11 Outlandish Ways Aristocrats Displayed Their Wealth During the Gilded Age

The Gilded Age was a time of extreme poverty and extreme wealth (with said wealth often covering up deep-seated social issues). Like, a crazy ridiculous amount of wealth. Here are some ludicrous ways the one percent of the turn of the 20th century spent their money—because, well, they could.

1. Buying entire villages and rerouting trains 

In the late 1800s, John D. Rockefeller began buying up land in Westchester, New York. By 1913, he had built Kykuit, an impressive estate boasting over 3,400 acres of land. The oil tycoon spared no expense and filled his home with fine art and over 70 sculptures. But his extravagance didn’t stop with gilded trinkets. 

Upon realizing that smoke from the nearby railroad billowed onto the estate’s golf course, the Rockefellers decided to simply move the Putnam Division tracks—the section between East View and Briarcliff Manor, New York—five miles from the property. In 1929, the family also purchased the village of East View and removed forty-six families. To soothe public opinion, they paid each family more than their home was worth. In total, it cost around $700,000 to buy the land and even more money to move the train. But it was all worth it, because now guests could tee off without any unsightly smoke. 

2. Building a gold bathroom 

In 1878, the Garrett family (known for their success in the railroad industry) moved into the Evergreen estate in Baltimore. Formerly a summer home for the wealthy, the family quickly transformed the rental into a mansion stuffed with worldly treasures. The home even had a private gymnasium, which Alice Whitridge Garrett converted to a private theater in 1923. 

The most lavish segment of the home—which would surely be the envy of many a rap star or pop princess today—is the gold bathroom, which features Roman tiles and a bathtub covered in 23-carat gold leaf. It also boasts the only confirmed gold toilet seat in the United States. 

3.  Shipping in bugs from Brazil 

For socialite Mary Astor Paul’s debutante ball in 1906, over 10,000 Brazilian butterflies were hidden behind netting attached to the ceiling. Unfortunately, the heat of the lamps was too much for the delicate insects and they all perished before the big reveal. When the netting was finally released, the butterfly carcasses rained down on the disgusted guests.

4. Tricking out their pads 

Although no longer flushed with money, the Vanderbilts were once the poster family of the Gilded Age. Built in 1889, the staggeringly large Biltmore Estate is still the largest private estate in the country, with 178,926 square feet of floor space. Guests of the estate never worried about a lack of activities. Inside, you can find a bowling alley, heated pool, and a library with over 10,000 volumes. Upstairs, there is a billiard room where guests could play pool. Through a secret passage, men (no women or servants were allowed) could enter the bachelor’s wing, which featured a smoking room and gun room. Don’t tell your husband about that last part, or he’ll demand an upgrade for his “man cave.” 

5. Committing serious party fowls  

Lawyer and socialite Ward McAllister once attended a banquet in New York City in 1890 that was so extravagant, it shocked even the jaded New Yorker attendees. Hosted at Delmonico's, the event featured a long table with a thirty-foot lake in the center. Four swans brought in from Brooklyn’s Prospect Park floated peacefully in the water, surrounded by a variety of different flowers. The entire thing was encased in a magnificent gold-wired cage to prevent splashing. 

6. Rubbing elbows with VIPs   

Marion Graves Anthon Fish, or “Mamie,” was known for throwing extravagant parties for hundreds to thousands of guests at her opulent homes in New York City and Newport, Rhode Island. To add intrigue, she would advertise unusual guests that might drop by her shindigs. On one occasion, she mentioned an unnamed prince on her invitations. Guests were surprised when the “prince” was actually a monkey in a tuxedo. Another time, she asked her friend Henry Lehr to dress as the Czar of Russia and donned him in robes, a crown, and a scepter. For entertainment, she would also invite prize fighters and athletes to perform. 

