Monday, March 12, 2007

Visit Mansions for Your Next Birthday: Here's What I Did!

Good morning, Happy Mansion Lovers!

Are you feeling motivated this morning?

I certainly hope so. I know that I am!

Let me thank you for all of the wonderful ideas I've received for my new book. It's been a great time as I explored those subjects and developed my latest book proposal.

Now that the book proposal is off being considered by publishers, I'll be able to write more blog posts to inspire you to live better than a billionaire on five dollars extra a day.

Thinking back over the last year, I realized that I had some experiences that might inspire you to enjoy more beautiful living. I'll be writing about these experiences in the coming weeks and months.

Since we all have a birthday each year, it struck me that you might like to learn about how I organized my birthday last year.

New England, the weather often turns pretty dreadful before my fall birthday. I've learned to have alternate plans for the day, depending on the weather. I always prefer to celebrate outdoors and hope for the best.

When my son, Don, lived in the
Boston area, we made it an annual event to play a round of golf on that day. Many years, we had to wait until the afternoon for the frost to leave the course so we could play. In other years, we would bask in 60 degree weather.

Since Don doesn't live near me any more, I've made it a bigger point of emphasis to get outdoors that day.

Last fall, I found myself in a mansion mood. But I was wary about the weather. Why? Most historic mansions in
New England aren't heated for visitors!

But the weather forecast was for balmy weather and not a cloud in sight. I decided to take the day off with my wife and visit
Newport, Rhode Island's wonderful mansions. While all of the mansions aren't open in the fall, many of the best ones are. The good news is that you don't have many visitors to compete with. You can park right next to the mansion. You don't have to wait long for a tour, and your tour group will be small. With the good weather, you can also stroll the grounds or walk along the ocean to warm up after your chilly visits inside.

There's also a favorite restaurant of mine in
Newport where you can dine on excellent seafood while looking out at the harbor. That would be our mid-day stop.

But we were in no hurry. Arriving mid-morning after a 90 minute drive, Carol and I found ourselves in front of the Elms, one of
Newport's most impressive mansions. We bought the multi-mansion tour package and were informed that because one of the houses was closed that day for a special event we could instead take the backdoor tour of the Elms. That was a nice surprise because I had always wanted to take the tour . . . but had never had enough time to do so.

What most people don't realize about the mansions is that more servants lived in them than the families that resided there for six weeks or so every summer. The families didn't want to see the servants unless they wanted something done, so great efforts were put in place to make the servants' quarters invisible. In the Elms, this was done by adding a floor at the top of the house that's hidden behind a false roof front. Between the false roof front and the servants' rooms, there's a lovely rooftop strolling area where servants could take the sun without being seen. The rooms are quite nice except for one problem: They must have been beastly hot in the summer when most of the seasonal servants came from
New York to live there.

The owners were equally desirous of having the ordinary functioning of the mansion be invisible to them. For example, the coal deliveries were made a block away and carried by railway cart underground into the basement of the Elms. A service entrance is located on the working side of the Elms and cleverly covered with wisteria vines so that no one would see the delivery wagons or trucks while they were waiting.

So if you find yourself in the
Newport area, be sure to take the backdoor tour of the Elms. It's great!

After a delicious and pleasant lunch, we headed for the Breakers. That's the most magnificent of the
Newport mansions. Some would argue it's the most magnificent of all American mansions of that era. I had never been in the Breakers aside from the summertime and I was interested to see how it would look in fall conditions. The conservation staff does quite a nice job of taking the indoor-outdoor areas and walling them off with glass so that the precious interiors are not damaged.

Whenever I visit the Breakers I'm struck by an incongruity. Many Americans travel to
Europe to see various palaces in England and France, especially at Versailles. Most of those Americans have never been to see the Breakers. Why should they? It's only a summer home.

But the magnificence and opulence of the Breakers puts the interior of any public palace you can visit in
Europe to shame. Psst! Don't tell too many people. Otherwise, you won't be able to get into the Breakers for a wonderful, uncrowded visit on your next birthday.

Afterwards, we took the cliff walk and enjoyed our many views of the Breakers and its grounds as we listened to the roil of the waves and surf below. It was astonishingly lovely to be there.

Where can you spend a day like this on your next birthday? Why not in
Newport? Just check schedules to be sure that what you want to see is open then. Most winter days this year, only the Breakers was open. Go to for more information.

May God bless you.

Donald W. Mitchell
Your Dream Concierge

Copyright 2007 Donald W. Mitchell All Rights Reserved

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3:07 AM  

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