My wife and I picked out a new house yesterday. Well, I picked it out. She’s not so sure. I knew the moment the tour guide told us there were secret rooms.
Me: “Honey, we’re moving in here.”
Her: “Right, we couldn’t afford the upkeep.”
Me: “But it has a bowling alley.”
Her: “It’s in North Carolina.”
Me: “But it has a pool in the basement.”
Her: “We can’t afford it.”
Me: “It has a 2-story library with a regular entrance and a secret entrance!”
Her: “It’s not even for sale.”
Me: “Haven’t you ever heard of squatting? Go get our stuff out of the car. We’re just going to move in.”
Her (to the tour guide): “You may want to have security keep an eye on this guy.”
Technically, we weren’t at an open house with a realtor. We were actually touring America’s largest private residence, The Biltmore House in Ashville, North Carolina. It sits on 8,000 acres of forest, intricate gardens, and farmland. There is a winery, a village, horse farms, and hotels. The house itself has four acres of floor space, with 250 rooms, 35 bedrooms, 45 bathrooms, and 65 fireplaces. You could say it’s on the biggish side.
The house was built by George Vanderbilt, who had the shrewd business sense to be the grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt, one of the wealthiest men in U.S. history. Cornelius made his money operating a string of brothels along the Eastern Seaboard. Wait, wrong Wikipedia entry. Cornelius made his money in shipping and railroads.
By the time George came along, his brothers ran the family business while he traveled and collected art. On one of his travels, he saw the beauty of the hills of North Carolina and decided “I’m going to create the most epic bachelor pad in history and have a place to put all this art.”
It took 6 years from beginning construction until he opened the house. It was Christmas Eve 1895 when it first opened to family and friends and they promptly lost their aunt Louise. She was found 3 months later in a wing of the house they forgot they built.
He was only 32 and single, but alas it was only a dream bachelor pad for two years. He got married and had a daughter. George and his wife had separate bedrooms. But I noticed his bedroom had a half-dozen chairs and even a long bench that would easily seat six people. It was almost as if there were seating for an entourage. Meanwhile, Mrs. Vanderbilt had just a few chairs in her room. It made me wonder what sort of nonsense these Gilded Age millionaires got up to?
It was my wife’s idea to visit the place while we were in Asheville. The place is so big, there is a village next door to house all the people who use to work there. When you drive in the front gate, you’re still over a mile away from the front door.
As I walked along the tour, I heard a flute playing. I assumed it was a sound system until I turned a corner and there was a woman playing the flute. They assured us that random flutists (or flautists if you’re old school) were a sign of wealth. I asked my wife if we would ever have the kind of disposable income to the point that random corners of our house were occupied by women playing the flute. She said that was highly unlikely.
I was really excited when I learned that in only the 2nd room we viewed, there was a secret door. It led from the billiards room to the smoking room. And if you didn’t find enough intrigue in the smoking room, you could sneak into the gun collection room.
I’m sure there were even more secret rooms and passageways but I couldn’t get any of the tour guides to give up the goods. I tried to bribe them, but they were steadfast in their loyalty to the secrets of the place.
We were told that one room housed treasures from the National Gallery during World War 2. And my favorite room was a two-story library with a secret entrance!
The main kitchen was in the basement (the largest in the country). It had one room just for the meat rotisserie! I also learned that the 7-foot stove top stayed hot until late in the evening in case anyone wanted a tea or hot chocolate at midnight. Add that to the fact that I could play billiards, use a secret passage to a 2-story library, and swim and play pool in the basement, I tried one more attempt at staying.
“We’re squatting here,” I said. “Go back to the hotel and get our stuff.”
She pointed out that the kitchen wasn’t actually in use anymore, there were no butlers and maids, and the hot chocolate tin was either empty (for show) or so old it wasn’t even technically chocolate anymore. I pointed out that she could be sleeping in a Vanderbilt’s bedroom if we stayed. She pointed out that we would likely spend the night in jail If we tried.
So, reason and marriage triumphed over my dream of a basement pool. Later I was told that the basement pool doesn’t hold water anymore. So, the Biltmore house is out. I’ll have to come up with plan B.
And just as I was working on that, my wife said, “and we’re not digging a pool in our basement when we get home.”
Okay, plan C…
Carry on, Citizens!