7. Creating elaborate themed parties

Socialite and billionaire James Hazen Hyde loved a good party, and in 1905 he threw an elaborate costume ball in honor of his niece Annah Ripley. Hyde was an unapologetic Francophile, so the masquerade was decorated to look like the court of Louis XIV. Flowers covered the walls of the ballroom and the Metropolitan Opera House's forty-piece orchestra serenaded the guests. Fine wine was shipped in from France and diners ate in the dining room while surrounded by roses.

8. Bringing the outdoors inside 

In the early 1900s, businessman James Stillman threw a dinner party with a somewhat rustic theme. His dining room was converted into a faux forest, complete with an artificial waterfall. 

9. Booking the cast of a Broadway musical

Just in time for Newport’s famous tennis week, Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt invited the entire cast of the musical The Wild Rose to the Breakers in Newport, Rhode Island, to entertain New York’s 400 families (a kind of fancy social club). The full-scale production (complete with sets) was well received, but no one requested an encore. 

10. Torturing their dinner guests 

In 1903, well-known horse enthusiast Cornelius K. G. Billings finished the construction of his $200,000 stable (it was just a small edition, really). The expensive infrastructure housed 20 carriages, 33 horses, a trophy room, gymnasium, and enough living space for two families. 

To celebrate the stable’s completion, he invited 36 members of the Equestrian Club, of which he was president, to a dinner party at Louis Sherry’s, a 12-floor restaurant in New York City. The ballroom, as decorated by Billings, featured live birds, flora, and sod on the floor. However, there was no table. Instead, guests were expected to mount trained horses that faced each other in a circle. Their plates were connected to their saddles and champagne was drunk through straws connected to saddlebags. 

11. Giving out awesome party favors 

Caroline Astor threw exclusive parties for the old money of New York (the nouveau riche Vanderbilts were famously shunned from the affair). Limited to 400 guests, invitations were a highly sought after prize.  The events were apparently a dull affair, but no one cared—as long as they could go. (Kind of like Jennifer’s eighth grade sleepover birthday party.) At the end, Astor gave out decadent party favors like gold pencil cases (Jennifer would be proud), China figurines, and leather letter cases.

12 Behind-the-Scenes Secrets of Easter Bunnies

This child clearly can't get enough Easter Bunny in her life.
This child clearly can't get enough Easter Bunny in her life.
Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Every year, thousands of families, church groups, and event planners enlist entertainment companies to dispatch a costumed bunny for their Easter celebrations. These performers often endure oppressive heat, frightened children, and other indignities to bring joy to the season.

It can be a thankless job, which is why Mental Floss approached several hares and their handlers for some insight into what makes for a successful appearance, the numerous occupational hazards, and why they can be harassed while holding a giant carrot. Here’s a glimpse of what goes on under the ears.

1. They might be watching netflix under the mask.

Has a bunny ever seemed slow to respond to your child? He or she might be in the middle of a binge-watch. Jennifer Ellison, the sales and marketing manager for San Diego Kids’ Party Rentals and a bunny wrangler during the Easter season, says that extended party engagements might lead their furry foot soldiers to seek distractions while in costume. “We book the bunny by the hour and he is often booked for multiple hour blocks,” she says. “Listening to music definitely helps the time pass.” One of her bunny friends who does a lot of shopping mall appearances has even rigged up a harness that can cradle a smart phone. “It sits above the bunny's nose, resting right at eye level for the performer inside, easily allowing the performer to stream Netflix, scroll through Facebook, or check emails.”

2. They can’t walk on wet grass.

Bunnies that appear at private functions, like backyard parties or egg hunts, have to maintain the illusion of being a character and not a human in a furry costume. According to Albert Joseph, the owner of Albert Joseph Entertainment in San Francisco and a 30-year veteran of Easter engagements, one of the cardinal rules is never to set foot on wet grass. Why? “They wear regular shoes under their giant bunny feet,” he says. “If they step on wet grass and then walk on cement, they’ll make a human foot print, not a bunny print.”

3. There’s a reason they might not pick up your kid.

Bunnies might be amenable to posing for a photo with your child on their lap, but they’re probably not going to grab the little tyke and sweep them off their feet. According to Steve Rothenberg, a veteran performer and owner of Talk of the Town Entertainment in Rockville, Maryland, deadlifting a kid is against the rules. “The last thing you want is to lift them up and have them knock off your head,” he says.

