by Kenneth Lisenbee
Marjorie Merriweather Post was one of America's earliest and most famous heiresses, socialites and philanthropists. In 1914, when she was 27 years old, her father C. W. Post died and left her the Postum Cereal Company, which she and husband E. F. Hutton transformed into the General Foods Corporation. She was a farsighted and shrewd businesswoman―one of the first women to sit on the board of a major corporation. During her lifetime she built and owned luxurious homes: a 54-room triplex penthouse apartment in New York, a 70-room Tudor mansion on Long Island, Camp Topridge, a rustic retreat in the Adirondacks, Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida, and Hillwood in Washington, D.C., which she bequeathed as a museum for all to enjoy. Mrs. Post also owned Sea Cloud, the world's largest private sailing yacht. A niece was Woolworth heiress Barbara Hutton, who had spent happier times during her troubled childhood and adolescence visiting and traveling with "Aunt Marjorie" and "Uncle Ned" (E. F. Hutton). Mrs. Post was widely recognized for her generous but quiet, anonymous philanthropic gifts, for her lavish and gracious hospitality, and for her extensive collections of Russian Imperial and 18th-century French decorative art objects. Marjorie Merriweather Post's life epitomized an opulent and refined style of living which no longer exists among the very rich in America.
Marjorie Merriweather Post was born in Springfield, Illinois on March 15, 1887. She was the only child of Ella Letitia Merriweather and Charles William ("C. W.") Post. C. W. Post was born on October 26, 1854, in Springfield, Illinois. Marjorie's father became a foresighted inventor and businessman who would virtually establish the breakfast cereal industry. As a young man C. W. explored the American Wild West, and in 1872 he returned to Springfield where he patented and manufactured agricultural farm machines that included the seed planter, the hay stacker, the harrow plow and several cultivators. On November 4, 1874, C. W. Post married his childhood sweetheart, Ella Letitia Merriweather. In August 1885, C. W. Post suffered a complete collapse from nervous exhaustion caused by strain and overwork, and his doctors advised him to move to a warmer and drier area of the country. In February 1888, C. W. Post, Ella and their only child Marjorie moved to Fort Worth, Texas, where he established real estate ventures and the family lived for a while on a small ranch outside the city. While still in Texas, sometime in 1890, C. W. Post suffered a second nervous breakdown and serious decline in his health. A frail, emaciated and wheelchair-bound C. W. Post, along with his wife Ella and young Marjorie, travelled to Battle Creek, Michigan, and in mid-February 1891, Charles W. Post entered the famous sanitarium run by Dr. John Harvey Kellogg. For months Post showed little improvement and he had lost his appetite for food during his confinement, which lasted until November 1891. A cousin of Ella's recommended that her husband consult with a Christian Science practitioner, and soon afterwards C. W. Post began to walk again, his appetite returned, and he regained the pounds he had lost. After his remarkable recovery, Post came to firmly believe that regularly eating nourishing foods and avoiding caffeine would make anyone feel better and improve overall health, and he was determined to help others maintain or achieve health through a nutritious food-drink product that he would invent and sell.
In March 1892, C. W. Post bought a farm on the outskirts of Battle Creek, Michigan for his family home and where he established La Vita Inn, a sanitarium similar to Dr. Kellogg's, but it proved to be short-lived. After many experiments in a small white barn over a two-year period, on January 1, 1895, Post satisfactorily made his first product, Postum, which was soon patented. Postum was a nutritious alternative to coffee made from wheat berries, bran and New Orleans molasses. From its humble beginnings in Battle Creek, Postum was soon sold in nearby Grand Rapids, and to increase sales of Postum he implemented America's first mass national newspaper advertising campaigns. In January 1898, the Postum Cereal Company introduced the world's first packaged breakfast cereal, Grape-Nuts. As a result, his company grew rapidly and made him a multimillionaire. To meet the national demand It was necessary to construct a large manufacturing plant in Battle Creek, and by 1900 his company employed well over 400 employees. That year he bought eighty acres of land adjacent to the plant, and at his own expense he built 579 houses which his employees could purchase with a low down payment and an affordable monthly mortgage payment without interest. In downtown Battle Creek, C. W. Post also built a landmark office building and a luxurious hotel called Post Tavern, which was known for its excellent dining rooms. During these early years, Post took his wife Ella and young Marjorie on trips to Europe, and on one visit to England they toured the country in a horse-drawn carriage. In 1904, Post invented cornflakes, a cereal originally marketed with the name Elijah's Manna, but sales soared dramatically in 1908, when its unpopular "sacrilegious" name was changed to Post Toasties. That same year he earned over $2 million net profit just on Post Toasties cereal, and his company's products were now being sold and distributed in Canada, England and South America. In February 1906, C. W. Post returned to the West Texas Panhandle with Ella, daughter Marjorie and her husband Edward Close, and he bought the Double U Ranch, the Oxsheer Ranch and other ranches which encompassed over 225,000 acres in Garza, Lynn and Hockley counties. In 1907, C. W. Post's Texas ranches were amalgamated and incorporated as the Double U Company. At the same time, C. W. Post pursued his colonization dream and founded Post City, Texas, located about 40 miles southeast of Lubbock, Texas. Soon after it was established in 1907, Post City became the county seat of Garza County, and in 1914 the city was incorporated as Post, Texas.
In the autumn of 1901, C. W. Post enrolled his fourteen-year-old daughter Marjorie Merriweather Post in the Mount Vernon Seminary, a fashionable boarding school in Washington, D.C. The school had been founded in 1875 by Miss Elizabeth J. Somers, who required all of her students to be carefully chaperoned and who deemed proper behavior important. Marjorie's mother Ella moved from Battle Creek to an apartment in Washington to be close to her daughter, while C. W. Post was often travelling as his business continued to expand. In 1902, C. W. Post decided to change his legal residence to Washington, D.C., and he opened an office there due to his involvement in national politics and anti-labor union matters. Later that year, when Marjorie was fifteen years old, her father and Ella permanently separated after strains had developed in their marriage. Nevertheless, C. W. remained very devoted to his daughter, and that same year he built a large house in Greenwich, Connecticut for Marjorie and her future family. In June 1904, Marjorie Merriweather Post graduated from Mount Vernon Seminary, then housed in several brownstones on M Street, N.W. In 1917, the school moved to a 15-acre campus on Nebraska Avenue. In November 1942, the Nebraska Avenue campus was taken over for use by the United States Navy during World War II, and for the next few years the school was temporarily located in Spring Valley. In October 1946, the Mount Vernon Seminary and Junior College reopened at its new 26-acre campus on Foxhall Road―long regarded as one of the most coveted residential streets in the Northwest area of Washington, D.C. In October 1904, C. W. and Ella divorced, and the following month, to Marjorie's deep dismay, her father married Leila Young, his twenty-seven-year-old private secretary, in Battle Creek, Michigan. Decades later, Marjorie donated Post Hall in 1956, and Merriweather House in 1969, in memory of her father, Charles William Post and her mother, Ella Letitia Merriweather, respectively. She also funded Ames Hall and the President's House. Mrs. Post was the first alumnae trustee and served on the board of trustees for decades. The school was renamed Mount Vernon Junior College in 1969, and in 1998, Mount Vernon College became affiliated with and a separate campus of The George Washington University.
