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The furniture was still being delivered from Europe when Alva and her husband, Willy K. Vanderbilt, decided to throw a house-warming party in their very accommodating ballroom.
They sent invitations to 1,200 (twelve hundred) guests, none more important than Mrs. Astor. Alva could not be sure Mrs. Astor would accept, so she made certain her up-coming ball was the talk of the town.
It’s a moment in which the newspapers are competing for news. Hundreds of thousands of people, not only in New York City, but also nationally, are reading these newspapers. It’s really comparable to the emergence of social media. So, instead of tweets we have people like Alva who are understanding this change and starting to take advantage of the new possibilities of the media coverage.
She invites newspaper columnists to come into her house. She gives them very detailed instructions as to what kind of décor the house has, what it’s made of, who the artists are, all of the details she thinks will impress people.
On the day of the ball, March 26th, 1883, New York was abuzz. Society dames spent hours fitting themselves into gowns styled after bygone European aristocracy. Their husbands visited hairdressers, then rushed home to pull up their tights and strap on swords. Crowds of curious on-lookers began gathering outside the Vanderbilt mansion at 8 that evening (8:00 pm), though the party would not begin until 11.
Mrs. Astor was among the arrivals. As she made her way down the grand staircase, she took in the century-old, French and Italian tapestries, towering palms, Japanese lanterns and gilded baskets filled with roses. Young Alva, Mrs. Astor had to admit, exhibited style.
“We have no right to exclude those whom the growth of this great country has brought forward.” Caroline Astor explained. “The time has come for the Vanderbilts.”