4. Giant carrots will invite inappropriate behavior.

A person dressed as the Easter bunny.
As the 3-foot-long carrot proves, adults are easily the least mature guests at a child's Easter party.
lisafx/iStock via Getty Images Plus

Joseph’s warren of party bunnies usually come equipped with a 3-foot-long giant carrot as a prop. While children are amused by the oversized vegetable, the adults at the parties usually can’t help making observations. “Practically every visit, there’s always someone saying, ‘My, what a big carrot you have,’” he says.

On one occasion, Joseph attended a function at a retirement home. One of the women, who he estimated to be in her 80s, commented on his big feet in a lascivious manner. “She told me she was in room 37.”

5. Clothes make the bunny.

Easter bunny at the White House.
Every year, a well-dressed Easter bunny visits Washington, D.C. for the annual White House Easter Egg Roll.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

While “naked” (i.e., unclothed) bunnies remain popular, Ellison’s lineup also includes Mr. Bunny, a “classy lad with a top hat and vest,” and a Mrs. Bunny sporting a purple dress. Why would kids care if a bunny has sartorial sense? “Kids can probably better relate to a giant, furry character if it's dressed like a human,” Ellison says. “[And] we just thought the costumes looked cute.”

6. They can’t wear dark clothing underneath.

If a bunny wants to wear a black shirt under his or her fur, it stands to reason there wouldn’t be any issue: It's all hidden from sight. But Joseph insists that his cast stick with white apparel only. In addition to being cooler, it serves a practical function. “There’s always an opportunity to see a little something around the neckline or near the feet,” he says. Light clothing helps preserve the character.

7. They use an upholstery cleaner for their heads.

Most bunny costumes can be tossed in any regular washing machine, with the feet going in a larger commercial-use unit. But the heads, which are typically massive and unwieldy, get special attention. “You know those upholstery cleaners you can rent from a grocery store?” Joseph asks. “We use those. There’s a wand attachment to it for cleaning carpet.”

8. There’s a trick to keeping cool.

Costumes made of fake fur in the spring can be a recipe for disaster—or at least some lightheadedness. While none of the bunnies we profiled had experienced fainting spells, Ellison says that the trick to staying cool is actually adding a layer underneath the outfit. “Light, breathable clothing underneath the suit usually does the trick, but some people choose to wear an ice vest under the suit as well.”

Many bunnies also work in intervals: 45 to 50 minutes “on,” and 10 to 15 minutes in a private area to cool off and drink water. “Clients are usually understanding and sympathetic of the bunny and will allow even more breaks if necessary,” Ellison says.

9. Mints are essential.

Bunnies may favor carrots and grass, but their human operators need something other than that in order to deal with the humidity. Rothenberg says that his bunnies usually nibble on mints while working a crowd. “They’ll typically chew gum or have some kind of mint to keep their throat from drying out,” he says.

10. They use bunny handlers to prevent knockdowns.

A person dressed as the Easter bunny.
An Easter Bunny makes a young girl's day.
Alex Wong/Getty Images

Any professional bunny knows that having an assistant watching their back is the best way to ensure an appearance goes smoothly. “Your vision is limited and you can’t really look to the left or right,” Rothenberg says. “Having an assistant prevents kids from running up behind you.”

11. They have damaged butts.

In order to ease apprehensive kids, Joseph advocates for his bunnies to squat near a child rather than bend over. “It gets them at a child’s level so they can touch and feel for themselves,” he says. “But a bunny that does a lot of squatting winds up needing their [costume] butts re-sewn. I’ve repaired a lot of them.” Joseph will also invite mothers to sit on the bunny’s lap so fearful children are more likely to approach. “You don’t want to prod the kid,” he says.

