Saturday, December 18, 2010

In the Home of the Great Man Himself

My last evening with my French traveling companion was spent in Fort Lauderdale at a friendly little hotel called the Tropi Rock, but the only things that I can really say about the city are that:

1. It is not Miami,
2. It has a bar called the Elbo Room where gay men challenge you to dance-off competitions, and
3. It has a railway station.

So it passes in my book.

I planned to get the first train to Palm Beach to pay homage to Mr. Flagler at his mansion, (now a museum dedicated to his life and awesomeness) then take the next train a few hours later to arrive in Savannah that night. However, after my first experience with a truly evil Amtrak employee,* I got a bit behind schedule and decided to spend the whole day in that city and catch the train the following day.

About Palm Beach, all I can say is that it amazes me how two cities could be built up around the same purpose, by the same man, mere miles from each other, yet Miami could become such a disaster and Palm Beach could become quite lovely and enjoyable. Full of yachts and overpriced stores where each item costs more than It is appropriate to discuss with my sensitive readers, and not exactly culturally stimulating, but not actively offensive.

About the Henry Flagler Museum at Whitehall, I can say that I was more interested and spent more time there than at any other museum, ever.**

As we know, Henry Flagler was a very rich man. If you are wondering just how rich, I will give you an idea; the dividends on his Standard Oil Trust stock paid him on average about $150,000 per month during the end of the 1890s, a time when it was common to live off of a monthly salary of $100 or less. So yes, he had some disposable income with which to build the "marble palace" that his third wife, Mary Lily Kenan, had always wanted.

With admission you are offered a tour of the huge marble castle, furnished with most of the original pieces and gorgeously restored. The building of the place was meticulously documented and Flagler was involved in every aspect. For instance, Thomas Edison himself was actually the original electrical engineer for the project, but Flagler did not like his lightbulb shape and Edison refused to change it, so he was dismissed. Our guide was without a doubt the most dramatic, sassy, and passionately well informed museum docent I have ever encountered, and after the tour I was left a bit misty-eyed. They also have a great exhibit about the Florida East Coast Railroad, the whole family history, beautiful china sets, and, weirdly, traditional lace making. But, that is not even the best part.

In a beautiful lakefront pavilion next to the main building one can climb aboard Mr. Flagler's private railway car, Number 91*** and partake in a "Gilded Age Lunch" in their perfect cafe, served in the rich style of the era. Even the gift shop was nice, and I hate gift shops.

The next day would bring me back up the coast again, toward a famedw city just north of the Florida border: Savannah, Georgia.


*You know who you are, and I hate you.
**And I do not know anyone who likes museums more than I do, so that is saying something. That is not really something to brag about though, is it?
***Which was apparently the only one with its own private bathroom at the time, and he would often invite Mr. Morgan and Mr. Rockefeller to ride with him to show off.

No comments:

Post a Comment