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The Rhinebeck House of Eye of the Moon

Marienruh

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.

6 Comments

  1. Margo Ternstrom says:

    That is exactly what I pictured as I read Eye of the Moon! Fun to read about your experiences there.

  2. S. Patrick says:

    I stayed there for two years starting in August of 1971. I loved the building , the grounds and the surrounding countryside. It was a kind of Walden Pond for me. There was really nothing for several miles around unless you traveled by car which I did only occasionally. I’d walk to the bluff past the tiny hidden cemetery with markers for pets. I’d sit there in the evening to watch the parade of small boats . Some would have strings of lights . I could hear laughter and cheery voices carried clearly across the water to me. That first August It pained me to think of all the social activities I was missing along with excitement I knew existed in the places I’d had known. It was a cause for melancholy . I was surprised at how fast I learned to enjoy what I knew would be short lived and never exist again as it did for me then. There was a path from the south lawn that went down through the woods to the river. There was the unique tunnel cut out of stone. You could walk over it’s grass covered top or cross the commuter tracks to the Hudson. What a marvelous magical river that conjured up thoughts of Tom and Huck on the Mississippi. I can remember swimming in the river on a hot summer days. The large flat jumbled rocks that line the river there made great places to soak up the heat and dry yourself. I’m sure it was a surprise to some alert commuters on the train that raced by. Catching a glimpse of someone in white underwear sunning on a rock. If I truly needed more of Walden Pond there was always the Ferncliff Forest across River Road. You would just walk down the driveway ( can’t believe it’s now called a street and has a name,) and cross the road and walk uphill into the woods. Hidden away is that secluded pond . There were two lean-tos when I last visited in late 70’s. I made camp a few times in those woods we’ll out of sight of the trail. I also woul walked into the town of Rhinebeck occasionally for contact with modern world. The first time in winter I felt like a character in a Tolstoy novel. I walked along River Road with it’s low stone walls built by the hands of immigrant stone workers. I’ve found other stone walls abandoned ,on my hikes in the woods , that might date back to colonial days. The wind would blow the snow with force into my squinting eyes. Everywhere around me was white as I trudge through the snow. Often no cars would pass me for an hour. An hour which only the fields covered with snow and the bare twisted trees sleeping till Spring . I sometimes felt like I might never reach the tiny town of Rhinebeck. I’m glad that I did not have to worry about wolves or packs of coyotes back then. I know that a lot of change has happened and it’s not town it was 50 years ago. Then, neither am I.My biggest regret is that I failed to see the love of my life who lived across the river. I would of settled there and we would of made Rhinebeck our home.

    • I am thrilled to hear that you visited there. It is or was a magic place for me. All my memories are bright and filled with color. In my novels, the house plays as important a part as the characters.

  3. Derek Howell says:

    What is the correct pronunciation of Marienruh? I’m writing an article about the house and that would be helpful

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