Some of the things we celebrate tend to be a double edged sword. I recently say a TV program celebrating the multi-million dollar restoration of a home at Newport Rhode Island. Newport was one of the areas known as a playground for the robber barons of almost one-hundred years ago. The home in particular was actually a summer home build by Edward Berwind. His wife for several years spent about six weeks there during the summer months. The mansion as shown to the right was about 86,000 square feet and will filled with utter opulence. The TV show proudly announced how they brought this home back to its former elegance.
I personally have problems with this sort of thing because I know some of the history surrounding the person involved. Edward Berwind came to wealth in the coal mining industry. He was famous at the time for absolutely refusing to negotiate with his workers. He dictated what they would earn, how long they worked and where they lived. As a result the workers spent about eighty hours per week in very dangerous conditions (many were killed each year in mining accidents). They also were pretty much forced to live in the “company” town where Mr. Berwind took back all their wages for overpriced food and housing.
Edward Berwind was the epitome of what a robber baron was. He spent very lavishly on himself and his family while forcing his workers to live and work in absolutely dreadful conditions. I know there are some of you out there, particularly my Republican friends, who don’t have a good understanding of these times and you are probably saying “well the workers could have worked for someone else”. But the reality of the time was that people one hundred years ago pretty much died in the same place they were born and in the Appalachians that mean working in the mines in your area.
So, here I am deeply troubled by the fact that millions are spent restoring a robber barons opulence that was built on the back of his workers. I can’t understand celebrating that fact. To me I would almost prefer that the home was torn down.