Thursday, September 27, 2012

Ostentatious Rich Folk - Biltmore Estate

So here we are folks to the main event of the weekend.... the big ass house on the hill.  Nothing like going to see the LARGEST privately owned home in the United States to make you feel slightly inadequate and inept in your life's earnings.


Now most people know a little bit about the Biltmore "Estate,"  it's a big freaking house, they have wine, there were some famous movies filmed there, it's a big freaking house.... But again you know all that.  So what did I find interesting, and what were a few things that stood out to me that might make this post actually worth reading?  I read a blog post that listed (ironic) that you aren't supposed to have lists in your blogs- well boo to that I'm a nerd engineer who happens to like lists so here's a list for all you Type A list junkies like me.  


In the 1880s George Washington Vanderbilt  decided to create his own summer estate in the area, which he called his "little mountain escape." 250 rooms, 65 fireplaces, 43 bathrooms, 34 bedrooms, and three kitchens = little mountain escape. 

 In my world of a small townhouse and a boyfriend  with a 900 square foot home good 'ol George's mountain escape could house my entire extended family comfortably, although it might drive my cleaning machine mother bonkers with that many Hicks running around dirtying 34 rooms...

The Vanderbilts’ kindness is legendary. Instead of listing off famous guests that visted the estate, the tour talks about Essie Smith, a servant. Smith was a teenager when she began working at Biltmore, and she was intimidated by its opulence. On her first day as a server, she walked into the house’s grand banquet hall and, startled by the vastness of the room, dropped the tray of monogrammed china she was carrying. Instead of getting upset it is told that he got down on his hands and knees and helped her pick up the shards before saying, "Come see me in the morning.”  The servant assumed she was going to be fired. Instead, she was promoted to chambermaid, so she wouldn't have to carry such heavy dishes. 

Okay so as you can see all the ostentatious decor that Vanderbuilt picked out himself (14 carat wallpaper people) BUT he was known as a kind person.  In today's world those that "have" tend to look down on the little guys especially when they mess up.  One thing I got from the tour was this story and also stories of the love between George and Edith.  I guess I would be pretty happy without much work to do and that much money to enjoy my life, but as we can see from today's socialites this is not always the case.  In fact the very opposite -- the more money you have the less long lasting love and happiness you seem to have.  

When Vanderbilt turned 21, McHenry (a friend and fellow Napolean fanatic) presented him with Napoleon’s chess set, which can be found on display in the Biltmore library or now in the new Biltmore Legacy display near the winery.  The chess set started Vanderbilt’s fascination with Napoleon, and according to the audio tour Napoleon thought he was being poisoned and ordered an autopsy to take place after his death to confirm or deny. After the autopsy the heart was placed on the table upon which the chess set rests. Napoleon had a high level of arsenic in his blood, the official result was listed as stomach cancer. The debate is still going on today as to whether Napoleon was or was not poisoned.

Conrad's favorite part from when he was a boy and today still! 

There's a few fun facts about the Biltmore.  Our tour took about 2 hours (the audio was definitely worth it) and we toured all around the gardens then hit up the winery for some wine tasting.  If you have the chance I would visit at least once to appreciate the stories and history for yourself.  You may find other parts more interesting than the gory story of a heart on a chess set.  
On tour with my nifty headphones learning about the Biltmore

End of a long day of touring the gardens and house.


  1. The heart bit is totally the most interesting thing I've ever heard about that place! I've never actually been, myself, but we've peaked at it through the trees on our way back toward Asheville from backpacking trips.

  2. I've been probably three or four times but likely didn't get as much out of it as from reading your blog. The drawbacks of visiting as a child! I definitely liked the swimming pool and the gardens the best.

  3. LOL- list away sistah--LOVE it!!! Love the story of his kindness---heart-warming. :-) Thanks for sharing!