On December 5, 1905, eighteen-year-old Marjorie Merriweather Post married Edward Bennett Close, a Columbia Law School graduate, a lawyer, stockbroker and son of one of Greenwich, Connecticut's founding families. Their small, intimate marriage ceremony was held in the chapel of Grace Church on lower Broadway at Tenth Street. Ed Close's great-great grandfather had given the original land to the parish. Marjorie and Edward Close lived at The Boulders, the house in the Rock Ridge area of Greenwich, built as a gift by her father and where her first two daughters were born: Adelaide Brevoort Close (born on July 26, 1908; died Adelaide Close Riggs on December 31, 1998, at age 90) and Eleanor Post Close (born on December 12, 1909; died Eleanor Close Barzin on November 27, 2006, at age 96).The Boulders had an enormous front porch and was situated on fifteen acres of land, and Marjorie had a household staff of thirteen. Edward and Marjorie Post Close and their two daughters Adelaide and Eleanor lived at The Boulders until May 29, 1917, when it was severely damaged in a fire, and Marjorie Post Close used this as a reason to move her husband and two daughters to Manhattan. Marjorie and Edward Close made their first visit to Palm Beach in 1909, and for the next five or six winters, the Closes rented a seaside cottage and shared it with friends. On October 22, 1912, Marjorie's mother Ella Letitia Merriweather Post died in her sleep at age sixty-two. Marjorie immediately went to Washington, D.C. to make funeral arrangements for Ella, who was buried in Springfield, Illinois. Marjorie would later state that her mother died from a "broken heart", because her father divorced Ella and married his secretary, Leila Young.
Despite acquiring fame and great wealth, her father's health remained precarious and in early March 1914, C. W. Post was transported by private railcar at record-breaking speed from California to Rochester, Minnesota, where the Mayo brothers performed surgery at their clinic to remove his appendix. Although the surgery had been successful, he continued to suffer from nervous exhaustion, depression and stomach problems. On May 9, 1914, C. W. Post was found dead at his winter home in Santa Barbara, California. His death, at age fifty-nine, was a suicide―a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Beforehand, he had written a note to his daughter Marjorie and his second wife Leila Young Post, who Marjorie intensely disliked. Major newspapers announced the news of C. W. Post's death on their front pages because he was considered a national business leader and a pioneer. While Marjorie―stunned and shocked with disbelief―rushed to Battle Creek by train with Edward Close to attend her father's funeral, Leila Young Post brought her husband's body back to Battle Creek by private train for the funeral and burial in Oak Hill Cemetery. Thousands of residents lined the streets to pay tribute and show respect to the man who did so much for the town, and one thousand employees of Postum Cereal Company formed a guard of honor in front of the Congregational Church where the funeral service was held. Simultaneous memorial services were also held in Fort Worth and Post City, Texas. C. W. Post's elderly parents Charles Rollin Post and Caroline Lathrop Post lived in Fort Worth, but they were too frail to attend their son's funeral.
After months of legal wrangling between Marjorie's lawyers and her step-mother Leila Young Post, Ed Close located the original document, written by C. W. Post, stating his intention that the Postum company was to be left to his daughter (Mrs. Edward Close). Armed with this, Marjorie's lawyers proceeded to make an out-of-court financial settlement in December 1915. Leila Young Post received $4 million in cash and several of the non-Postum properties in Battle Creek, including the ten-storey Post Tavern hotel, the seven-storey office building known as the Post Building, and the house in Santa Barbara. Additionally, Marjorie Post Close and Leila Young Post each received one-half of C. W. Post's vast ranch lands and other real estate holdings in Texas. (In the late 1930s, large oil reserves were discovered on these West Texas properties and thereafter Mrs. Post made annual trips to Texas to negotiate oil leases with major production companies.) Two years after C. W. Post's death, Leila Young Post married L. J. Montgomery, manager of the Post Tavern. Mrs. Leila Y. Post Montgomery died in a Los Angeles hospital in April 1940, at the age of sixty-two, and she was buried in the C. W. Post Mausoleum in Oak Hill Cemetery in Battle Creek.
Marjorie Merriweather Post Close was twenty-seven years old when she inherited the overwhelming majority of shares of common and preferred stock in the rapidly-growing Postum Cereal Company, Ltd. The amount of her inheritance was over $27 million, in 1915 dollars. The young heiress was totally capable of running the business since her father had carefully taught Marjorie all aspects of Postum Cereal's operations. As a child growing up in Battle Creek, Michigan, she had glued labels on packages of Postum, and she accompanied her father on his frequent business trips, toured the factories and regularly sat in on Postum's business meetings. Marjorie Merriweather Post also inherited C. W.'s attitude that wealth should be shared with others less fortunate.
Soon after her father's death in 1914, Marjorie and Edward Close began to make regular trips to Battle Creek on company business. When Postum Cereal established an office in New York City, she and her husband regularly commuted from Greenwich to Manhattan. In 1915, Ed and Marjorie Close decided to rent one of the finest mansions in New York on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 92nd Street―the five-storey Beaux-Arts mansion designed by Horace Trumbauer and built in 1904 for I. Townsend Burden, who had bought the parcel of land from steel industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. In the last week of August 1916, Marjorie and Edward Close bought the Burden mansion along with a small adjacent lot to be used for a tennis court, and she began furnishing the mansion with carefully-chosen antiques and art objects. The Burden mansion had spacious main rooms with tall ceilings, two elevators and rooms for the staff of eighteen. During World War I, in 1917, one of her first acts of philanthropy was to fund an entire U. S. Army hospital, one of 33 such hospitals organized by the Red Cross, and as a result of her generosity, the Base Hospital No. 8 in Savenay, France received full medical supplies and staff, and it eventually had a capacity of 2,460 beds. During the time that Edward Close was fulfilling his military service in Europe, Marjorie Post Close grew increasingly independent of him, and in November 1919 they divorced, and she retained custody of their two daughters, Adelaide and Eleanor.
In Manhattan, Marjorie embarked upon what would become her lifelong passion for collecting decorative art objects, 18th-century French furniture and rare antiques. She enrolled in art courses at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and gradually developed a refined and discerning eye. She sought advice and tutorage from one of the world's preeminent art dealers, Sir Joseph Duveen. Her earliest purchases included a 1736 Beauvais tapestry designed by François Boucher, Aubusson carpets, antique lace, Louis XVI furniture. and paintings by Thomas Gainsborough, Rubens and other artists. In 1925, Marjorie bought the Hapsburg Imperial Bridal Veil, which her eldest daughter Adelaide Brevoort Hutton wore during her January 1927 wedding to Thomas Wells Durant. (In 1964, Marjorie Merriweather Post donated the historical veil to the Smithsonian, for the textile collection at the National Museum of American History.)
On July 7, 1920, Marjorie Merriweather Post Close married Edward Francis Hutton in a private ceremony in the Burden mansion at 2 East 92nd Street. Her second husband was already a legendary Wall Street broker and financier, and he would prove to be the love of her life. It was while the Huttons lived in the Burden mansion that their only child, Nedenia Marjorie Hutton, was born on December 29, 1923. During their marriage there was tremendous growth in her company, the construction and furnishing of several large residences, a very active social life and travels on their yacht Hussar, later renamed Sea Cloud. Although E. F. Hutton was rich, Marjorie was far richer. Edward's brother Franklyn Laws Hutton was the father of Barbara Woolworth Hutton. E. F. Hutton's first wife, Blanche Horton, had died during the influenza epidemic of 1917. In September 1920, just two months after his marriage to Marjorie, E. F.'s only son, Halcourt Horton Hutton, died after a riding accident at Mill Creek Lodge, his hunting estate in Bay Shore, Long Island. E. F. Hutton also owned Laurel Springs, a 16,000-acre shooting plantation and preserve on the Combahee River at Green Pond, South Carolina.