12. They’re not just for easter.

While bunny costume season is a fleeting few weeks, companies are happy to roll out their rabbits for other occasions. Once, Ellison sent out a bunny for a customer’s Alice in Wonderland-themed gathering. “The client wanted the White Rabbit, so we dressed up our bunny in a vest and top hat and gave him an over-sized pocket watch. It worked out great.”

This piece originally ran in 2017.

The 48 Most Frequently Banned Wedding Songs

Bogdan Kurylo/iStock via Getty Images
Bogdan Kurylo/iStock via Getty Images

Who among us hasn't attended a wedding and cringed at the playlist? In 2017, stats/polling site FiveThirtyEight asked more than two dozen professional DJs who had DJ’d around 200 weddings what songs couples ban from their weddings and, after surveying 182 wedding playlists, came up with a list of 48 songs. They gave each song a percentage, which represents the share of weddings that banned the song.

The first 10 on the list represent silly dances people like to do but shouldn’t do, like The Chicken Dance, The Macarena, and The Electric Slide. After that, the list starts to see overplayed songs like “Don’t Stop Believin',’” “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” “Dancing Queen,” and “Sweet Caroline,” and call-and-response songs like “Shout.” The list contains a mix of new and old hip-hop, R&B, and pop hits, and several songs ended up tied.

Interestingly, a few songs from FiveThirtyEight’s 2016 ultimate wedding playlist also appear on the banned list, including “Hey Ya!,” “Uptown Funk,” “Sweet Caroline,” and “Call Me Maybe.”

You may or may not agree with this list, but don’t feel bad if you decide to ban any of these songs from your own wedding playlist—chances are, someone out there agrees with you.

  1. “The Chicken Dance”

  1. “Cha-Cha Slide” // DJ Casper

  1. “Macarena” // Los Del Rio

  1. “Cupid Shuffle” // Cupid

  1. “YMCA” // Village People

  1. “Electric Boogie (Electric Slide)” // Marcia Griffiths

  1. “Hokey Pokey”

  1. “Wobble” // V.I.C.

  1. “Happy” // Pharrell Williams

  1. “Shout” // Isley Brothers

  1. “Love Shack” // The B-52's

  1. “We Are Family” // Sister Sledge

  1. “Blurred Lines” // Robin Thicke

  1. “Celebration” // Kool & The Gang

  1. Cotton Eye Joe” // Rednex

  1. “Dancing Queen” // ABBA

  1. “Don’t Stop Believin’” // Journey

  1. “Single Ladies” // BeyoncÉ

  1. “Sweet Caroline” // Neil Diamond

  1. “Turn Down for What” // DJ Snake & Lil Jon

  1. “Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae)” // SilentÓ

  1. “Hot in Herre” // Nelly

  1. “Mony Mony” // Billy Idol

  1. “All About That Bass” // Meghan Trainor

  1. “Baby Got Back” // Sir Mix-a-Lot

  1. “Booti Call” // Blackstreet

  1. “Gangnam Style” // Psy

  1. “Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy)” // Big & Rich

  1. “Stayin’ Alive” // Bee Gees

  1. “Sweet Home Alabama” // Lynyrd Skynyrd

  1. “Uptown Funk” // Mark Ronson & Bruno Mars

  1. “Wagon Wheel” // Nathan Carter

  1. “What Do You Mean?” // Justin Bieber

  1. “All of Me” // John Legend

  1. “Bohemian Rhapsody” // Queen

  1. “Brown Eyed Girl” // Van Morrison

  1. “Call Me Maybe” // Carly Rae Jepsen

  1. “Footloose” // Kenny Loggins

  1. “Get Low” // Lil Jon

  1. “Hey Ya!” // Outkast

  1. “Hotline Bling” // Drake

  1. “I Will Survive” // Gloria Gaynor

  1. “My Heart Will Go On” // CÉline Dion

  1. “SexyBack” // Justin Timberlake

  1. “Shake It Off” // Taylor Swift

  1. “Sugar” // Maroon 5

  1. “Total Eclipse of the Heart” // Bonnie Tyler

  1. “You Shook Me All Night Long” // AC/DC

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