Welcome to Staatsburgh State Historic Site's blog! Learn more about the Gilded Age home of Ruth and Ogden Mills!

Tuesday, January 2, 2024

Gilded Age Opera Wars: The Academy of Music vs. The Metropolitan Opera

One of the major plot points running through the second season of HBO’s The Gilded Age was the clash between the Academy of Music and the Metropolitan Opera.  Although the battle between the two opera houses was historically documented, the conflict was amplified on the show for maximum drama.  The Academy of Music had been New York’s established opera house since the 1850s and only those with “old money” and connections had boxes.[1]  With the influx of “new money” into New York, many families were unable to get a box due to the academy’s exclusivity and lack of space.  As a result, families with “new money” decided to pool their resources and build a brand-new opera house, the Metropolitan Opera.  When the Metropolitan Opera opened its doors for the very first time in 1883, they did so on the same exact night as the opening for the Academy of Music.  This set up the two opera houses for a clash where only one would triumph in the end! But which opera house did Ruth & Ogden Mills choose?  Read on to find out!

Puck Magazine, a publication often using humor or satire to depict current events, showcased the clash in the October 31, 1883 edition, Artist Joseph Keppler, Library of Congress.

Friday, November 24, 2023

Is That Napoleon?

That's Napoleon.
No, that's not Napoleon.

Hanging in Staatsburgh's library, the life-size portrait of Staatsburgh's founder, Morgan Lewis, dressed an early 19th century military uniform, often prompts the question "Is that Napoleon?

While Ruth Mills' great-grandfather is not the French emperor, there are certainly reminders of Napoleon Bonaparte throughout the house. Tucked away in the southwest corner of Staatsburgh's library is a leather-bound, four-volume set titled Napoleon Bonaparte: A Life. Sitting upon Mrs. Mills' desk in her boudoir is a small brass sealing wax stamp crowned with a bust of Napoleon Bonaparte. Besides it, there sits a small tortoise box with a cameo of Napoleon Bonaparte. Outside of the guestrooms for unmarried ladies upstairs, hung among the portraits of American presidents such as George Washington and Theodore Roosevelt, hangs a print of Jacques-Louis David's Napoleon Crossing the Alps.

In anticipation of the upcoming Napoleon Bonaparte biopic, Napoleon, starring Joaquin Phoenix as the titular emperor, we wanted to share some of Staatsburgh's own connections to the wider Bonaparte family. For a woman who vied to be Queen of New York Society, Ruth Mills seemed to surround herself with images of French royalty. Yet her and her family's ties to the Bonaparte family went beyond interior decoration. Several generations of Ruth Livingston Mills' family had connections to the famous French imperial family, reaching from the gilded palaces of Paris to the American Wild West.

Friday, September 1, 2023

Saturday, July 29, 2023

Giddy Up! - Notes on Staatsburgh's Carriage Collection

Dick Lahey amongst the 

 In May 2023, Staatsburgh State Historic Site staff toured our off-site storage facility with local carriage collector, Dick Lahey. 

A board member of the Carriage Association of America and a former educator with decades of expertise in Hudson Valley-made vehicles, Mr. Lahey was able to share with us insights into our unique carriage collection - everything from the Mills' high-end Brewster "Brougham" carriage and farm yard "spring wagons" to elegant bob-sleds for wintertime fun - noting that all of the carriages and sleighs were in outstanding original condition. 

The notes below are taken from our conversation with Dick.

Thursday, March 16, 2023

Suffragists, Socialists & Socialites: Women's History Month

March is Women's History Month - a month-long celebration of history-making women and their accomplishments! Here at Staatsburgh, there are plenty of stories of remarkable women, groundbreaking achievements, and their contributions to local, national and international history.

François Flameng. Ruth Livingston Mills.
1909. Oil on Canvas. 
Of course we have to start off Women's History Month with our very own Ruth Livingston Mills. 

As a woman born into New York's high society, Mrs. Mills attended many charity events and contributed money to a variety of causes. Charity was one avenue for these ambitious society women to focus their energies, since many were not allowed careers in the era. According to newspapers, one of those causes was the fight for female suffrage - the right to vote! Activists and reformers such as Ida B. Wells, Dr. Mary Walker, and Jane Addams campaigned across the county for the right to vote during the Gilded Age.