Accidents Dark Secrets

Good Tea & Scandals at the Hotel du Pont

hotel du pont green room

hotel du pont green room

Highlights: ginger scones, grapefruit mousse, key lime tarts and meringues, mm!

hotel du pont

On January 15, 1913 Wilmington’s first grand hotel opened: Hotel du Pont. Considered a master achievement in architecture with its lavish Gilded Age décor it was believed to have every means for the entertaining and comfort of its exclusive guests.

The hotel had been a dream of DuPont executives Pierre du Pont {from Longwood, we’ve met him many times before} and secretary-treasurer John Raskob {from The Patio, you’ll see his influence the most if you’ve seen that post}. The two men had a vision to build the grandest hotel, comparable only to those in Europe, for their special DuPont Company guests.

Despite the size of their enormous new hotel within seven years the Hotel was already running short of space. In October 1919 they expanded, basically building another hotel as the “addition.”  It was double the size of the first structure. They now had room for 600 guests, a Gold Ballroom with 12-foot high hand-carved walnut doors {it’s still being used}, a soda shop, jewelry and ladies’ fashion shop, marble and hardwood floors, mirrored walls, and more.

hotel du pont green room

The Longwood Red Tea was incredible: cherries, raspberries, currants and spice, mmmm…

hotel du pont hotel du pont green room

The exterior is done in an Italian renaissance style built entirely of white stone. One side of the building is extremely plain but the main side is trimmed with decorative window balconies.

The hotel combined fine dining, a workspace for the DuPont Company and accomadations in one building, not to mention the authentic French cusine in the Green Room and the Playhouse which presented Broadway productions. The Green Room is still in full swing and decadently beautiful and elegant. I took my sister for tea there to celebrate her law school graduation, that’s what you see in these photos. The Playhouse is still there too!

According to the Evening Standard in Wilmington, nearly half the population of Wilmington {which was 80,000 in 1913} turned out to visit the hotel on opening day. Two years of construction had greatly peaked everyone’s interest. It was, in fact, so grand that there were more than several “souvenir hunters” who left the hotel that day with more than an appreciation for the European craftmanship. Hundreds of dollars worth of linens, silverware, glassware and other ornamental tableware disappeared on opening week.

hotel du pont green room hotel du pont green room

hotel du pont green room

The intricate tiled floor.

In October 1927 the hotel celebrated “Lindbergh Day”, an event to mark his 48-state tour in his plane Spirit of St. Louis, because Lindbergh had once stayed at the hotel. Many political leaders stayed there as well: Presidents Taft, Harding, Hoover, FDR, JFK, Truman, Kennedy, Ford, Carter, both Bushes, Clinton and Obama have. When Richard Nixon came to stay in 1960 as Vice President he stopped in the soda shop unannounced sending the women there into a screaming, excited frenzy. I know, strange to imagine, maybe they’d all had to much sugar? 😉

Since then the hotel has has been renovated many times over but still retains its Old World charm, plus they’re still known for their outstanding service.

hotel du pont green room

Because so many people have stayed there {U.S. Presidents, European royalty [including Prince Rainier III of Monaco who rented the romantic dining room as a quiet setting to dine with Grace Kelly in December of 1955], and other celebrities like Lucille Ball, Katherine Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, I could go on…} there’s not one story I thought should hog all the attention. Instead I thought adding in a few of the most interesting newspaper clippings I found through the years might be a more fun read. They’re below simply in chronological order.

hotel du pont green room

hotel du pont playhouse

The Playhouse entrance is still in the hotel.

hotel du pont green room


THE FIRST YEAR

The hotel hadn’t even celebrated its first full year when they had their first suicide. Curiously, it seems soon after the hotel opened it became almost a popular spot for wealthy men struggling financially to take their lives. Luckily, that is far in the past.

*Mastoiditis is a severely painful middle ear infection, that when not properly treated as it likely wasn’t in 1913, causes cysts down to the bone, fevers and pain.


A RIOT

This one proves no matter how much changes, things seem to stay the same. In 1914 riots erupted in the streets of Wilmington after two men were shot my a policeman near the hotel. One white man and one black men were the victims and the riots turned into a race/socio-economic riot. The city was especially uneasy as the Mayor was out of town. The acting mayor went over the police and made the bold move of calling in the militia.

“The Mayor declared that this was not the kind of advertising that Wilmington is looking for, and disorder will not be tolerated. He expressed the opinion that Acting Mayor White…was wise in asking for the militia,” the Mayor told the newspapers from out of town. The militia’s presence did seem to quiet the situation but tension was still thick in the air.

