vanderbilt invited a large party of friends and acquaintances to Biltmore to ring in the New Year. The house party—twenty guests in all—included diplomats, lawyers, authors, and military officers. One of the most notable was Joseph Hodges Choate, a prominent New York lawyer and the U.S. Ambassador to Great Britain.
The house party stayed at Biltmore for about a week. Due to bad weather, the guests stayed inside for the first couple of days. Ambassador Choate made use of the Library, which appealed to him as “the most charming part of the house.” Others exercised in the Gymnasium and swam in the “vast swimming tank.” When the weather improved, they went hiking, hunting and horseback riding. They also took garden strolls and went on carriage drives to see “the farms and the wonderful stock.”
On New Year’s Eve, the party “sat up to greet the New Year and were very merry indeed,” Choate remarked in a letter to his wife. “There were games and dancing, hot punch served at the stroke of 12 and quite a revel even after that. Mrs. Vanderbilt fills her great place with the utmost fitness.”
A few years earlier, in 1895, George Vanderbilt hosted another grand affair. “The festivities began with dinner in the banquet hall at 8 o’clock,” a local newspaper reported. “At 9 o’clock the gathering repaired to the tapestry gallery, where the time was spent in cards… After 11 the call to dancing returned the guests to the banquet hall where merriest mirth reigned until the hour of 12 was suddenly announced by the Imperial Trio, who broke from a Strauss waltz into Auld Lang Syne. The loving cup was quaffed and a toast was offered to ‘Our Host.’ When the musical honor stilled, there was a short response by Mr. Vanderbilt, and dancing was resumed. The movements of the Virginia Reel, led by Mr. Vanderbilt and Mrs. Charles McNamee, concluded the pleasures and in genial good wishes the party retired.”
William B. Osgood Field was a guest at that party. He recalled, “We danced the old year out… This afternoon as the sun went down below Pisgah, I picked up a horseshoe full of nails. I trust it will bring us all the happiest of years in ’96.”
Happy New Year to you all!
About the photo: The Third Floor Living Hall in Biltmore House is interpreted as the site of a Vanderbilt-era New Year’s Eve party, complete with examples of the time period’s formal dress for ladies and gentlemen.