History

Pullman and His Luxury Palace Cars

1800s-Pullman-car

New York City after the Civil War grew exponentially, and it quickly became the financial center of the world.  Investments, inventions and ingenuity paved the way for fast fortunes and new ways to show off wealth.  It was also a time of rapid change in transportation, with train travel quickly eclipsing horses and steamboats, especially for those who had the urge to adventure out West, down South or even for a jaunt to the country.  For wealthy families with mansions in the Hudson Valley, the train was an essential mode of transportation between their 5th Avenue homes, country estates and “cottages” in Newport.

I embarked on a mission to discover all I could about the infamous Pullman Luxury Palace Cars, which were owned by the Astors, the Vanderbilts and many other important members of New York Society.  No good story based in Edwardian New York would be complete without knowing the ins and outs of train travel during this time.  What I needed to figure out was how did the “private varnish” (that’s railroad lingo for a private Pullman car) get connected to the trains running up and down the Hudson?  With a few internet searches and my local library system, I was able to find some great sources to help me on this adventure.

In order to appreciate the lure and fantasy of the Pullman car, it is necessary to first understand train travel in the early 1800s.  Passenger trains were ugly day coaches which carried people from all walks of life as long as they could pay the fares.  Day coaches were cramped, oftentimes smelly (think tobacco smoke and body odor, especially in warmer months) and they had little ventilation.  If it was an overnight run, there were hideously small berths that could be pulled out for passengers to climb into, but it would certainly not be a restful night’s sleep. There was nothing romantic or glitzy about early railroad travel, but ultimately it enabled people to travel longer distances faster than a stagecoach or horse.

My research on the Hudson River Railroad line led me to the Schenectady Digital History Archive website which provides the text for the book History of the Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West 1614-1925, Volume II, edited by Nelson Greene.  I discovered that railroad companies across New York were primarily separate entities until mergers began in the 1830s and continued right through to 1914 when the full consolidation of the New York Central Line was completed across much of New York State.  Prior to the mergers, the rails had different gauges for their tracks and there were often lengthy stopovers for passengers to switch to the next rail line on their journey.  The railroad line which traveled on the east side of the Hudson River from New York City to Albany (and eventually on to Buffalo) became known as the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad when it was consolidated by Cornelius Vanderbilt in 1869; this is the line to which wealthy Hudson Valley residents connected their private cars.

As for learning more about the private cars themselves, I found the book, Mr. Pullman’s Elegant Palace Car by Lucius Beebe through my local library; it was a fantastic source of all things Pullman.  The best part? It’s FILLED with pictures!  Unfortunately, they are in black and white (the book is copyright 1961), but even without color, it is easy to see all of the craftsmanship that went into each of these beautiful cars.   I was delighted to learn while reading that  Darius Ogden Mills (father-in-law to Ruth Livingston Mills of the Hudson Valley estate Staatsburgh) was the first to own a private car west of the Missouri River in 1872.  Darius made his millions through investments out West in the Comstock Lode and through finance (he organized the opening of the Bank of California and was its first president).  It’s always exciting when my research connects back to the people and places I am interested in!

George Mortimer Pullman grew up in Albion, New York and in his early days, he was a cabinet-maker by trade with his brother and did some work moving buildings for the Erie Canal and also in Chicago.  Legend says that after an uncomfortable train ride home in an open sleeping car from Chicago, he was inspired to improve train comfort.  He started a company and earned a contract with a western rail company, developing two cars, the Pioneer and the Springfield.    Pullman’s new company gained notoriety for luxury and style in 1865 when the Pioneer  was used to transport Mrs. Abraham Lincoln home to Springfield, Illinois after she had collapsed from grief and exhaustion while traveling on her husband’s funeral train.