In late 1924, Mrs. E. F. Hutton decided to sell the former Burden mansion because of the noise and fumes from increasing automobile and bus traffic on upper Fifth Avenue. The Huttons hosted a farewell dance in their mansion on November 18, 1924 for about one hundred prominent guests, with supper in the large dining room and entertainment by top vaudeville performers such as the singer–actress Fanny Brice. The dining room, salons, library and ballroom were elaborately decorated with masses of flowers brought in from Hillwood's greenhouses. An agreement was reached with the George F. Fuller Construction Company to demolish the mansion, acquire adjacent land and build a fourteen-storey luxury apartment building that would virtually recreate her mansion on the top three floors, making a truly palatial triplex apartment suitable for her family and entertaining on a grand scale. She salvaged the Burden mansion's library paneling, dining room mantle and other structural details and incorporated them into her new triplex apartment. The building was completed in late 1925 and was designed by architects William L. Rouse and Lafayette A. Goldstone of the firm Rouse & Goldstone. In early 1926, Marjorie, E. F. Hutton and the three children moved into New York City's largest apartment―the entire top three floors of 1107 Fifth Avenue, at the southeast corner of Ninety-second Street. The 54-room triplex penthouse apartment was later described by architect Andrew Alpern as "certainly the largest and very likely the most luxurious apartment ever created anywhere." Soon after returning from Palm Beach, on the evening of April 29, 1926, the Huttons hosted a housewarming musicale in the new apartment for their prominent guests, with entertainment provided by members of the Metropolitan Opera, followed by a buffet supper, and later there was dancing.
While the building's other tenants entered from 1107 Fifth Avenue, the Huttons' address and private entrance was 2 East Ninety-second Street. On the ground level there was a porte-cochère drive-through entrance with a separate doorman, a large private entrance hall with a fireplace, a fountain, and a concierge's apartment. The Huttons' private elevator took them up to the main 12th floor entrance foyer measuring 44 feet by 44 feet, in the shape of a Greek cross, that also doubled as a ballroom. This immense foyer had a marble stairway with skylight and a huge Palladian window facing Fifth Avenue and Central Park, and there were also six additional stairs in the apartment for staff. On one side of the foyer was the large formal drawing room and on the other side a large library, both facing Fifth Avenue and having panoramic views of Central Park and the reservoir. Marjorie's formal paneled dining room was capable of seating up to 125 guests. The apartment had seventeen bath rooms, gallery, a dozen fireplaces, two laundry rooms, separate men's and ladies' coat rooms for guests, a large gown closet (for hanging ball gowns), a staff dining room and a staff hall, a receiving room for deliveries, two workrooms for valets, an office, two kitchens, a larder room, a bakery, silver room, butler's pantry, secretary's room, numerous closets including linen closets and a walk-in cedar closet, two corner balconies facing Fifth Avenue on the 13th floor, a large storage room, a wine room, cold-storage rooms for flowers and furs, a sun porch, a sleeping porch, a glass-walled breakfast room, sitting rooms, several smaller foyers and long hallways, and the top floor had a children's play room and the bedrooms for her two eldest daughters Adelaide and Eleanor. The 14th floor also had enormous tiled wraparound terraces with North, South, East and West exposures and 360-degree panoramic views of Manhattan and beyond. Marjorie and E. F.'s adjoining bedrooms, Nedenia's bedroom, Mrs. Hutton's personal secretary's bedroom, the main living quarters and guest bedrooms were on the 13th floor, and bedrooms for the staff of up to twenty-one (including two Swedish cooks, maids, valets, butler and secretary) were located primarily on the 12th and 13th floors, with a few on the penthouse level. (See the original floor plans of the triplex apartment at 1107 Fifth Avenue.) Mrs. E. F. Hutton had a fifteen-year lease on the triplex at an annual rental of $75,000. The lease expired in 1941, and she vacated the apartment while she was renovating Tregaron in Washington, D.C. and married to Joseph E. Davies. It remained unoccupied for a decade because no one could afford it, and eventually the immense triplex was subdivided into six separate apartments, two per floor. In 1952, 1107 Fifth Avenue was converted into a co-operative. And in 1959 the two apartments on the penthouse floor were recombined into one spectacular penthouse.
Together, E. F. and Marjorie Hutton greatly expanded the Postum Cereal Company, Ltd., and in 1922 shares of its common stock were offered for sale to investors. In 1923, E. F. Hutton became the chairman of Postum Cereal, and he and Marjorie began an aggressive campaign of acquisitions and diversification into other food products. In late 1923, the Postum Cereal Company moved its headquarters from Battle Creek to 342 Madison Avenue in New York City, and in January 1925 the headquarters moved to the Postum Building, at 250 Park Avenue, timed to coincide with the thirtieth anniversary of the company. In 1927, the Postum Cereal Company changed its name to simply the Postum Company, reflecting its growth into non-cereal products. In 1929, the Postum Company paid $22 million for Clarence Birdseye's Gloucester, Massachusetts-based company, Birds Eye Frosted Foods, which had established the frozen foods industry, and the Postum Company was renamed General Foods Corporation. On July 24, 1929, its shares began trading on The New York Stock Exchange. Over the years, General Foods became one of the world's largest food businesses, whose well-known brands included Jell-O, Birds Eye, Swans Down cake flour, Walter Baker's Chocolate, Minute Tapioca, Hellman's Mayonnaise, Sanka, Maxwell House Coffee, Kool-Aid, Log Cabin Syrup, Calumet Baking Powder, La France laundry products, Diamond Crystal Salt and many others. E. F. Hutton served as the chairman of the board of General Foods until he resigned that position in December 1935. Marjorie Merriweather Post Hutton was a shrewd businesswoman, and in April 1936 she joined the board of directors of General Foods, becoming one of the first women to sit on the board of a major American corporation.
Marjorie Hutton had one child, a daughter, while she was married to Edward Francis Hutton, named Nedenia Marjorie Hutton, who was born in New York City on December 29, 1923, in the Burden mansion at 2 East Ninety-second Street. Nedenia, who was nicknamed "Deenie" by her family and those who knew her as a child, was Marjorie's third and last daughter. Nedenia Marjorie Hutton was educated by a tutor while onboard the Sea Cloud during voyages, and attended Miss Hewitt's Classes in New York and The Green Vale School in Old Brookville, New York. In 1939, Nedenia Hutton graduated from The Mount Vernon Seminary in Washington, D.C., and later she attended The George Washington University, but dropped out after one year when she decided to become an actress (Dina Merrill) and she enrolled in the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City. Later, she also studied at Berghof Studios and the Stella Adler Studio. In 1945, with the stage name of Dina Merrill, she made her acting début in a Broadway play. The beautiful, blond, impeccably elegant and talented Dina Merrill has since performed in over twenty-five feature films and has had roles on Broadway, and she has made over 100 television appearances. On March 23, 1946, she married Stanley M. Rumbough, Jr., an industrialist and Colgate heir, and they had three children: Stanley Hutton Rumbough, Nedenia ("Nina") Colgate Rumbough, and David Post Rumbough, who died in 1973 in a motorboat accident while fishing in Gardiner's Bay, off Napeague, at age 23, followed four days later by the death of her mother in Washington. After twenty years of marriage, the Rumboughs divorced in 1966. Her second marriage was to Oscar-winning actor Cliff Robertson, with the wedding held at Hillwood in Washington. Merrill and Robertson divorced in 1986. Their daughter Heather Merriweather Robertson died from cancer in 2007. Cliff Robertson died in September 2011, at age 88, and lived in Water Mill, New York.
