A Sad Farewell
Departing New York and missing the dearly departed
Departing New York and missing the dearly departed, Monday, January 24, 2011
Leaving New York on Monday certainly was sad, and not just because it was the end of countless parties, tours, and lectures—though we certainly slept little and enjoyed libations in no less than nine of the finest hotel lobby bars in the city. The melancholy feeling came from the thought of the people who have crossed my path but are no longer with us, and who would have been at the Winter Antiques Show should they have still been with us.
As I have heard all of my life, “Charlestonians are like the Chinese. We worship our ancestors and eat rice every day.” Over the weekend, I thought of so many friends, now gone, who were involved with the organizations who contributed to the exhibit: Historic Charleston Foundation, the Gibbes Museum of Art, Drayton Hall, Middleton Place, the Rivers Collection, and the Charleston Museum.
As I passed the jewelry cases, I thought of my trip to the Red Cross Ball and Palm Beach Antiques Show with Mary Ramsay. Of course, she knew the man from Asprey Jewelers in London who had to have permission to leave England as it was high obligation to present all jewels to her Highness, Queen Elizabeth. He crossed the room and called Mary Loretto by name! She would have loved to have been at this show with her family and friends.
I thought of Dr. Fraser Wilson, who made such a mark in our city through properly placing antiquities in so many buildings—from South Carolina Hall to the Thomas Bennett House to most at the College of Charleston. Dr. Wilson would have been piloting the plane to get to this show—or renting a U-Haul to bring home great finds!
I passed an elegant Old Paris fish set and thought of the oh-so-elegant Juliette Wiles Staats and the famed dinners she hosted at her homes on both sides of Church Street. Large Oriental screens in one booth took me to the conversation that would have been had if interior designers John Ragsdale and Maurgarite Volk had been with us. Though I never had the pleasure of meeting Mrs. Volk, there are so many wonderful stories about her home/shop in the Mikell House on Rutledge and Montague streets. Today, you still find her tag sewn in curtains found at tag sales. Ms. Ragsdale would have been covered in her signature emeralds and donning a Mary McFadden gown, one of her favorite designers. Her dramatic sense of presence would have lent another level of interest that New Yorkers likely have never experienced!
I think of the elegant Marianne Bennett and what the décor looked like when she lived in the Simmons-Edwards House at 14 Legare Street. If she were living, surely she would have given a party, as she had moved to New York later in her life. Luckily, her son Thomas and daughter Mary Morrison were present. Charlestonians who knew Mrs. Bennett know that her sense of style was equally inherited by all of her children.
Medway Plantation’s Gertrude Sanford Legendre and New York transplant to Charleston Alison Harwood surely would have taken a grand suite somewhere and entertained in Old World style. As a retired editor at Vogue, Ms. Harwood moved to Charleston and was a remarkable steward, leaving the Gibbes Museum and Saint Stephen’s Episcopal Church funds for garden installations. She was the first person I recall wearing a Chanel suit in Charleston—what an elegant lady; a fact never disputed. How she would have loved seeing the Charlestonians “up North.”
I thought of Ted Phillips while walking through the exhibit, and how proud he would have been to see Charleston highlighted in such a fashionable way. A faint whiff of moth balls led me to remember the attorney, collector, and estate liquidator John Bennett and the grand time he would have had at the exhibit, telling the people “from off” how all of the Charleston entourage were related. No one could trace a family tree, or forest for that matter, like John.
The venerable Frances Ravenel Smythe Edmunds would have arranged for her own chair next to John, offering Kitty Robinson and staff an added hand to welcome each and every guest in proper Charleston fashion.
Even without these ancestors, Charleston showed well. I feel New York will always remember this opportunity to peer through the looking glass of Charleston’s history. Featuring a rather large Romney portrait next to a sultry Sully, these ladies watched over and welcomed the thousands of guests that came through the doors of the New York Armory on the coldest weekend in recent history. After all, we always welcome our guests at the entrance of our home.
Main photo: The late benefactor Mary Croghan Ramsay