Pullman’s business took off within a few years, drawing both the attention and the investment funds of Andrew Carnegie along with other prominent businessmen who were intrigued by his dream of building comfortable dining, sleeping and parlor cars. Until then, there were very few companies creating luxurious replacements for the day coach. His first “hotel on wheels,” as he called it, included its own porters, a full service kitchen and dining room attached to a sleeping car.  This car combination became known for its delicious food and outstanding service; the name Pullman quickly became synonymous with pleasure, craftsmanship and luxury.  Many railroad companies sought out Pullman’s sleeping, dining and parlor cars for lease on their lines all across the United States;  American travelers wanted comfort and ease and Pullman’s cars met their expectations with well-appointed furnishings, gas lighting and gourmet dining.  By the turn of the century Pullman had bought out most of his competitors and could boast that there were 260,000 beds occupied aboard his train cars each night.

As word made its way across the country, society’s Elite began to request custom palace train cars to ride the rails in privacy and style.  Pullman luxury car exteriors could be a simple black enamel, or they could showcase the family’s livery colors.  Each car was named, whether for the country estate, the family, or some other personal moniker, and the name was painted on the outside of the car along with the primary rail line it was commissioned to run on.  The interiors of a palace car could be as ornate as the owner’s mansion on 5th Avenue with Turkish rugs; silk, velvet or leather seating; and wood paneling of mahogany, walnut or quarter sawn oak.  The custom-built private car had an observation deck at the rear, a kitchen, state rooms, dining room, and a master bedroom and bathroom; some even had hot and cold running water!  Pullman’s private luxury cars were literally mansions on wheels.  “A private car is not an acquired taste. One takes to it immediately,” the socialite from New York, Mrs. August Belmont Jr. once said.  Indeed, what could be better than traveling long distances in a train car that had all the comforts of home, including your chef and servants?

After learning about local rail lines and the Pullman palace cars themselves, I still hadn’t found the answer to my original question of how the private cars attached to the trains running up and down the Hudson River, and I almost gave up the search.  After trying a different method of research, I was able to locate several snippets of information within various local archives and discovered that several prominent families actually had their own private platforms along the train tracks, including the Roosevelts and the Astors.  It appears that for a fee, they had only to call ahead (or send a servant) to the rail station for their private car to be attached at the end of the next train.  Most prominent families also provided their private cars for friends and relatives who traveled to their homes for parties and long weekends, and would make  arrangements for the visitor to catch the train and board the attached car to bring them directly to the estate.  This is exactly what Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt did in 1939 when King George VI (who was the first English royalty to visit the United States since the Revolutionary War) visited the Roosevelt’s Hyde Park home, Springwood.  It was also the first time that English royalty had ever been served hot dogs.. but alas that story is for another time…

If you’d like to see what a real Pullman private car looks like, watch this episode of Pawn Stars: Pullman Train Car Season 14.  It shows a 1902 Pullman car belonging to the president of a railway and it is a fascinating time capsule with vibrant period colors and amenities; the intricate details of the craftsmanship are truly extraordinary.  Unfortunately, some of the facts the Pawn Stars team uses in their text bubbles are incorrect, such as the availability of electricity and air conditioning in a private car as early as 1862.  These amenities were not introduced on any train cars until the turn of the century, and even then only an electric fan, and not air conditioning was available.  Air conditioning would not be invented by Carrier until 1902 and wasn’t added to train cars until around 1940.  Either way, if you are interested in owning your very own Pullman car, there are some that have been restored and commercial trains like Amtrak will let you attach your private car to ride the rails in style just like a hundred years ago, all for a small fee of course.

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History

When Research Leads Me Down Another Rabbit Hole

Pinterest image - street-artists-metropolitan-museum 1881

The novel I have been writing for the last few months involves a wealthy American family from New York and an English nobleman.   While building the story line and characters, I realized I needed more information about the hundreds of Old Master paintings that had once graced the dining rooms, entry halls and sitting rooms of castles, Mayfair mansions and country estates across England. How exactly did they end up across The Pond (aka the Atlantic Ocean), ultimately gracing the walls of American mansions and art museums around the turn of the century?