In 1988, Dina Merrill married Ted Hartley, an actor, producer, investment banker and the chairman of the board of their company, RKO Pictures. For many years, Dina Merrill supported the New York City Mission Society, and she was a trustee of the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center, a director of the Museum of Broadcasting, an Emeritus Trustee of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, and a founder of the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation. Nedenia Hutton Hartley and Ted Hartley were longtime sponsors of cultural events of Guild Hall in East Hampton. (Visit the Dina Merrill website.) Dina Merrill died on May 22, 2017, at age 93, at her home of 60 years on West Dune Lane in East Hampton, New York.
In addition to being a financier, E. F. Hutton was also a sportsman, an avid fisherman, and a yachtsman, who in his life built a total of five cutters, schooners and sailing yachts or barques, each bearing the name Hussar. In 1923, during the early years of his marriage to Marjorie, E. F. Hutton commissioned the first yacht they both used: the fourth Hussar, a 202-feet-long, three-masted schooner designed by Cox & Stevens and constructed at the Burmeister & Wain shipyards in Copenhagen, Denmark. When E. F. Hutton built an even larger yacht in 1931, he sold the fourth Hussar to George Vettlesen who rechristened her Vema. Later it was used by Columbia University as a research vessel, and eventually it became known as Mandalay. But without a doubt, the Huttons most famous yacht was the fifth and last Hussar, a 322-feet-long, four-masted barque with four diesel-powered engines, a giant stabilizer, and a cruising range of 20,000 nautical miles without refueling. The ship also had forty-tons of refrigeration equipment―large enough to hold the substantial amount of food required for extended voyages. Marjorie had rented a large warehouse in Brooklyn, where she carefully planned detailed layouts of the three decks and all interior rooms, indicating precisely where her antique furniture, carpets, paintings and other items would be placed. Accommodations included the two ultra-luxurious owners' suites for Marjorie and E. F., and six guest suites, one of which was for their young daughter Nedenia. There were also two cabins for Nedenia's nanny and tutor. The spacious suites had working fireplaces, marble bathrooms with bathtubs, large walk-in closets, intricate wood paneling, rare carpets, paintings and Louis XVI and other styles of furniture. Hussar was built in 1930–1931 at the Krupp Germania Werft shipyard in Kiel, Germany, and it was designed by the prestigious naval architectural firm Cox & Stevens. When Hussar was launched in April 1931, it was the largest privately-owned sailing yacht in the world and had a crew of seventy-two.
Edward, Marjorie and Nedenia spent at least three months of each year at sea on Hussar in 1932 to 1934. On these and subsequent voyages the Huttons, their family and guests travelled all over the world, to destinations that included Bermuda, Cuba, Panama, the Galápagos Islands, the South Pacific, Tahiti, Hawaii, various Caribbean islands, Alaska, and European and Mediterranean ports. Two months after her divorce from E. F. Hutton in late-1935, Marjorie took possession of the Hussar and rechristened it Sea Cloud. At the beginning of World War II, Marjorie offered her yacht to the U. S. government for “one dollar per year by the Navy for use of the Coast Guard” and it was converted to a weather observation vessel. In 1944, Sea Cloud was decommissioned and returned to Marjorie and restored for her personal use. By 1953, with soaring costs of maintenance and staff expenses for the vessel, Marjorie Post decided to sell the Sea Cloud, and potential buyers included Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis and the governments of Argentina, Iran and Portugal. The yacht was eventually sold to Florida ship-owner George W. Gibbs, who soon resold Sea Cloud at a profit to Dominican Republican dictator Rafael Trujillo, who renamed it Angelita. After his assassination in 1961, the legendary barque was sold, used and renamed several times, and it then languished for several years in Panama. In the late 1970s Sea Cloud was bought and restored by the German-based Hansa Treuhand group for its Sea Cloud Cruises fleet, and today it is enjoyed by a discriminating clientele. Read more about the history of Sea Cloud and view photos of her interior rooms today.
In 1920, Marjorie Merriweather Post Hutton bought a camp in the Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York. It had been owned since 1897 by Alvin Mason Lothrop, a co-founder of the Washington, D.C. department store Woodward & Lothrop. Mr. Lothrop's retreat was named Camp Kanosa, and when she bought it there were seven or eight buildings. Marjorie renamed her Adirondack retreat Camp Hutridge and began extensive renovations to the Main Lodge and the boathouse. In 1923, she commissioned a local contractor, Ben Muncil, and architect Theodore Blake to co-design and build numerous log-and-twig Adirondack-style buildings, cottages and cabins. The isolated, rustic camp―about twelve miles northwest of Saranac Lake, near the hamlets of Keese Mill and Paul Smith's, in Franklin County―was accessible only by boat, and it fronted directly on Upper St. Regis Lake and was adjacent to the two Spectacle Ponds. In 1936, while married to Ambassador Joseph Davies, Marjorie changed the name of her retreat to Camp Topridge, and after the Davies returned from Russia in 1938, she built a dacha on the property for Mr. Davies' office. She continued to buy additional acreage up until 1957, when her camp totaled 207 acres and had over sixty separate buildings. Initially, Marjorie, her family and guests would arrive via railcar, chauffeured limousines and finally boat, but beginning in 1958, they would fly to the Adirondack airport north of Saranac Lake on Merriweather, her Vickers Viscount turbojet airplane. From the boat landing at one end of Upper St. Regis Lake, guests would board a large motorboat. When they reached the main boathouse, they were transported on an open-air funicular or cable car up to the top ridge, eighty feet above the water level, and to the main lodge. Its spectacular great room was 65 feet long by 50 feet wide, and a 17-foot-deep alcove off to one side made the enormous room even more expansive. This living room had a 25-foot high ceiling and at each end stood a massive stone fireplace. The main lodge also housed the dining room, the breakfast room, and the kitchen. Camp Topridge had eighteen cabins for guests, and each cabin had a sitting room with fireplace, in addition to a bedroom with fireplace, and a staff of 85 catered to their every whim and need (each cabin had its own butler and maid). Daytime activities required informal clothing, but guests were expected to dress formally for dinners and to arrive on time.
Camp Topridge was and still is considered the most impressive of the Great Camps of the Adirondacks. The living room was filled with numerous American Indian artifacts, baskets, animal skins and rugs, kayaks, canoes, trophy animals and stuffed bears. The camp included a putting green, a tennis house and court, the guide's house, the secretary's house, and the cabins each had names such as Honeymoon, Up-North and Up-South. There was swimming in the Spectacle Ponds, and golf, tennis, canoeing, fishing, hiking, screening of films, outdoor picnics, and square dances (on Sundays and Thursdays) were all regular activities during each summer season, from late July through Labor Day in early September. In July 1974, the Marjorie Merriweather Post Foundation gave Camp Topridge to the State of New York, which opened the camp to the public for several weeks each year. By 1985, the state decided to sell the property, and in July 1985, 105 acres of Camp Topridge, the main lodge and most of the buildings were auctioned to the highest bidder and sold to a businessman from New Jersey, and the remaining 102 acres were added to the Adirondacks Forest Preserve. In 1994 Camp Topridge was sold to Harlan Crow, the Dallas, Texas-based real estate investor, who still owns the camp and maintains it as a private retreat. In 1994, Mr. Crow commissioned the prominent Washington, D.C. architect Richard Augustus Giegengack to enhance, renovate and restore many of the architecturally significant structures, including the Honeymoon Cabin and adjacent Honeymoon Bridge and ten guest cabins, and he added a new boathouse with room for six boats and an open-air chapel. There are now 105 acres and forty buildings at Camp Topridge, which is not open to the public.
