December 27, 2015
I slept on this mansion.
If you haven’t figured it out by now: I’m obsessed with “home museums”, specifically plantations and mansions of the Gilded Age. What they have in common are owners who quickly accumulated, insanely vast amounts of wealth that they spent lavishly on/in their homes. Among the best preserved homes, crossing the threshold is like time (and class) travel.
I stumbled across “Eagle’s Nest”, the 24-room Spanish revival mansion that was the summer home of William K. Vanderbilt, earlier on in my (insomnia-fueled) research about the Gilded Age. The estate is on Long Island’s Gold coast, about an hour away from my house. And while I’ve visited other nearby estates, I’ve always skipped this one. Frankly, it looks gaudy, to me. But husband was interested, so off we drove.
In person? It’s gorgeous! Like, whoa! In “classic “ Vanderbilt fashion, it’s built to impress. (The pictures of the main structure, including my own, just don’t do it any justice.) Case in point: Eagle’s Nest sits on 42 acres of land and was designed by Warren and Wetmore, the architects who designed and built New York’s Grand Central Station.
The exterior of the house is lovely, the interior is mind-blowing. William K. Vanderbilt is fascinating. A lover of oceans and nature (and boats and cars), he travelled the world collecting animals and artifacts, then turned his estate into a museum with an estimated 30,000 objects.
The basement of the home has a “habitat”, dioramas that would rival NYC’s Museum of Natural History (and rightfully so, seeing as how Vanderbilt hired the curator, then built him a sizeable home at Eagle’s Nest). The habitat includes a polar bear, and a 32-foot whale shark, the world’s largest taxidermied fish, caught off Fire Island in 1935.
On the opposite side of the house, is the “Stoll Wing” (or memorial wing). Upstairs, Vanderbilt housed the “ souvenirs” of his deceased son’s hunting trips in Africa. And downstairs there are museum quality exhibits of rare birds and sea creatures. In the basement, there are a couple vintage cars, including a 1928 Lincoln.
If you’re planning to visit Eagle's Nest, go early! Tours of the home occur every hour on the hour, but only accept 20 people per group. Even on an overcast day, we had to wait 90 minutes for the next available tour. For more information: Eagle’s Nest
Images provided by Demetria Lucas D'Oyley. All rights reserved.