The Way They Lived Then
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
Paul Krugman’s latest dispatch bemoans the penchant of the rich to live in vast mansions with lots of servants. It would be unremarkable save for the glimpse it provides into the lack of self-awareness on the left. Mr. Krugman reckons that we are seeing a resurgence of elite ostentation. This seems to have been touched off by his reading an article from a long ago Fortune magazine about how executives lived in the 1950s.
It turns out, he writes, that “the lives of an earlier generation’s elite were, indeed, far more restrained, more seemly if you like, than those of today’s Masters of the Universe.” He offers a link to a recent Vanity Fair article about the mansions of Greenwich. By contrast, the typical executive’s home in the 1950s, as described by Fortune, was likely to be “unpretentious and relatively small — perhaps seven rooms and two and a half baths.” Only a couple of servants, if that. That was the way they lived then.
Mr. Krugman doesn’t mention this, but there was at least one executive who lived large. He owned a certain newspaper and kept a vast 234-acre estate, Hillandale, on the New York-Connecticut border. The dinner table was always set with fine china, complete with finger bowls. The executive prohibited the corn from being picked until the water was boiling, and, once it was cooked, “a servant in a starched uniform burst from the kitchen carrying a silver platter with her precious cargo wrapped in a white linen napkin.”
The quotes are from “The Trust: The Private and Powerful Family Behind the New York Times.” On nice weekends, a table and barbecue were set up on the lawn and the executive — Arthur Sulzberger — did the cooking, “a male servant standing at attention by his side holding a silver tray stacked with patties.” Those were the years when the troubadour of the American left, Pete Seeger, was singing a song called “Little Boxes,” mocking the middle classes for living in modest little houses made of ticky tacky that all looked the same.
For our part, we have no objection whatsoever to Arthur Sulzberger and his family — heroes of newspaperdom — having enjoyed at Hillandale their success. If that’s not how God intended proprietors of profitable newspapers to live, He wouldn’t have brought forth the high speed rotary press. But how things change. Pete Seeger’s mockingsong of the middle class is heard no more in the land (one is lucky if one owns a home), and the heirs to Arthur Sulzberger are hiring Paul Krugman to sneer at the newly minted masters of the universe, who aspire to live like the Sulzberger paterfamilias once did.