To paraphrase F. Scott Fitzgerald, the super rich are different from you and me — they keep camels in the conservatory. And, no, not just for a game of Clue (Cluedo for the British).
Doris Duke, fabulously wealthy American heiress, kept her camels, named Baby and Princess, sheltered in the conservatory of her 115 room Newport mansion, Rough Point, during a hurricane in 1991. The rest of the time they had their own sheltered tent just outside the conservatory. A little window in the room (a “camel port”) let people feed them treats. Doris purchased planes from Adnan Kashoggi (Saudi Arabian business man and international arms dealer) and insisted 2 camels be thrown in for the purchase price. She got the planes but not the camels. So, what’s an heiress to do? She went and bought her own 2 camels and billed him for their cost. The camels travelled in a horse trailer up from her New Jersey mansion to summer in Newport. They were infamous for chasing the security guards around the grounds for the occasional bite.
Rough Point is one of the great mansions of Newport. Touring one or more Gilded Age mansion is an obligatory experience when visiting Newport. They are just so surreal in the obvious display of wealth, magnificence and occasional lapse of good taste.
Rought Point was built by one of the Vanderbilts (Frederick). If you think a lot of Newport mansions were Vanderbilt cast-offs, its probably because they were a large family. For example, Frederick was one of 8 siblings and his older brother built The Breakers. When Frederick tired of Rough Point, he sold it to a tin mine mogul who sold it eventually to the Dukes.
Doris was 12 when she inherited Rough Point (and $80 million) upon the death of her father in 1925. An only child, she was nicknamed “Million Dollar Baby” by the press. She used some of that money acquiring fabulous art and antiques for the home, much of which is still available to view now. Among the many treasures are paintings by Renoir, van Dyck and Gainsborough, Belgian tapestries and Chinese porcelain. The house was opened to the public in 2000 as a museum upon Doris’ death.
Rough Point was built in the style of an English country house in the late 19th century and named after a promontory on the cliffs it overlooked. When the Dukes purchased the house, they enlarged the outside and modified the interior.
The tour itself was a great experience because they are lead by tour guides. Our guide was great with our children (keeping them engaged with look and find questions) and a knowledgeable source of information for the adults. For example, the ballroom/music room was planned out by Doris herself. She bought 2 lots of Chinese wall hangings at auction which were near enough in appearance to decorate the whole room.
Doris notoriously ran over her interior designer Edward Tirella in what was deemed an accident. Perhaps he disagreed with her flamboyant choice of mother-of-pearl, purple and yellow for the master bedroom suite? Here’s one of the antique chairs from that bedroom.
The grand staircase was imported in whole from an English manor house and installed at Rough Point. The stained glass depicts the coats of arms of the signers of the Magna Carta.
Likewise, the wood panelled rooms had the panelling imported from an English manor house which was being stripped. One such room is the Great Hall which is effectively used as an art gallery.
The conservatory was supposed to have been Doris’ favourite room. It’s easy to see why because of the fabulous views over the manicured lawns to the Atlantic Ocean.
Even the kitchen had great views over the lawn and the Atlantic Ocean.
The gardens were laid out by Frederick Law Olmstead, the renowned landscape architect famous for designing Central Park in New York City.
The camel topiaries no doubt keep the spirit of Princess and Baby at the house (and the security guards on their toes).
This Gilded Age mansion is definitely worth seeing. I would have loved to take more photos but photography is limited inside the house because of all the priceless treasures it contains.