18 Sep 2010
Recently I've been through a few mansion/estate/homestead tours. The tours are pretty consistent, so I thought I'd give you a taste of what to expect if you've never been through one.
Welcome to [insert famous house]. This was built by the grandson of a wealthy and much more famous person. The grandson lived in it for 2.5 years before dying at the age of 43. His widow lived until the age of 87. (Here the tour might go in one of two directions.)
Direction 1: They had no children, so the widow, when dead, gave the estate over to the [trust/state/non-profit something or other]. Even though the house only had about a generation worth of memories, selfishness and pomposity dictate the house be saved for the eternities. Those 40 years of existence, hard livin' times as they were, made the house unlivable. So the [trust/state/non-profit] has raised millions of dollars to renovate and restore this magnificent house for all to enjoy. Since it's being renovated, we won't be able to see the [gardens/front hall/master bedroom, etc.].
Direction 2: The grandson of the famous guy and his wife had 4 kids together who grew up in the house - you'll see the kids' rooms later. The third kid took over the affairs of the house when older, died in his forties, and his widow lived to 93 years old and gave the estate over to the [trust/state/non-profit something or other]. There used to be grand parties, and the kids would slide down the railings (and not be punished - so 1920s!). The neighbor's grandniece's step-daughter's 3rd grade teacher lived in the house, too. The rest of the tour will now focus on this random person - and you'll forget how she connects back to the main family but I'm going to pretend you should remember.
And by the way, someone distantly connected to Abraham Lincoln or Teddy Roosevelt is also connected to the house!
Crass aside, I'm a big fan of the historical, and it's fun to imagine living in some of these places. The Breakers (in Newport, Rhode Island) has to be one of the most famous mansions in the US. It has a nice self-guided tour that allows you to listen to more if you want, or to bypass the "extra" stuff. It's nice to get a self-guided tour because then you'll be sure to get all the important info like that connection to Teddy Roosevelt! A human guide might forget to mention that!