In 1921, Marjorie and E. F. Hutton bought Warburton Hall, a country house in Brookville, New York, on the fabled Gold Coast of Long Island, that had originally been designed by Addison Mizner for Mr. and Mrs. William A. Prime. The Huttons had most of that mansion demolished and commissioned Charles M. Hart of the architectural firm Hart & Shape to transform the structure into a 70-room English Tudor-Elizabethan revival manor house, which they named Hillwood. The landscape design for the estate's 177 acres was by Marian C. Coffin and included English, rose and water gardens, greenhouses and a 20 by 80 foot swimming pool. Mrs. E. F. Hutton also built a 26-room house nearby for her eldest daughter Adelaide and her first husband Thomas ("Tim") Durant. Sometime after her youngest daughter Nedenia Hutton's 1946 marriage to Stanley M. Rumbough, Jr., Marjorie decided to sell Hillwood. In 1947, she sold her estate to Long Island University, but because of local opposition in the community, the university did not take final possession of the Brookville country estate until January 1951, when the first day classes began. C. W. Post College was formally established on November 29, 1954. For years the school was called The C. W. Post Campus of Long Island University. At the beginning of 2012, the campus name was rebranded as LIU Post. The Tudor mansion itself has been renamed Winnick House and serves as the administrative offices for the campus. During 1965 and 1966 Riggs Residence Hall was constructed on the campus, named in honor of Marjorie Merriweather Post's daughter Adelaide Close Riggs.
In 1922, while married to E. F. Hutton, Marjorie also built a luxurious private railcar named Hussar, complete with a formal dining room, observation lounge and four bedroom suites. The railcar, with staff, enabled the Huttons to travel in comfort and style for business and pleasure on railroad lines between New York, Palm Beach and the Adirondacks. In 1937, when Marjorie and Ambassador Joseph E. Davies moved to Moscow, the Hussar was sold to the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway. Now privately owned and still in use, the railcar is now named Chapel Hill.
Also in 1921, E. F. Hutton commissioned the fashionable architect Marion Sims Wyeth to design a house in Palm Beach, Florida for his wife Marjorie, who was increasingly involved in the town's social life. Their first Palm Beach home, Hogarcito, was a Spanish-style house on Golfview Road directly overlooking the Everglades Club golf course. Even with its three-storey bell tower and ocean views, the house was too small and could not rival the grander mansions of established hostesses in Palm Beach; among those were El Mirasol, the winter home of her friends Eva and Edward T. Stotesbury. In 1924, the Huttons decided to sell Hogarcito to E. F.'s brother Franklyn Laws Hutton, father of Barbara Woolworth Hutton, and build a far grander mansion, more suitable for entertaining large numbers of guests, and an estate that would awe Palm Beach residents.
After four years of construction, Mar-a-Lago was completed in January 1927. Marjorie Merriweather Post Hutton had employed over 600 construction workers and artisans on the Hispano-Moresque mansion that was co-designed by the architect Marion Sims Wyeth and Joseph Urban, a Vienna-born architect and the theatrical set designer for the Ziegfeld Follies. Urban's influence resulted in an extravagant and eclectic mix of Spanish, Venetian and Portuguese architectural elements. The final cost of construction, landscaping and decoration of Mar-a-Lago was $8 million―well over $100 million in today's U.S. dollars―more than double the original budget, and this caused some strain in their marriage. The crescent-shaped structure at 1100 South Ocean Boulevard had a 75-foot high tower, and the 34-foot tall living room had a gold-leaf ceiling. Boatloads of Dorian stone were brought from Italy, and thirty-six thousand 15th-century Spanish decorative tiles, and antique Cuban roof tiles and marble floors adorned the house. The Palm Beach estate boasted four greenhouses, Royal Palms and citrus groves, and the lawns were constantly and immaculately manicured. Additional features of the estate were separate guest houses and staff quarters, garages, a nine-hole golf course, and an underground tunnel which led directly to a private beach with a cabana and swimming pool, adjacent to the Bath and Tennis Club. Upon its completion, Mar-a-Lago became the fifth largest private residence in the United States with 118 rooms. It included 58 bedrooms, 33 bathrooms and 12 chimneys for fireplaces (and eventually three bomb shelters or bunkers were added). Mar-a-Lago required a staff of up to 75 caretakers (pared to 32 during the off-season), including a security staff of 14. The Palm Beach estate was situated on almost 18 acres of prime land that stretched all the way from Lake Worth to the Atlantic Ocean. View photos of Mar-a-Lago.
Marjorie also commissioned Joseph Urban to design a magnificent dining room table for Mar-a-Lago, and a massive two-ton table was fabricated in Florence, Italy by Società Civile Arte del Mosaico. For the table's top, thousands of intricately-cut pieces of polished multicolored marbles and minerals were used. These stones included red jasper, white oriental alabaster, yellow chalcedony, and green gabbro, among others. The pieces were painstakingly assembled like a jigsaw puzzle, and the project took seventeen artists an entire year to complete. Six leaves added an extra twelve feet of length to the table, and hidden in the table base was a bell for Mrs. E. F. Hutton to ring for the staff. View an image of the dining room table at Mar-a-Lago. (In her final will, Mrs. Post specified that this table was to be brought to Hillwood and displayed permanently in its dining room.) During each winter season lasting six weeks, from the first of January through the fourteenth of February, Marjorie Merriweather Post entertained guests at Mar-a-Lago, and she reigned for decades as the undisputed leader of Palm Beach society. Mrs. E. F. Hutton once hired the entire Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus to entertain her friends and guests. Another time she invited the cast of a Broadway show to perform, and then put the cast up for a week. Later Marjorie held regular parties on Thursdays with square dances. In 1957, she established The International Red Cross Ball to benefit The American Red Cross to support its humanitarian efforts, and the ball Mrs. Post founded remains a major charitable event in Palm Beach during the winter season.
Marjorie Merriweather Post offered to give Mar-a-Lago to the State of Florida in 1964, but the plan fizzled out because it would have been too expensive to maintain. In 1969, she persuaded Secretary of the Interior Stuart Udall to designate Mar-a-Lago as The Mar-a-Lago National Historic Site. In November 1972, President Richard Nixon accepted Mrs. Post's generous gift of Mar-a-Lago to the U.S. Government for use as a winter White House, yet no president ever slept in the house. In 1980, the Federal government decided to return the house to the Marjorie Merriweather Post Foundation due to the $1 million-a-year maintenance costs and security concerns that its location was under the flight path of airplanes travelling to and from the Palm Beach International Airport. The Post Foundation put Mar-a-Lago on the market in 1981 for $20 million, with several serious offers but no buyer until December 1985, when Mar-a-Lago was bought by real estate businessman Donald J. Trump for $8 million. After restoration work, he maintained the mansion as a winter residence for ten years until he decided to convert the estate into a luxurious membership club. In April 1995, after further renovations and additions, Mr. Trump began operating it as the Mar-a-Lago Club.
