Tuesday, October 16, 2018

DAY 98: A Gilded Childhood

Young girl's dress, silk, 1869

Jennie was born in Brooklyn, but from 1859 until the autumn of 1867, when she was thirteen, she lived primarily in the house on Madison Square. With a father nicknamed the King of Wall Street, whose friends included the Rothschild banker August Belmont and his frequent business partner Cornelius Vanderbilt, Jennie never knew a moment's want. Moreover, she was, as my beloved editor pointed out, not so much Leonard Jerome's second-born daughter as his first-born son. Recognizing a soulmate, Leonard treated Jennie as his natural heir in everything.
Leonard Jerome

Hwas endowed with an immense personality from his earliest days. As an undergraduate at Princeton, in 1838, he organized one hundred fellow students to bring back to campus a cannon used in the Battle of Princeton during the Revolutionary War, effectively stealing it from rival Rutgers. The cannon was buried muzzle-down in the green behind Nassau Hall--now known as Cannon Green--to prevent it being stolen back. Animosities between the two campuses continued for the next thirty years, culminating in Rutgers' challenge to settle the matter: a controlled athletic championship. What resulted was the first intercollegiate football game in 1869--although it sounds more like soccer. Rutgers won. The cannon remains, however, buried in Cannon Green.

Leonard's tendency toward piratical theft played out for the rest of his life on Wall Street, where he made and lost serial fortunes. He life was defined by grand gestures--driving four-in-hand on the box of a carriage full of beautiful women down Fifth Avenue; throwing charity concerts in his private opera house to support Lincoln's Union Army; firing on a violent mob from the steps of his newspaper, the New York Times, with a borrowed Gatling Gun; founding the Metropolitan Opera when his money was considered too new to rent a box in Caroline Astor's Academy of Music. He was also a founder of the New York Yacht Club and the American Jockey Club. Among the gentlemen of old New York, as opposed to their more snobbish wives, his charm and flamboyance made Leonard immensely popular.

Papa provided Jennie with what he regarded as the best: a student of Chopin's to discipline her virtuosic piano playing; horses; summers in Newport; a devoted nannie; a steam yacht named after her mother and sister; all the books his library could provide; smart clothes; and eventually a European education. 

Delmonico's on William Street, where Jennie took dance classes
During the winter, Jennie lived on Madison Square and attended the Family Dancing Classes at Delmonico's, the necessary prerequisite to eventual invitations as a debutante to the Patriarchs Balls overseen by the doyenne of New York Society, Caroline Astor. Three girls Jennie met at Delmonico's would remain her friends for life: Alva Erskine-Smith, who became Alva Vanderbilt; Consuelo Yznaga del Valle y Clemens, who became the Duchess of Manchester; and Minnie Stevens--who was eventually Lady Arthur Paget.

Jerome Park Racetrack and grandstand
By 1866, however, Leonard Jerome had opened Jerome Park on the old Bathgate estate he'd purchased (now Jerome Reservoir in the Bronx.) Its chief attraction was its thoroughbred racecourse and modern grandstands, complete with dining room and hotel for overnight guests--but summer activities including trap shooting, badminton and tennis. Jerome Park was the site of the first polo match in the United States. Jennie remembered being carried through the crowd on her father's shoulders when his racehorse, Kentucky, won at the track--and being placed on the horse's back in the winner's circle. 

Leonard built a country house on the Bathgate estate as well, for his girls to enjoy the seasons far from the dirt of city streets. At the Bathgate house, Jennie jumped her horses around the snowy fields and learned to ice skate on Jerome Park's rink, which, like everything else was open to the public. The skirts of skating costumes, like those in the illustration here from 1874, were shorter to allow greater freedom of movement--and as they offered a glimps of the ankle, were considered quite daring.
For more images from THAT CHURCHILL WOMAN, visit the  Pinterest board behind the novel.

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