A passionate supporter of music and the opera, she went on to help find the Metropolitan Opera Company, which held court at the Met. While many New York socialites owned or rented out a box on the grand tier of the Met on Broadway, famously called the 'Diamond Horseshoe', she owned two boxes, one for her and the other for guests, each box capable of holding nine persons. A large contributor to ballet, she served on the board of the New York City Ballet.
She resided regally at her Hudson Valley mansion 'The Locusts', a neobaroque mansion named it's black locust trees by her grandfather William Dinsmore. It was the second mansion to occupy the spot, the first one being far too large and dated for her to maintain. It was here that she played on the lawn with her six dogs and gave gala fundraising dinners in the gardens.
At 'Hopeland House', her Staatsburg, New York estate she frequently held fundraising political galas at which Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover attended. She served as alternate delegate to Republican National Convention from New York in 1924. She served as co-chairwoman of New York's Woman's Republican National Committee in 1926 and in 1927. She was a guest at the inaugural balls of Presidents Calvin Cooligde, Herbert Hoover, Dwight Eisenhower and the first one of Richard Nixon. Good friends with Nelson Rockefeller, she often co-hosted with Happy Rockefeller at her apartment in New York City. She also considered Leonard Bernstein, Cole Porter, Elsa Maxwell and Cholly Knickerbocker good friends.
Helen Dinsmore Huntington
Helen Huntington was a prominent socialite, patron of the arts, heiress and political hostess. Having grown up in Rhinebeck, New York, she played alongside Vincent Astor, who lived at 'Ferncliff' nearby. They married on April 30, 1914. Helen's friend, Glenway Wescott, the novelist, admiringly described her in his unpublished diaries as "a grand, old-fashioned lesbian." "Mrs. (Vincent) Astor said she always had a homosexual to dinner" because they were "the only people who could talk," the architect Philip Johnson remembered.
Locusts on Hudson
A supreme lover of animals, she owned three large dogs and three small dogs, as well as five horses, six cows, four sheep, 5 chickens, 2 parrots and numerous others.
In 1966, she, along with thousands of other patrons and opera lovers, attended the closing gala of the Metropolitan Opera House on Broadway Street, said to be the Met's finest night, after which the building was to be demolished and the company would move to it's new Lincoln Square building. At the new Met, she went on to find The Philharmonic Hall, attending the opening night on the arms of Leonard Bernstein. The night was one of the last times she was seen in public . Her health began to fail and she moved out to 'The Locusts'. In October of 1976 she returned to New York City to attend a campaign fundraising dinner for Gerald Ford. On November 6 she went to vote at St. Thomas Church. Later in December, 14 days short of Christmas, Helen died at the age of 83; buried in Rhinebeck Cemetery.
Locusts on Hudson is a 76 acre estate in Staatsburg, New York, owned by hotelier André Balazs. The property has both an operating farm and manor. The historic estate now acts as an events venue due in part to its naturalistic landscape. A portion of the produce and animals of the farm are sent to The Standard Grill and The Standard, High Line Hotel, also owned by Balazs, in New York City, New York. Designed by architect John Churchill in the early 1940s, the estate's manor is of a neo-baroque style. Beside the manor, there are many grey and white, antique remnants of dairy barns on the property.
American Revolutionary War officer and Associate Justice, Henry Brockholst Livingston, bought the "Wittemount" estate from a man by the name of De Witt in 1782. Brockholst Livingston developed the land on the estate more than had been done before. In 1797, he gave the property the new title, “The Locusts,” (not to be confused with Locust Grove) for its black locust trees. Brockholst Livingston removed a log cabin from, and added a red brick mansion to, the property. Henry Brockholst Livingston resided on the estate for some years before selling it to Major George William Augustus Provost.
In 1871, William B. Dinsmore, president of the Adams Express Company, built a mansion and other structures on the property. He added extensive gardens, farmland, and greenhouses to the estate. Furthermore, in the 19th Century, the property was the subject of at least one American School painting. Helen Dinsmore Huntington inherited the estate from her grandfather, William Dinsmore II, in 1941. William Dinsmore II, the property was called "Staatsburg on Hudson." Helen Dinsmore Huntington had the mansion demolished and replaced it with the manor that is currently on the property. After divorcing her husband of 26 years, Vincent Astor, she married Lytle Hull. During that time, many famous musicians, such as Cole Porter, Leonard Bernstein, and Elsa Maxwell, visited the estate for galas held to support her philanthropic projects. Bob Guccione, founder and publisher of Penthouse Magazine, owned the property, utilizing it as a weekend country house. At the time, the property was referred to as “The Willows.” In 2004, the estate was foreclosed before being bought by Uma Thurman and André Balazs.
