This photograph is of the actual house in Rhinebeck I summered at. It was called Marienruh. I never called it by that name. To me, it was always called Rhinebeck.
As to its origin, my great-uncle Vincent Astor, Alice’s brother, deeded over the property as a wedding present to Alice and my grandfather, Serge Obolensky.
The estate was part of Ferncliff, the 2,800-acre Astor property. The Ferncliff mansion, built in 1904, was called the Ferncliff Casino, not because there was gambling there but because the term ‘casino’ in those days referred to a sports pavilion. Ferncliff had an indoor tennis court, squash courts, swimming pool, bowling alley and shooting range. It was enormous. I do recall being chased all over it by my great-aunt Brooke Astor’s dachshunds. They would ‘tree’ me on a sofa or a chair and bark if I dared put a foot down to escape. Stanley, who became Aunt Brook’s butler after my father sold Rhinebeck, would have to find me.
Marienruh was much smaller than Ferncliff for two reasons. The first was that Alice wanted a place that was cozy – a house, where one could put one’s feet up all day long and read. The second was that newspapers at the time heard that another Astor house was being built along the Hudson and railed against the construction of yet another monstrosity.
A smaller and more refined design was submitted by the architect, Mott B. Schmidt, and accepted. Marienruh was completed in 1926.
Note the circular window at the top of the house. My room had the same style window on the opposite side and overlooked the South Lawn. Birds loved to take a pause on my windowsill and often woke me in the morning. The entire top floor was the children’s quarters and provided bedrooms as well as a library common room containing hundreds of children’s books from all over the world. Rhinebeck also had another large library on the first floor.
In the picture, the small structure on the right, connected to the main building, was Alice’s apartment. On the left were the kitchen and the servant’s area. Stanley, the butler, and Marjorie, the cook, lived there.
Memories, particularly of my early life, are mostly of moments. Each contains unique sensations of time and place. I feel rather than remember where I’ve been.
The Rhinebeck of my past has its own unique sensation, mostly of greens and golds.
Nothing of major significance happened to me there, other than I learned to ride a two-wheeled bicycle. What troubled me about that particular skill was the number of crashes I required to make it my own. I fell so often it was almost comical.
“What did you do today?”
“Fell off my bike.”
“Ah, yes. So you did.”
Such was growing up at Rhinebeck.