Once upon a time, there was a very wealthy American lady who, although not especially lucky love, certainly knew how to enjoy her money. Born 1887, she was only 27 when she became the sole heir to General Foods, the company which her father founded as Postum Cereal Company in 1895. Her name was Marjorie Merriweather Post, and she received the best education possible that time, as well as all the knowhow that her father could teach her about his business.
Marjorie married a Columbia law school graduate when she was only 18 and they had two little girls. A few years her marriage, her father died and she became an heiress. Her husband was sent to France to serve in the American armed forces 1917, and Marjorie became a conventional mother and a housewife waiting for her huband to return safely World War I. This is a boring and worrisome situation for any woman, but decidedly different a very wealthy woman. Their rural Connecticut house burned down while he was away, and Majorie used this as an excuse to take the two girls and move the heart of New York City, where life was more exciting. During this time, she funded an American Army hospital France.
Her husband came home from the war, and she divorced him, retaining custody their two daughters. Marjorie went to become the richest woman in America during her lifetime, and along with her four husbands, owned the largest sea-going yacht the USA, as well as a turboprop jet plane with a Rolls-Royce engine. During her reign as the wealthiest woman in the USA, she also acquired the diamond and turquoise necklace and the tiara that Napolean gave his second wife, Marie Louise, and a very large pair of diamond earrings that had once belonged to Marie Antoinette. She was even able to purchase the historic 1884 diamond crown worn Empress Alexandra during her wedding to Czar Nicholas II. Besides those pieces, she bought an emerald and diamond necklae that once belonged to Maximilian, the Mexican emperor. She willed a lot of this jewelry the Smithsonian, in Washington, D.C. and you can see it displayed there.
Marjorie’s second husband, E.F. Hutton, was already legendery wall street financer and broker when she married him. They lived the first luxery penthouse in New York City. Actually, their residence began a house, but with the advent of automobiles and the noise they caused, the couple decided to tear the house and build an apartment building in its place. They took residence on the top floors, in a 54-room apartment way the noisy traffic. Ned, as Marjorie fondly called him, was the husband who advised her and multiplied her fortune many times over. When the stockmarket crashed 1929 and The Great Depression began, Marjorie put her jewelry a vault, cancelled the insurance on them, and financed a “soup kitchen” with the savings her jewelry insurance. For five years, her charitible organization gave 1,000 hot meals daily to needy women and children in the part of NYC that is known today as Hell’s Kitchen. Her husband financed a similar one for men and boys in another part of the city.
After finishing the New York penthouse, Marjorie and Ned decided to build winter residence in Palm Beach, Florida. Palm Beach is both a county and a city the eastern coast of Florida. Coconut palms are not native Florida, but there had been a Spanish shipwreck near Palm Beach in 1878, and the ship had been carrying a cargo of coconuts from Cuba Spain. Many of the coconuts that were salvaged were planted, and they flourished in their new home. Hence the name Palm Beach. The couple purchased 17 acres the Atlantic Ocean and Lake Worth, which is a natural lake. After obtaining their building permit, which alone cost $500,000, they began to build in 1924. The house wasn’t finished 1927 and the final result was a Spanish and Moorish estate with gold leaf ceilings, more than 100 rooms, gold bathroom fixtures, and a nine-hole golf course. It was built amist much conflict between architects and interior decorators, one of whom was the designer for the Ziegfeld Follies and the Metropolitan Opera House New York City. They even imported Austrian sculptors, a father and son pair named Franz Barwig the elder and Franz the younger, to sculpt figures the gardens. The couple named it Mar-a-Lago, which means “sea to lake” but was also a play on Marjorie’s name. Majorie and Ned hosted hundreds of Great Gatsby type parties, but she also sponsered a lot of charity benefits needy children. The couple had one child, another girl they named Nadenia Marjorie, who became the actress Dina Merrill, and is still alive the time of this writing. But the couple did not live happily ever after and Marjorie divorced him the grounds of adultry in 1935. It wasn’t all sad, because in 1936 she became the first woman to hold a position a board of directors, when she took this position as the major stockholder in General Foods.