After the stock market crash of October 1929 and throughout the Great Depression, General Foods remained profitable and continued to expand and pay dividends to its shareholders. Marjorie Hutton became deeply concerned with the plight of those affected by the hardships of Great Depression, especially the multitude of hungry people. She put her jewels into a vault, cancelled the insurance, and with the money saved she provided funds for the Marjorie Post Hutton Free Food Station. It was operated by the Salvation Army and located in the Bethany Church at Tenth Avenue and Thirty-fifth Street in New York City, in the area commonly known as "Hell's Kitchen". One newspaper described her as "Lady Bountiful" because of her gracious generosity to those less fortunate. Each and every day―for five years from 1930 to 1935―one thousand grateful women and children received nourishing hot meals in dignified surroundings. Her husband also funded the Edward F. Hutton Free Food Station for Men which was located at 114 West Seventeenth Street. During the height of the Depression in 1933, Marjorie was dismayed at the extravagance and reckless spending of her young niece Barbara Hutton, and she attempted to convince her not to marry Prince Alexis Mdivani, to no avail. In May 1935, Barbara divorced Prince Alexis Mdivani. The name Hutton was again in the news in August 1935 when it was announced that Marjorie and E. F. Hutton had been separated for several months. Their divorce, due to Mr. Hutton's philandering, became final in September 1935. In February 1936, E. F. married Dorothy Dear Metzger, and a year later, in February 1937, he resigned his position as a director of General Foods. That year, E. F. Hutton asked the architect Maurice Fatio to design and build another house in Palm Beach, which he named Four Winds. Edward F. Hutton died on July 11, 1962, at Hutfield, his estate in Old Westbury, Long Island, at the age of eighty-six. He also maintained a residence at River House, 535 East 52nd Street.
On December 15, 1935, Marjorie married a third time to Joseph E. Davies at a simple ceremony in her Fifth Avenue apartment, and afterward they travelled to Bermuda to board her yacht Sea Cloud, for a honeymoon cruise in the West Indies. Davies was a prominent Washington lawyer and an advisor to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. In 1936, Roosevelt appointed Davies to serve as America's second Ambassador to the Soviet Union, at the height of Josef Stalin's reign of terror. For eighteen months, from 1936 to 1938, Ambassador Joseph Davies and Marjorie Post Davies lived in Moscow at Spaso House, the residence of the American ambassadors. They often entertained aboard Marjorie's luxurious yacht Sea Cloud, which was docked in Leningrad. From 1938 to 1939, Davies served concurrently as the United States Ambassador to Belgium and Luxembourg. In Brussels, the Davies lived and entertained in the 19th-century Hôtel d'Assche. When the Davies returned to Washington in the fall of 1939, she rented the 17-acre Elinor Ryan Brady estate known as Valley View, located at 1801 Foxhall Road, bordering the Glover-Archbold Park on two sides. Here she began to entertain on a lavish scale in Washington in its brick Georgian mansion. In 1940, she became a member of The Sulgrave Club, an exclusive, private women's club near Dupont Circle, and a bastion of the Old Guard elite in Washington.
Also in 1940, Marjorie Davies purchased The Causeway, the historic District of Columbia country house built by James Parmelee, an industrialist and art collector originally from Cleveland, Ohio. Parmelee married Alice Maury in 1900, and in 1905 the Parmelees moved from Cleveland to Washington, D.C. In 1911, he purchased the 20-acre then-rural site from Mrs. Alexander Graham Bell, whose husband had invented the telephone. She was a daughter of Gardiner Greene Hubbard, the first president of the National Geographic Society and a founder and first president of the Bell Telephone Company. In 1888–89, Hubbard had built a summer residence named Twin Oaks on 40 acres of farmland in Washington. Hubbard bequeathed one-half of the land of Twin Oaks to each of his two daughters, Mabel and Roberta. Mrs. Mabel Gardiner Bell sold her 20 acres of land to James Parmelee to build The Causeway, which Marjorie and Joseph Davies renamed Tregaron ("village of three wells" in Welsh), after the village in Wales where Mr. Davies' mother was born.
Although purchased in 1940, the Davies did not move into Tregaron until the spring of 1942, when renovations were finished. The three-storey neo-Georgian red brick and grey limestone mansion had been designed by architect Charles Adams Platt and built in 1912–1914. The mansion was situated on the highest point of the land, and there were two long and winding driveway entrances: the longer one on Klingle Road having a stone bridge or causeway, and the other entrance on Macomb Street. Tregaron was actually a country estate located in the Cleveland Park area of Washington, D.C., bordering Rock Creek Park and overlooking Klingle Valley. Marjorie Merriweather Post Davies had the interior of Tregaron completely redesigned, utilizing the skills of New York interior designer Fred Vogel to better display their collections of Russian imperial antiques, and a few minor architectural changes were made to the exterior of the house. At this time, Marjorie relinquished her enormous New York apartment and incorporated its antique French furniture into the rooms at Tregaron, which boasted an imposing front entrance with four two-story Roman Corinthian limestone columns supporting a dignified portico, and a huge south-facing terrace running the full length of the mansion. The interior had 13-foot ceilings on the ground floor, a large library, double-height entrance hall with an ivory marble floor, a conservatory or solarium, an elevator and a walk-in vault in the basement. In 1945, a dacha was shipped over from Russia in pieces and reconstructed and used by Mr. Davies as his working office.
The original grounds of The Causeway had been laid out and planned by pioneer woman landscape architect Ellen Biddle Shipman, who included formal English and wildflower gardens, a lily pond, stone walls, pathways and stairs, marble statuary and fountains, a cow pasture, meadows, and woodland gardens, trails and paths. The hilltop property also had a large stable–carriage house, a large greenhouse, a head gardener's cottage, two streams, bridle paths and a farm house. (Read more about The Causeway and James Parmelee.) Ambassador Davies and Marjorie Post Davies entertained often (including three presidents and first ladies). The Davies opened Tregaron to the public for special events that included concerts by the National Symphony, and annual spring garden parties were held when it was determined that the dogwoods, azaleas, rhododendrons and flowers would be in full bloom. In the 1940s, Joseph Davies began to develop health problems, and in the early 1950s increasing tensions developed in their marriage.
In March 1955, Marjorie divorced Ambassador Joseph Davies, giving him Tregaron and dividing up the Russian objects (many objects were repurchased by her after Mr. Davies' death). Joseph E. Davies died at Tregaron on May 9, 1958, at age eighty-one, from bronchial pneumonia following a stroke. Three days after his death, Davies was entombed in a crypt inside the Washington National Cathedral. In 1960, the Tregaron estate was one of several large properties under final consideration for the official residence of the Vice Presidents of the United States, and possibly for use as a school for diplomats. In 1967, it was under consideration as a location for the new Embassy of the Soviet Union. Rather than allow the 20-acre property to be subdivided, a group of concerned residents organized in 1967 under the name Friends of Tregaron to preserve the estate and woodlands from development. In 1980, the Washington International School, a coeducational day school, bought six acres of Tregaron, including the Georgian mansion and dacha, for its Tregaron Campus. In January 2006, the Tregaron Conservancy was formed and acquired 10 acres of land, and it endeavors to preserve, restore and maintain the bucolic landscape.
In 1955, Marjorie Merriweather Post bought another extraordinary property in the Nation's Capital named Arbramont. The original house had been designed in 1926 by architect John Deibert for Helen and Henry Parsons Erwin, and its gardens had been laid out by landscape architect Willard Gebhart. Marjorie Merriweather Post renamed her final Washington, D.C. estate Hillwood, after her former Long Island residence. Using architect Alexander McIlvaine from the New York firm Delano and Aldrich, she spent two years redesigning and expanding the 36-room Georgian-style mansion to showcase her priceless collections and to make the property viable for use as a future museum. She also utilized the New York design firms French and Company and McMillen Inc. for the interiors. The landscape architectural firm Innocenti and Webel designed the French parterre, and landscape architect Shogo J. Myaida was commissioned to design the Japanese-style garden. Encompassing a total of 25 acres, Hillwood was the largest privately-held residential property in Washington, D.C., of which 12 acres were gardens and lawns and 13 acres were tranquil woodlands bordering Rock Creek Park. Hillwood Estate, Museum & Gardens in Washington has more land than The White House's 18 acres.
