Saturday, July 25, 2009

Theresa Oelrichs

Theresa Oelrichs once asked the Great White Fleet of the American Navy to bring their ships to her party to add interest to the view from her house, Rosecliff, in Newport. When they refused she used props instead. Her 'Bal Blanc' party was, nevertheless, a great success. She filled her beautiful house, Rosecliff, with white flowers, including lilies and orchids, and bought white swans for the fountain. The women all wore white dresses.

'Tessie' was born Theresa Alice Fair in Virginia City, Nevada. Her family was poor until her Irish father, a prospector became wealthy because of the Cornstock Lode. This was the largest single deposit of silver and gold ever found.

Her parents divorced and her mother gained custody of Tessie, Virginia and Charles. Her father had custody of another son, James. Sadly, James eventually committed suicide.

Tessie's father became a Senator but he was never accepted into 'Society'. Raised in San Francisco, ambitious Tessie soon wanted 'better things'. She met the extremely wealthy Hermann Oelrichs in 1889 at a tennis match in Newport. He was almost 40 and never married. She was much younger. Although his parents probably wanted a better match for their son they gave the couple one million dollars as a wedding present.

Tessie became one of the leaders of New York society, together with Mrs.Astor and Mrs. Ava Vanderbilt. These three were incredibly powerful and decided who would be accepted into the 'Four Hundred'. They also tried to outdo each other and other wealthy families with their wonderful houses and parties.

Theresa and Hermann commissioned the famous architect, Stanford White, to build Rosecliff which was modelled on the Grand Trianon in Versailles. It cost two and a half million dollars to build. Here she held her famous parties. A ballet, an opera and a circus were also held at the 'Gilded Age' mansion.

Sadly, the house with its 22 master-bedrooms and hand-decorated, gilded ballroom was sold for a very low price in 1941.

It is now a museum in Newport, Rhode Island and it has featured in many films, including the stunning The Great Gatsby with Robert Redford. I wonder whether I'll ever see it.

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