William Vincent Astor (November 15, 1891 – February 3, 1959) was a businessman and philanthropist and a member of the prominent Astor family.
Called Vincent, he was born in the Fifth Avenue mansion where his paternal grandmother Caroline Webster Schermerhorn reigned over American society. He was the son of John Jacob Astor IV, millionaire and inventor; and his first wife, Ava Lowle Willing, an heiress from Philadelphia.
He graduated from St. George's School, in Middletown, Rhode Island in 1910 and attended Harvard College from 1911 to 1912, leaving school without graduating.
Vincent endured a difficult childhood. His vain mother was embarrassed by his resemblance to his father and would belittle and humiliate him in public. In addition his parents had a difficult marriage. They divorced in 1909 and on September 9, 1911, John Jacob "Jack" Astor IV married Madeleine Talmage Force, an 18-year-old beauty one year younger than Vincent. Their son, John Jacob "Jakey" Astor VI, would be born on August 14, 1912. Vincent's hatred for Madeleine led him to believe that Jakey was not even a biological Astor.
In 1919, his mother Ava married a recently widowed English nobleman, Thomas Lister, Baron Ribblesdale. While a student at Harvard University in 1912, Vincent inherited an estimated $69 million when his father went down with the Titanic. After his father's death, he quit college to manage his family's vast properties. He also was called "the richest boy in the world."
Like his father, Vincent belonged to the New York Society of Colonial Wars. He served as commodore of the New York Yacht Club from 1928 to 1930.
Vincent Astor was, according to Astor family biographer Derek Wilson, "a hitherto unknown phenomenon in America: an Astor with a highly developed social conscience." He was 20 when his father died and having inherited a massive fortune, Vincent Astor dropped out of Harvard University. He set about to change the family image from that of miserly, aloof slum landlords who enjoyed the good life at the expense of others. Over time, he sold off the family's New York City slum housing and reinvested in reputable enterprises while spending a great deal of time and energy helping others. He was responsible for the construction of a large housing complex in the Bronx that included sufficient land for a large children's playground, and in Harlem, he transformed a valuable piece of real estate into another playground for children.
Vincent Astor appeared as No. 12 on the first list of America's richest people, compiled by Forbes Magazine. His net worth at the time was estimated at $75 million.
Amongst his holdings was Newsweek magazine which had for a time its headquarters in the former Knickerbocker Hotel that had been built by Vincent Astor's father; he was the magazine's chairman. He also inherited Ferncliff, the Astor family's 2,800-acre (11 km2) estate near Rhinebeck, New York, where his father had been born. Vincent Astor, however, would be the last family owner of the estate and occupant of the "Ferncliff Casino", a Stanford White—McKim Mead & White designed 1904 Beaux Arts style 40,000 square feet (3,700 m2) building, inspired by the Grand Trianon at Versailles. On his death in 1959, Vincent Astor bequeathed a main house at Ferncliff to the Benedictine Hospital in Kingston, New York, and later his widow, Brooke, donated "Ferncliff Casino" to the Catholic Archdiocese of New York, and sold off many parcels of the estate. In 1963 Homer Staley, a local retired businessman in the area, asked Brooke Astor to preserve the remaining natural acreage of woodlands from development. She donated the land to the Rotary Club of Rhinebeck, to become the Ferncliff Forest Game Refuge and Forest Preserve.
Astor married Helen Dinsmore Huntington, on April 30, 1914. At the ceremony, he was stricken with the mumps, a disease that made him sterile; as for the bride, her friend Glenway Wescott, the novelist, admiringly described her in his unpublished diaries as "a grand, old-fashioned lesbian." The couple divorced in 1940. A year later, Helen became the second wife of Lytle Hull (1882-1958), a real-estate broker who was a friend and business associate of her former husband.
Shortly after his divorce, Astor married Mary Benedict Cushing, the eldest daughter of Dr. Harvey Williams Cushing and Katharine Stone Crowell. Mary's sisters were Betsey Maria Cushing and Barbara "Babe" Cushing. They divorced in September 1953, and the following month, Mary wed James Whitney Fosburgh, a painter who worked as an art lecturer at the Frick Museum.
On October 8, 1953, several weeks after divorcing his second wife, Astor married the once-divorced, once-widowed Roberta Brooke Russell. According to an oft-told story in society circles, Astor agreed to divorce his second wife only after she had found him a replacement spouse. Her first suggestion was Janet Newbold Ryan Stewart Bush, the newly divorced wife of James Smith Bush II (brother of Prescott Bush), who turned Astor down with startling candor, saying, "I don't even like you." Astor proceeded to tell her that he was not well and, though only in his early 60s, he could not be expected to live for very long, whereupon she would inherit his millions. At that, Janet Bush reportedly replied, "What if you do live?" Mary Cushing then proposed Brooke. Together, Vincent and Brooke developed the Vincent Astor Foundation, a foundation that was designed to give back to New York City. Brooke died in 2007 at the age of 105.