I knew that England’s aristocracy was on the decline by the First World War as the result of changing political sentiment and representation among the working class, the loss of power in the House of Lords, estate taxes and the overall loss of income from the agricultural depression of the 1870s.  I didn’t realize as I embarked on my quest that I would find myself running down a rabbit hole to learn more than what I had originally set out to discover.

Ask any writer, and she or he will probably tell you that the research bit is the most difficult part of creating a great piece of historical fiction.  And most will say just as emphatically that it is an equally exciting part of the craft. For myself as a self-proclaimed history nerd, I love creating my own little worlds through storytelling and the research feeds my ever-inquisitive brain along the way.  I often find myself distracted by questions that arise as I create settings or develop characters and then off on an adventure I go!  It was no different this time.  My treasure hunt for Old Masters in America at the turn of the century led me to a big X marks the spot: I found a book on the subject AND it was actually available through my local library!  Eureka!

The book I discovered was Old Masters, New World: America’s Raid on Europe’s Great Pictures, by Cynthia Saltzman and it was an incredible find!  Saltzman used primary sources of information gleaned through researching museum archives, family letters and historical periodicals to create this extraordinary piece of art history: exactly the kind of real information I needed to fill in my knowledge gaps. I learned who the players were on the English side, who was capitalizing on brokering deals with fresh American money and who ultimately benefited from the sales of these centuries-old masterpieces.

Saltzman begins with Henry Marquand and his early acquisitions for the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City from an old estate in England.  She continues to Bernard Berenson and his work with Otto Gutekunst of the P & D Colnaghi & Co gallery in London, brokering for Gardner to build her massive art collection (which would become the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston) and ultimately ends at Frick’s mood swings and his million dollar obsession with art.

It fascinated me to learn about the Titians, Rembrandts, El Grecos and Vermeers that made the transatlantic voyage, among so many other important works of art.  Through her fantastic descriptions, Saltzman includes the stories of the artists, the subjects of the masterpieces, and where the pictures ultimately came to rest in the United States.  She outlines the deals and haggling which occurred over telegrams and phone calls between the noblemen, the galleries, the brokers and the Americans.  The only downfall I found while reading was that I had to search for images of some of the artwork discussed: there are about 15 color images in the middle of the book, but there are at least twice as many paintings discussed throughout – thank goodness for Google!

The rabbit hole of Cynthia Saltzman’s book has now led me to David Cannadine’s The Decline and Fall of the British Aristocracy. In it, Cannadine covers the social, political and economical facets of the time period.  While this tome is a bit drier, I am excited to learn even more about this piece of British history which aligns with the Guilded Age in America.  Who knows how far down this rabbit hole I’ll keep going…

Writing

Rising from Winter’s Sleep

Rise from Winters Hibernation

I think I was a bear or another similar animal in a past life, because Winter has always caused me to slow down and go into deep introspection.  I hibernate every year as much as I can: I don’t really socialize and most of my evenings are spent going to bed early.  My days during Winter are spent working at the office or wanting to cuddle on my couch with my two cats and read voraciously.  If I sit down to write, nothing comes from my mind to my hands; it lies dormant just beneath the surface, refusing to be unearthed.  My Winter hibernation was maddening when I was younger, but I understand now that it is a necessary and  intrinsic part of who I am: it is all part of the cycle that guides me.

With Spring just rounding the bend, I can feel the warmth slowing seeping back into my veins, my creativity is again blossoming and I am itching to create something or many things.  My mind is slowly starting to unfurl and I am thinking again in the context of ideas and goals.  The small peeks I can catch from Mother Nature like a bright blue sky and warm sunlight call to me; inhaling fresh Spring air invigorates me and inspires.

What will this year bring?  I am still working out the details, but I know I want to do more posts here on WordPress and I also know I need to make some big decisions regarding the direction my writing will take.  Until then, I will let Spring seep into my soul and breathe in the fresh clean air, letting Nature infuse me and jolt my senses awake again.

