“Backstairs” Tour Will Debut this Holiday Season
(Lenox, MA) -The Mount, the home of Edith Wharton in Lenox, MA, has created a new “Backstairs” tour that reveals details about the lives of servants who lived and worked on the property from 1902 to 1911, when it was occupied by Edith and Teddy Wharton. The “Backstairs” tour will debut during The Mount’s holiday hours on Saturday, November 30; Saturday, December 7; and Saturday, December 14. “Backstairs” tours will be given at 12:00 p.m. and 2 p.m. on each of those days.
Inspired in part by public fascination with the PBS television series Downton Abbey, whose creator Julian Fellowes has cited Wharton as a major literary influence, the “Backstairs at The Mount” tour will highlight the roles, relationships, living conditions, and working expectations of the 20 servants who staffed the house and property each summer while the Whartons were in residence. Like other Berkshire-based households during the Gilded Age, The Mount relied on the Whartons’ permanent staff as well as local residents for cooking, cleaning, driving, gardening, and other daily tasks. Many of the servants lived on the property: unmarried females lived on the fourth floor of the Main House, while families and unmarried males on the top floor of the Stable. Thomas Reynolds, the gardener and caretaker, lived year-round in the Gatehouse.
A servant’s view of life at The Mount was the most-requested new tour in a recent visitor poll. “Visitors want to know how servants lived and how they interacted with those they served,” said House Manager Anne Schuyler. “And while we might not know as much about many of the servants as we would wish, we do know that Wharton had an intriguing international staff, each with a unique story waiting to be told.” Englishman Alfred White–or “White the Great,” as one of Wharton’s friends referred to him–was the head butler who had very distinct views on how to run the household. Alsatian housekeeper Catherine Gross was fiercely loyal, but had a tragic past. German-American Anna Catherine Bahlmann, Wharton’s ex-governess and secretary, straddled an uncomfortable class line between servant and friend. Lenox native Charles Cook, who served as the Wharton’s beloved chauffeur, lived in town during his service, but perhaps moved to The Mount later: he is said by some to haunt the estate today!
By all accounts, the Whartons treated their servants quite well for the times. “They even threw a little Christmas party for White and his family one year, and they built The Mount with the latest labor-saving devices, including an Otis elevator for the luggage,” said Schuyler. But, with its long hours and rigid rules, life in service was not easy, particularly for those on the lowest rungs of the servant ladder.
“With this new tour, we hope to share a variety of those voices with our visitors, and to give them a glimpse into that world,” said Schuyler.
The Mount is located at 2 Plunkett Street in Lenox, MA. The grounds are open to the public from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day, with special ticketed events hosted in the Main House throughout the winter and early spring. Starting November 30, the Main House will be open this holiday season on three consecutive Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. The entire property, including the buildings, will re-open daily for visits and tours on May 3, 2014.
For more information about The Mount, holiday hours, the Backstairs tour, or other special events,visit EdithWharton.org, email email@example.com, or call 413-551-5100.
About The Mount
The Mount is both a historic site and a cultural destination inspired by the passions and achievements of Edith Wharton. Designed and built by Edith Wharton in 1902, the house embodies the principles outlined in her influential book, The Decoration of Houses (1897). The property includes three acres of formal gardens designed by Wharton, who was also an authority on European landscape design, surrounded by extensive woodlands.
Today, The Mount hosts over 35,000 visitors annually, offering daily tours of the property May-October with special events throughout the year. Annual summer programming includes Wharton on Wednesdays, Music After Hours, and the popular Monday Lecture Series. Exhibitions explore themes from Wharton’s life and work.
The Mount is located at 2 Plunkett Street in Lenox, MA. The property is open daily for visitors from early May through October 31. (Hours may vary.) For additional information about The Mount, visit EdithWharton.org.
About Edith Wharton
Edith Wharton (1862-1937) was born into the tightly controlled society of Old New York at a time when women were discouraged from achieving anything beyond a proper marriage. Wharton broke through these strictures to become one of America’s greatest writers. Author of The Age of Innocence, Ethan Frome, and The House of Mirth, she wrote over 40 books in 40 years, including authoritative works on architecture, gardens, interior design, and travel. Essentially self-educated, she was the first woman awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, an honorary Doctorate of Letters from Yale University, and a full membership in the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
For additional information about The Mount and Edith Wharton, please visit EdithWharton.org.