Astor joined the Naval Reserve shortly after it was founded and was commissioned as an ensign on December 28, 1915. At the outbreak of World War I, Vincent took advice from his friend and future-president Franklin Delano Roosevelt and volunteered for active duty with the Navy on April 7, 1917. He went overseas on June 9 on the USS Noma (Astor's own yacht which had been acquired as a patrol ship by the Navy). He was later assigned to the armed yacht USS Aphrodite.
He was promoted to lieutenant (junior grade) on January 1, 1918 and to lieutenant on July 1, 1918. He was joined in France by his wife, who did charity work with the YMCA at the naval base in Bordeaux, while he served as Port Officer at Royan.
His last assignment was as an officer on the captured German minelaying submarine U-117 during her voyage to the United States. Astor returned to the United States on the U-117 on April 25, 1919 and was discharged on May 24.
After the war Astor became a companion of the Naval Order of the United States.
In World War II, Astor again served on active duty with the Navy. He was called to active duty with the rank of commander and was promoted to the rank of captain in June 1943 (with date of rank June 18, 1942). As he had in the First World War, he loaned his yacht Nourmahal to the Navy for service in the Second World War.
During the early months of 1942, he suggested equipping fishing boats with radios so they could report U-boat sightings. One boat so equipped was Ernest Hemingway's fishing yacht Pilar.
For his service in the Navy, Captain Astor was awarded the Navy Commendation Medal, Naval Reserve Medal with star, World War I Victory Medal, American Defense Service Medal, American Campaign Medal, and World War II Victory Medal.
Vincent died on February 3, 1959, of a heart attack at his apartment at 120 East End Avenue in Manhattan. Astor left all of his money to the Vincent Astor foundation and Brooke, surprising many. She continued his philanthropic work. Vincent Astor was first interred on his "Ferncliff Courts" estate ("Astor Courts") on the Hudson River near Rhinebeck, New York. When Brooke later disposed of the property he was reinterred in the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Sleepy Hollow, New York. Brooke is buried next to him.
His half-brother Jakey felt cheated and resentfully stated Vincent "had the legal, not the moral right to keep all the money". Jakey sued Brooke to inherit his money. He was certain that Vincent was "mentally incompetent" when signing his last will in June 1958 due to frequent smoking and alcoholism, though Brooke insisted otherwise. While Vincent was hospitalized, Brooke would often bring him liquor. Jakey accused her of using the liquor to influence the will in her favor. Jakey ended up settling for $250,000. The rest of money remained with the Vincent Astor foundation and Brooke.
A mountain in Antarctica bears Astor's name. Rising to a height of 3,710 m, Mount Astor is located in the Hays Mountains of the Queen Maud Range, and was named by Rear Admiral Richard Byrd on his November 1929 expedition flight to the South Pole. Astor had been a contributing philanthropist to the expedition.
Days of Love: Celebrating LGBT History One Story at a Time by Elisa Rolle
Paperback: 760 pages
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; 1 edition (July 1, 2014)
CreateSpace Store: https://www.createspace.com/4910282
Amazon (Paperback): http://www.amazon.com/dp/1500563323/?tag=e
Amazon (Kindle): http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00MZG0VHY/?tag=e
Days of Love chronicles more than 700 LGBT couples throughout history, spanning 2000 years from Alexander the Great to the most recent winner of a Lambda Literary Award. Many of the contemporary couples share their stories on how they met and fell in love, as well as photos from when they married or of their families. Included are professional portraits by Robert Giard and Stathis Orphanos, paintings by John Singer Sargent and Giovanni Boldini, and photographs by Frances Benjamin Johnson, Arnold Genthe, and Carl Van Vechten among others. “It's wonderful. Laying it out chronologically is inspired, offering a solid GLBT history. I kept learning things. I love the decision to include couples broken by death. It makes clear how important love is, as well as showing what people have been through. The layout and photos look terrific.” Christopher Bram “I couldn’t resist clicking through every page. I never realized the scope of the book would cover centuries! I know that it will be hugely validating to young, newly-emerging LGBT kids and be reassured that they really can have a secure, respected place in the world as their futures unfold.” Howard Cruse “This international history-and-photo book, featuring 100s of detailed bios of some of the most forward-moving gay persons in history, is sure to be one of those bestsellers that gay folk will enjoy for years to come as reference and research that is filled with facts and fun.” Jack Fritscher
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