Marjorie was generous with her properties and in 1944 she opened the grounds of Mar-a-Lago for occupational therapy facilities for convalescing soldiers World War II. She allowed buildings to be transformed shops where soldiers not only received therapy, but also learned a trade. She also provided professional counseling as well as sculpting, painting and printing classes.
Marjorie acquired a third husband, a Washington, D.C. lawyer, not too long after her second divorce. He became a diplomat who served the American ambassador to the Soviet Union in the 1930s, which was at that time ruled Joseph Stalin. Stalin’s government was selling many art treasures that had been taken the Romanov family, and Marjorie and her ambassador husband were able to buy a collection of treasures, and also to help to finance Stalin’s arms programs. She also collected fine Sèvres porcelain, French furniture, gold boxes and jeweled Fabergé ornaments. This marriage produced a lot of assets but no children and they divorced in 1955. She returned to the US during the cold war and had 4 separate fallout shelters built to protect her treasures Russian bombs.
That same year, she bought and refurbished a Washington D.C. estate and named it Hillwood. She established The Post Foundation in 1956, as Post was her father’s surname, and also the name the Postum Cereal Company was named . She became a renowned D.C. hostess and no one refused her invitations. In 1958 Marjorie married her fourth husband, a businessman and fox hunter who, although wealthy, was the poorest her four husbands. The marriage ended in 1964 when Marjorie received photos of him cavorting naked with a group of younger men and boys at her swimming pool Mar-a-Lago. She was 77 by then, and apparently gave up on marriage but not on leading an interesting life.
During the Vietnam War, she opened Hillwood to injured war veterans who were returning home a mostly hostile America. She held receptions with live entertainment and lots of food all late 60s and early 70s, just to get the veterans away from their hospitals for an afternoon. The men arrived crutches, stretchers and wheelchairs. Hillwood eventually became a private museum after Marjorie’s death, and you can see a lot of her Russian and French art and furniture collections there, as well as her Fabergé eggs.
Marjorie lived out her life going her 54-room NYC apartment, her Adirondacks mountain home, her Washington, D.C. home and of course Mar-a-Lago on her private plane, The Merriweather. She died Hillwood in 1973 at the age of 86. Her ashes are in the garden there. She left most of her estate to her 3 daughters, but not all of it, and she died a dream.
I was born near the end of WWII and raised in a small town in New Jersey, just a little more than a 30-minute drive from NYC. It was a wonderful place to be brought up, feeding ducks and canoeing on the river that meandered through the town in the summer, and ice-skating on that same river in the winter.
My two brothers and I were privileged to be raised in a lovely town that was safe to explore on foot, but close enough to NYC to be taken there on day trips to see the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Baily B & B circus, museums, Chinatown, street fairs in the spring and Broadway shows as we grew older. But we thought nothing of it.
Later as teens, we would go into NYC to buy a couple of beers (the drinking age in New York State was 18, and 21 in New Jersey) and hang out in Greenwich Village where we saw singers such as Bob Dylan who were on the first rung of the ladder on their way to fame.
The sixties were a time of speaking out and creating change. I decided to do my part by joining the Peace Corps, an innovative cold war program established by John F. Kennedy in 1961. I arrived in Brazil at the end of 1966, and after an adaptation period, was sent to serve in Porto Nacional, in what was Goias at that time. I can’t say I changed the course of the country, especially as I was immediately called upon to teach English in the local high school.
I have been teaching ever since; high schools, college literature, college language pedagogy, financial English and everything in-between. I married a wonderful Brazilian from Rio and we had 3 boys and moved around some, as he was an engineer who worked on hydro dams. Nowadays I am a widow and live in BH with 3 cats, one of which has extraordinary powers, and I have 4 wonderful and uniquely different grandchildren nearby. Thus far, I have had an interesting life, and this new endeavor called a blog should make it even more interesting.