Some of the Things We Celebrate….

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.

6 comments

  1. Those who do not know the past, repeat it.
    Knowing the past of this man helps me to recoil at what he did. Not much different than those who take industry today to the cheapest market overseas. Having visited more than one sweat shop in China, Egypt and Thailand I always attempt to buy American Or research where the product is made . How they treat their workers is important to me.

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    • Buying USA made is almost impossible in today’s world. Even with cars they might be assembled in Michigan but are made from parts made around the world. I am an admitted electronics junkie but I don’t remember when I last saw one made in the U.S. Not saying this is good or bad but just the fact of life now.

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  2. Yes, it is troubling if indeed the restoration is meant to honor the man who lived there. Often tho, the restoration of great buildings is to celebrate the architecture and yes the opulence of a bygone era. It is a also a history of the grandiose design, like the castles and mansions of Europe. At least that’s how I look at them. Every city has some of these as showplaces and many were built by robber barons, etc. The stories add to the attraction for tourists. I like to visit them myself, altho I have to agree that it takes a huge amount of money to restore and maintain them.
    Is taxpayer money used or is it paid for by private parties? That makes a difference too.

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    • Jane, I understand where you are coming from. We could say the same thing about the Pyramids, they were built on the backs of slaves by very brutal overseers. I too visit victorian mansions in many of the cities we visit.

      I am an altruist before I am almost anything else and like it or not this affects how I primarily see much of the world.

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  3. To answer your question, Jane, the restoration of The Elms is entirely funded by private individuals, namely member so of The Newport Preservation Society.

    Like it or not, RJ, The Elms represents The Gilded Age, a signifcant part of American History as relates to the Industrial Revolution and economic growth and human rights… and as such, deserves to be restored. If restoration and preservation were selective, we, as Americans, would have very little to remind us of the past. It is vitally important we, learn from positive and negative points of history to maintain perspective, and values. Life is not perfect and bulldozing priceless art teaches our children nothing except denial.

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    • SDX, thanks for your view of this. You are right in some regards. The Germans have preserved the death camps so that we remember the atrocities committed. I’m not saying this is on the same level by any means but along the same lines. I hope his history of mistreating his workers are at least mentioned someplace on the property. Thanks for the belated comment.

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