1914


THREAT

As can be imagined, an explosives company takes a bomb threat very seriously. When DuPont experienced one in the summer of 1915 detectives disguised as bellboys discreetly examined everyone’s luggage.

clip


DRAMATIC FALL

In late October of 1915 playwright and stage director Byron Ongley traveled to Wilmington to see the first performance of “The Eternal Magdalene” playing at the Forty-eighth Street Theatre which he had helped stage.

After the show he returned to his hotel, the Hotel Du Pont of course, and went to his room. A few minutes later hotel employees heard a loud sound on the sidewalk. It was the 40-year old Ongley, unconscious and lying on the pavement. He had apparently fallen out of his window. “There was nothing to suggest the cause of the accident.” Perhaps he had lost his balance at the low-silled window the newspaper suggested.

His widow, actress Amy, spent the next decade suing his collaborator who after Ongley’s death claimed to be the sole author of a play the two had collaborated on. Ironically the play was titled “Cheating Cheaters.”

hotel du pont green room

hotel du pont green room

Feeling the strong John Raskob vibes from his house The Patio?


FAMOUS GUESTS

In 1916 the ultimate star stayed at the hotel, French actress Sarah Bernhardt. In 1915 her entire right leg had been amputated. She had injured the leg 10 years earlier falling off a stage piece while performing in Brazil. She was currently touring America using a wooden prosthetic limb when she acted on stage. Unfortunately, her stay made the newspapers.

1916 clip


A MYSTERIOUS END

This article, from the spring of 1917, was a death at the hotel billed as a suicide…but it seems like something’s a little off doesn’t it?

1917-clip


WEDDED BLISS

Not everything was doom and gloom of course. Mostly the hotel was about luxury, refinement and high society. There were celebrities and dignitaries to entertain, young ladies being presented to societies at sumptuous afternoon teas and many fashionable weddings too. In October of 1919 a pretty wedding reception was held at the hotel after a quiet society wedding.

The bride wore a pearl-colored hand-embroidered Georgette gown, with a hat to match and carried a corsage bouquet of orchids and lilies of the valley {something like this}.

1919-clip


SHE WORE BLUE…SERGE

A slightly scandalous elopement made the newspapers in 1920, which mentioned the hotel. My favorite part is the last paragraph detailing her “hurried” wedding outfit {though they were married in nearby Maryland and then traveled to the hotel}.

1920-clip

Screen Shot 2016-01-26 at 3.01.43 PMThough Edith seemed to be living a charmed life as the daughter of a millionaire {she was actually born on her father’s yacht} and eloping with her artist lover, it wouldn’t end that way for her. The day after 18-year old Edith had graduated from the renowned Miss Spence’s School in New York she married the 21-year old art student who she had only met nine months before at a house party. They had almost immediately become engaged but hid the fact from their parents.

Twelve years later they would be divorced on grounds of mental cruelty. Just the previous year, Carroll’s brothers had him committed to a mental hospital. They testified that he had been subject to hallucinations since 1916 when he had pneumonia and appendicitis. A breakdown followed in 1923, three years after his marriage from the “strenuous duties of society” and another one in 1929 from overwork.

During all of this Edith wrote her autobiography in 1925 where she explained “at length how it felt to be the granddaughter of a millionaire.” She also told the “inner secrets” of the Gould family life. {Wish I could see that!}

Carroll won a hearing in February of 1931 where he claimed his brothers had brought him to the hospital under a ruse and he had been held as a prisoner ever since. He was quickly judged competent and released.

Edith moved temporarily to Reno for a quick divorce and secured one in January of 1932, along with custody of their three children. A few hours later she remarried the Scottish Sir Hector McNeal, director of the Cunard ship line and a widower.

Edith, now Lady McNeal, would die a few years later in 1937 at the age of 36 after a two year illness. Her cause of death was simply noted as a “liver ailment.”


HIGH SOCIETY DIVORCE

Lastly, for this post, we revisit Katherine Thompson Wood. She was a socialite from a prominent Philadelphia family and she married into an equally prominent family: her husband was the son of General Leonard Wood. {General Wood sought the presidential nomination in 1920 and was colonel of the Rough Riders during the Spanish American War.}

If you remember from a previous post here, she was also the brother of the “Silk King,” Jim Thompson, whose mysterious disappearance has never been solved. Several months after his disappearance his sister, back home in Pennsylvania, died under mysterious circumstances herself in a strange murder that’s also never been solved.

But before all of that she divorced her husband in 1925 and he just moved right into the hotel.

1925-clip


 

hotel du pont green room

*Also the Green Room Afternoon Tea is a 10/10. 😉

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, “Hotel du Pont Story: Wilmington, Delaware, 1911-1981” by Harry V. Ayres