Writing

Percolating Ideas

img_3522Reading and writing are my passions and my escapes.  Catch me at home on any weekend afternoon when the housework is done, or on a weeknight when my boys are abed, and I will either be curled up on my couch with a book (kitties on my lap of course!) or tap tap tapping away on my laptop at the dining room table with another idea I need to get out of my head and onto the screen.

I read ravenously.  I think my local library thinks I am a little crazy with the different types of books I borrow: a little bit of historic romance, some mystery, and a lot of research on clothes, people and events of the 19th century.   My mind is constantly going and I can’t help but discover something I want to learn more about… so down the tunnel I go!

The Mid Hudson Library system, to which I belong, has this awesome service that allows you to search all of their member libraries for the books you want through their website and they will ship them to your local library – for free!  I add a disclaimer here that if you utilize this service, especially as much as I do, be sure to donate some money to your local library to support it.

I am also a big fan of Goodreads.  If you aren’t familiar, it’s a website where you catalog, rate and review the books you’ve read, get book recommendations based on what you’ve cataloged, connect with friends to see what they are reading and follow favorite authors, which may or may not lead to giveaways or sneak peeks at new stories! Goodreads is like a wonderful meander off a well-trodden path that leads somewhere unexpected – I’ve been introduced to the worlds of a number of authors that I would not have otherwise known about.  If you are a Goodreads fan too, find my profile and connect with me!

When I am not reading, I am writing, researching and otherwise getting lost in the details of the worlds I am creating.  I try to stay as true to the time period as possible, so I am always asking questions and researching to learn more.  My biggest personal challenge is clinging too closely to the details and not allow myself a bit of creative freedom in my stories – hmmm.. maybe a 2018 New Years Resolution in the making?

Writing

The Beginning

When I decided to pursue my dream of melding Hudson River history and fictional romance, I never realized how overwhelming it was to put myself “out there” to my future fans.  Writing for me has always been second nature, but when I started to think about creating a full length novel, I have to admit that it overwhelmed me for quite a while.  I know I am not alone in my fears as I work on my first to-be-published story, so I created this blog to introduce myself and share my journey of writing with you.  

My real name is Yvette Temple, but I write under the pseudonym of Evelina Wood.  I am an aspiring romance author from the Hudson Valley, in New York who is also a single mom raising two teenage sons and working full time as an Assistant Vice President at a local bank.  I have an Associates Degree in Business Administration and a Bachelors in Leadership and Organizational Communication.  I grew up along the Hudson River among the opulent Guilded Age mansions of the Vanderbilts, Roosevelts, Astors and Livingstons and this proximity fed my love of history and fantasies of life at the turn of the 20th century.  

I was blessed to have several teachers along the way who encouraged that love of local history: Mr. Vinck, my history teacher in seventh grade, Ms. Troccia, who taught Hudson River History in eleventh grade and Marilyn Holst, who was my mentor the summer after I graduated from high school.  I was hired that summer as a tour guide for Staatsburgh State Historic Site, the seasonal Beaux Arts mansion of Ruth Livingston and Ogden Mills.  Working at Mills Mansion (as we called it back then) became my favorite summer of young adulthood: I had the freedom to roam the mansion and explore rooms that the public never got to see: all 65 rooms and 14 bathrooms from the attics all the way down to the furnace room below the basement.  I felt a kinship to Ruth Livingston Mills when I was at Staatsburgh as we were both the same height: barely 5 feet tall.  Tourists always got a kick out of my comparison to her when I would illustrate that she was a tiny lady who became one of the best hostesses in New York Society at the turn of the last century.

Marilyn taught me the ins and out of New York Society, the feuds between old and new wealth, the families of Mrs. Astor’s 400 and how they entertained and lived, and I also got to learn a bit about long term historic conservation as the mansion was in constant preservation and maintenance mode.  I soon discovered that Staatsburgh was my muse and the dream of writing a historical novel set in the Hudson Valley during Guilded Age was born.