|Christmas at Staatsburgh, 2016|
We also do not have definitive knowledge that the Mills family spent Christmas here. We know the family spent most of the autumn at Staatsburgh and we assume they did spend at least a few Christmases here over the years. Thankfully, earlier this year, we received an amazing gift. The Staatsburgh guestbook used from 1899-1908 was discovered and donated to the site. The guestbook was signed by visitors when they arrived at Staatsburgh. It has entries and therefore proof that the family was here for Christmas in both 1899 and 1900. There are many guests all fall, during the week of Thanksgiving and even two weeks before Christmas, but Christmas, as we will discover, was mainly a family affair at Staatsburgh. Let us first take a look at Christmas 1899...
In 1899, William McKinley was President, Garret Hobart was Vice President (until his death in November) and the world was just days away from facing a new century. Just like 2017, Christmas in 1899 was on a Monday, the beginning of the financial week. In one New York hospital, future cultural icon, Humphrey Bogart was born. Also similar to life in 2017 was the number of dreary stories on the front page of the newspaper. The New York Times Christmas Day edition featured articles on the front page about deaths from a British steamer wreck, a mining disaster in Pennsylvania with even more casualties, and an investigation into the corruption of Tammany Hall. Other significant events to happen during 1899 included the end of the Spanish American War, the beginning of the Phillipine-American War, and the newsboys strike in New York City, which later inspired the movie and Broadway musical Newsies.
The guestbook signatures from Christmas 1899 reveal a small, intimate gathering with mostly family members and a few close friends. Only family members from Ogden's side of the family are present. Perhaps Ruth's closest family members spent Christmas in England since her twin sister moved there when she married an Englishman.
|Staatsburgh Guestbook entries on Christmas 1899|
|Whitelaw Reid, 1892|
Whitelaw and Elisabeth had two children, but only one, Jean Templeton Reid, was present this Christmas. She was 15 years old and only one year younger than her cousins Gladys and Beatrice Mills. It was still nine years before she would marry John Hubert Ward (the second son of an earl and equerry to four British kings) and live in England. This Christmas she was still young and unconcerned with courting or finding a proper husband. Her brother, Ogden Mills Reid, was not present, but he was 17 so it is possible that he made his own plans for the holiday (or did not sign the guestbook). The patriarch of the family, Darius Ogden Mills (D.O.), a widower at this point, was also present to enjoy Christmas with his two children and his grandchildren.
|Jean Templeton Reid Ward, 1909|
In addition to the family, close friends W.S. Hoyt (see below), a Miss Frances Ogden, and one other person with an undecipherable signature signed the guestbook. It looks like the last name is Webb, but the first name does not resemble any of the Webbs that we know about. UPDATE: We figured out the signature! I was researching another man who signed the guestbook, Fernando Yznaga, brother of Consuelo Yznaga, Duchess of Manchester, and I discovered a newspaper article that referred to him as one of the Three Vanderbilt Musketeers. The article insinuated that these three men spent a lot of time traveling and socializing with William K. Vanderbilt. The three men consisted of Fernando Yznaga (at one point he was married to the sister of Vanderbilt's first wife), Winfield Scott Hoyt (!), and J. Louis Webb. I looked at the signature again and sure enough, it was him! We found our Webb! J. Louis Webb was the brother of William Seward Webb who had married Lila Vanderbilt, William K.'s little sister. He was also a lifelong bachelor so his attendance at the Mills family Christmas is logical since he was a close friend of Winfield Scott Hoyt. We don't know much about Frances Ogden, but she did spend a lot of time at Newport and she remained unmarried throughout her life. It is possible that she is a distant relation because D.O.'s mother's name was Hannah Ogden, but so far we haven't been able to find the connection.
|The obituary of Frances Ogden, May 26, 1929|
|Winfield Scott Hoyt, 1922 Passport Photo|
If you happen to visit Staatsburgh during the Christmas holidays, you will be able to see and feel the Christmas atmosphere in a way similar to the guests and family during Christmas 1899. The house feels very livable and it is easy to imagine roaring fires and lively conversation. There is a perfect hill for sledding and there would be ice skating and ice boating on the river if it was frozen. Staatsburgh offered the opportunity to spend time outside even in the winter months. The mansion was close to the nearby village yet still isolated from the outside world. The upper classes during the Gilded Age were often insulated from the struggles and strife faced by many during that era, and spending Christmas on a country estate away from the city was another layer of separation.