With the renovations, expansion and landscaping of Hillwood finished, Marjorie began to entertain guests in May 1957. Her mansion's more-imposing south-facing portico overlooked the crescent-shaped Lunar Lawn, and from the two-storey entrance hall, lined with Russian portraits of czars and czarinas, and also from the 18th-century English pine-paneled library on the ground floor there were perfectly-framed views of the upper portion of the Washington Monument, situated about five miles to the south. (There is another library on the second floor.) The gardens at Hillwood included sculptures, statuary, fountains, pools, paths and walks, pergolas, quiet sitting areas and various garden "rooms", each with a different historical character and plantings. Greenhouses held 200 species of orchids and other flowers, and the grounds included thousands of azaleas, flowering trees, a cutting garden, a dacha (small Russian peasant house), a pet cemetery and a 9-hole putting green. Mrs. Post regularly held lavish dinner parties in the 44-foot-long formal 18th-century French oak-paneled dining room, capable of seating more than thirty. There were usually six or eight liveried footmen and two wine stewards to serve the guests. Adjacent to the formal dining room was an intimate, glass-walled breakfast room with Russian chandelier, and the large butler's pantry included a walk-in safe for silver and a dumbwaiter to bring up various antique porcelains and crystal from the basement, and nearby was the staff dining room. Mrs. Post added a pavilion room for after-dinner entertainment that included dances, often square dances, and first-run films were projected from a booth at the back of the balcony onto the screen. In all, Mrs. Post employed a loyal staff of forty at Hillwood to provide various services. Hillwood was filled with her collections of Russian, French and English paintings, vases, sculptures, tapestries, Aubusson rugs and Russian imperial and French porcelain, crystal and silverware. Also on display at Hillwood were 18th-century French furniture, and her large collections of Sèvres porcelain, Russian Orthodox Church icons, jewel-encrusted gold chalices, liturgical vestments, items of historical jewelry and many other objects d'arts, including over 80 items by Carl Fabergé and two of his imperial Easter eggs, most in special display cases. Marjorie Merriweather Post amassed the largest collections of 18th- and 19th-century Russian imperial art outside of the former Soviet Union. She owned the historic 1884 diamond crown worn by Empress Alexandra at her marriage to Czar Nicholas II. Marjorie had begun collecting the Russian items during the 18 months she and Ambassador Davies lived in Moscow. During the Cold War period in the mid-1950s, Mrs. Post had four separate fallout shelters built on the estate.
During Mrs. Post's lifetime she received numerous honors, decorations, citations and awards recognizing her philanthropies and charitable contributions. In 1957, the French government presented Marjorie Merriweather Post with The Legion of Honor medal, its highest civilian award, for her "long demonstrated friendship towards France." Mrs. Post also received citations from Belgium, Luxembourg, the Dominican Republic and Brazil for her generosity and friendship. Also in 1957, several friends got together with the head gardener at Hillwood to plan the "Friendship Walk" gardens with pathways, sculptures and plaques, in further tribute to Mrs. Post's years of philanthropy. In all, 181 friends contributed to this garden, which opened on November 3, 1957. The dedication plaque reads: "Friendship Walk―Hillwood―prepared by her friends―a tribute to Marjorie Merriweather Post for her generous nature, love of beauty, and devotion to human needs." Mrs. Post's parties at Hillwood were considered so important in Washington's social life that Perle Mesta and Gwen Cafritz, two other established Washington hostesses and socialites, did not refuse invitations to her coveted parties.
On June 18, 1958, at age seventy-one, Marjorie Merriweather Post married her fourth and last husband Herbert Arthur May, a Westinghouse Airbrake executive from Pittsburgh, in a private wedding held at the Maryland estate of her eldest daughter Adelaide. One clear and sunny day, Herbert arranged for Marjorie to fly on an airplane, although she had long had a fear of flying. Marjorie was so impressed and delighted that she told him, "I want one." Shortly thereafter she purchased her own Vickers Viscount four-engine turbojet aircraft, had the interior redesigned, and hired two pilots and a backup, as well as stewards to serve drinks and refreshments. Marjorie frequently used the Merriweather to shuttle her family and friends to residences in Washington, Palm Beach and the Adirondacks. On November 3, 1961, Marjorie returned to Battle Creek for the dedication of the C. W. Post Field, an athletic stadium which she funded. In 1964 Marjorie divorced Herbert A. May, and she was known as "Mrs. Post" for the remainder of her life. Mr. May died in March 1966, at age seventy-one, after suffering a stroke during a Caribbean cruise.
Mrs. Marjorie Merriweather Post donated a number of important items of historical jewelry to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., for permanent display in the National Gem and Mineral Collection at the National Museum of Natural History. In 1962, she gave the spectacular Napoleon Diamond Necklace, with 28 large diamonds totaling 263 carats, which she had purchased from Harry Winston. The necklace had been presented by Emperor Napoleon in 1811 to his second wife, Marie-Louise of Austria. In 1964, Mrs. Post also gave The Blue Heart ring, a heart-shaped 30.62 carat diamond, set in platinum and surrounded by 35 round brilliant-cut white diamonds. The Blue Heart is one the world's largest deep blue diamonds. The Maximilian Emerald ring, a 21-carat emerald in a Cartier setting with six baguette diamonds, was donated in 1964. It had been owned by Emperor Maximilian I of Mexico. (Ferdinand Maximilian Joseph, an Austrian archduke, was the ill-fated emperor of Mexico from 1864 to 1867.) The Marie-Antoinette earrings, with two pear-shaped diamonds of 20.34 and 14.25 carats, were acquired from Pierre Cartier in October 1928. Marjorie wore these earrings when she was presented at the Court of St. James's to King George V and Queen Mary in June 1929. She later gave the earrings to her daughter Eleanor Close Barzin, who donated them in 1964 to the Smithsonian. In 1971, Mrs. Post bought the spectacular Marie-Louise Diadem from Van Cleef & Arpels to give to the Smithsonian, reserving the right to wear it at The International Red Cross Ball. Originally diamonds and emeralds, the 79 emeralds were replaced in the late-1950s with Persian turquoise. This diadem has 1,006 mine-cut diamonds weighing a total of 700 carats and 79 Persian turquoise stones weighing a total of 540 carats. It had been commissioned in 1810 by Napoleon Bonaparte as a wedding gift to his second wife Marie-Louise. In 1964, when Marjorie Merriweather Post personally delivered various items from her magnificent jewelry collection to S. Dillon Ripley, secretary of the Smithsonian, he was visibly astonished when she removed the treasures from an ordinary brown paper bag.
Mrs. Post lived and looked like a queen, and she formally entertained heads of state―kings, queens, presidents―and first ladies, royalty, ambassadors, diplomats, Supreme Court justices, cabinet members, politicians, family and friends in her opulent homes. So serene and regal was Marjorie Merriweather Post's style of living and appearance that Queen Maud of Norway once exclaimed while onboard the Sea Cloud, "Why, you live like a Queen!" Marjorie Merriweather Post was a life-long devotee of the Christian Science faith, and she was not tolerant of the excessive use of alcohol, allowing her guests only half an hour for one or two cocktails before frequent dinner parties for thirty people, during which limited amounts of wine were offered. She firmly believed in the importance of eating three meals a day, having regular exercise and getting eight hours of sleep, and she retired promptly at 11 P.M.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Mrs. Post invited Vietnam War veterans to Hillwood for garden receptions with live entertainment on the Lunar Lawn. Wounded soldiers who had served their country well and returned home to largely negative media coverage and protests were warmly greeted by a kind and hospitable woman who honored them for their service. Some arrived on crutches, wheelchairs or stretchers. In the spring she held additional garden parties for veterans from the Walter Reed Army Medical Center and the Bethesda Naval Medical Center. In 1969, the United States Marine Corps awarded Marjorie the Dickie Chapelle Award for "demonstrated concern and solid support for the American hospitalized servicemen and for her lifetime of philanthropy and public service."
In 1969, Marjorie Merriweather Post donated Hillwood to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. on condition that she continue to live there for the remainder of her life, and she provided funds for the estate to be maintained as a public museum after her death. The Smithsonian delayed in converting Hillwood to a museum, and in April 1976, the property was returned to The Marjorie Merriweather Post Foundation of the District of Columbia, then directed by her eldest daughter Adelaide Close Riggs. The reason given was that high inflation had made the $10 million endowment inadequate to maintain it as a museum. Adelaide and her banker–sportsman husband Augustus Riggs IV lived at Happy Retreat Farm on 540 acres of land near Woodbine, in Howard County, Maryland. The Riggs were active in thoroughbred horse racing and foxchasing circles, and she was a fine equestrian and breeder of prize horses and dogs. In 1977 Hillwood was first opened to the public. Marjorie Merriweather Post anonymously gave generous amounts of money throughout her life to help those less fortunate, and she actively supported Mount Vernon College, C. W. Post College, the National Symphony Orchestra and its Music for Young America series of concerts, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the Washington Ballet, the Salvation Army, the American Red Cross, the Boy Scouts of America and many other worthy causes. Among her fine art donations are a collection of paintings―The Marjorie Merriweather Post Art Collection―now housed in the Christine DeVitt Fine Arts Center at South Plains College in Levelland, Texas, given over a span of eight years, from 1965 to 1973.
Marjorie Merriweather Post's sumptuous Washington estate―Hillwood Estate, Museum & Gardens―is open to the public on certain Sundays from 1 P.M. to 5 P.M. and on Tuesdays through Saturdays from 10 A.M. to 5 P.M. (it is closed on Mondays, most national holidays and several weeks in January); advance reservations are no longer required. Hillwood's main entrance is located at 4155 Linnean Avenue, N.W. The Hillwood Museum & Gardens and the many rare collections it contains are Mrs. Post's lasting legacy, and her former residence in Washington, D.C. is widely recognized as one of the finest house museums in the United States―and definitely worth visiting when in Washington.
In the summer of 1971 Marjorie Merriweather Post's health began to fail, and over the next two years she became somewhat frail and had noticeable hearing loss. On September 12, 1973, Marjorie Merriweather Post died peacefully at Hillwood, at the age of eighty-six. During her life Mrs. Post eschewed most publicity, but the news of her death was reported nationally and internationally with obituaries in many newspapers. She was widely considered to be the grande dame of American, Palm Beach and Washington Society―and a regal and beautiful woman, equally known and admired for her quiet philanthropies and gracious hospitality. During her life she was sometimes described as the richest woman in America (before the Fortune and Forbes 400 rich lists). On September 17, 1973, at 11 A.M., a short public funeral service was held at the National Presbyterian Church in Washington, presided over by the United States Senate Chaplain and attended by former First Lady Mamie Eisenhower, ambassadors from various countries and about 1,200 other people, many from New York and Palm Beach. That same day at three o'clock in the afternoon, Mrs. Post's three daughters and other family members gathered in the French drawing room at Hillwood for a simple private funeral service conducted by a Christian Science reader. In November 1974, a little over one year after Mrs. Post's death, her family returned to Hillwood for a private ceremony in the rose garden to place Mrs. Post's ashes in the base of the 10-foot tall pink granite column topped by an antique urn carved from purple porphyry. Time magazine noted in its September 24, 1973 obituary: "...with her death a gilt-edged volume of American history came to an end."
Books, references and articles of interest are: Heiress: the Rich Life of Marjorie Merriweather Post by William Wright (Washington, D.C.: New Republic Books, 1978; New York: Simon and Schuster, 1978; New York: Pocket Books, 1979); American Empress: The Life and Times of Marjorie Merriweather Post by Nancy Rubin Stuart (New York: Villard Books, a division of Random House, 1995; Lincoln, Nebraska: ASJA Press–iUniverse Star, 2002, 2004); Long Island's Prominent North Shore Families: Their Estates and Their Country Homes by Raymond E. Spinzia and Judith A. Spinzia (New York: Virtualbookworm.com publishing, 2006); Hillwood: The Long Island Estate of Marjorie Merriweather Post by Kenneth G. Mensing and Rita Langdon (Long Island University: April 2008); Long Island Country Houses and Their Architects, 1860–1940 by Anthony K. Baker; C. W. Post―the Hour and the Man: A biography with Genealogical Supplement by Nettie Leitch Major (Washington, D.C.: Judd & Detweiler, Inc., 1963); Great Camps of the Adirondacks by Harvey H. Kaiser (Boston: David R. Godine, Inc., 1982, 2003); "Topridge" by Ed Hale (Jay, New York: Adirondack Life magazine, May–June 1983); "Camp Topridge Revisited: Renewing Marjorie Merriweather Post's Adirondack Legend" by Richard Giegengack and Michael L. Bird (New York: Conde Nast Publishing, Inc., Architectural Digest: All-American Country Houses issue, June 1999); Adirondack Home by Ralph Kylloe (Layton, Utah: Gibbs Smith, 2005); An Elegant Wilderness: Great Camps and Grand Lodges of the Adirondacks, 1855–1935 by Gladys Montgomery (New York: Acanthus Press, 2011); "Browsing the Palace of the Adirondacks, Camp Topridge" (Glens Falls, New York: The Post-Star, November 21, 2004); New York's Fabulous Luxury Apartments by Andrew Alpern (New York: Dover Publications, 1987); Luxury Apartment Houses of Manhattan: An Illustrated History by Andrew Alpern (N. Chelmsford, MA: Courier Dover Publications, 1992); "Big Apartments of '20s Recalled―Manhattan's Biggest Apartment Was a Palatial 54-Room Triplex", The New York Times, September 2, 1962 (with original floor plans); Paris on the Potomac: the French Influence on the Architecture and Art of Washington, D.C., compiled and edited by Cynthia R. Field, Isabelle Gournay and Thomas P. Somma (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2007); Tregaron: A Magical Place by Kirstine Larsen (Signature Books, 2002); Sea Cloud: A Living Legend by Kurt Grobecker and Peter Neumann (Kemble, Gloucestershire, England: Collectors' Books Limited, 1991); Post City, Texas: C. W. Post's Colonizing Activities in West Texas by Charles Dudley Eaves and Cecil Allen Hutchinson (Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 1952); "C. W. Post" by Jan Reid (Austin: Texas Monthly, March 1987); and "A World Unique and Magnificent―Mrs. Marjorie Merriweather Post, head of a great U.S. fortune", with photographs by Alfred Eisenstaedt (New York: Time Inc.: Life magazine, Vol. 59, No. 19, November 5, 1965); "The Rich: Post Hostess with the Mostest", Time magazine, September 23, 1973; and Hillwood Museum and Gardens: Marjorie Merriweather Post's Art Collector's Personal Museum, with contributions by Frederick J. Fisher, Karen Kettering, Anne Odom, Liana Paredes Arend and Gwen Stauffer (Washington, D.C.: Hillwood Museum & Gardens, 2000, 2003). Living Artfully: At Home with Marjorie Merriweather Post by Estella M. Chung (London: D. Giles Limited, in association with Hillwood Estate, Museum & Gardens; release date, June 2013). In 1987, A+E Television Networks' The Biography Channel produced and broadcast a documentary film entitled Biography: Marjorie Merriweather Post.
Copyright © 2009 by Kenneth Lisenbee