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Christmas Wishes from Edith

Posted on 12/24/2012 by Leslie Klinger

On Christmas Eve of 1895, George Vanderbilt opened the doors of Biltmore House to welcome family and friends into his home for the first official time. The following day he invited the estate’s many employees and their children into the Banquet Hall where they found a space filled with music, sweet treats and an enormous tree sparkling with lights and laden with gifts for all. In 1898, Mr. Vanderbilt was joined in passing out the presents by his new bride Edith, who was elated with the festive tradition and continued on each year thereafter finding new ways to share the joy of this season. 

Edith’s good friend Anna Wheeler, the wife of the estate’s veterinarian, often helped the Vanderbilts organize exceptional holiday events such as theatrical readings of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol for estate employees.  In an unpublished memoir, Anna reflected back on these special times and the many ways in which Edith carried the true spirit of Christmas year-round.

[Her] work among the mountaineers [and] the charm of her personality soon made her a friend of all who were fortunate enough to know her…. celebrations … were held in the banqueting hall of Biltmore House…. The brilliant tree, in its magnificent setting, the faces of those surrounding it, and the beautiful and gracious hostess are never to be forgotten.

A decade after George Vanderbilt’s death, Edith remarried, settling in Rhode Island and Washington, DC with her husband Senator Peter Gerry.  She dedicated much of her time to political endeavors, particularly to supporting those serving in the military and to promoting literacy and educational efforts.  And though she did not reside at Biltmore full-time, it’s touching to know that she, too, never forgot.  Nestled snugly among papers in our archives are many decades of holiday greetings sent between the former Mrs. Vanderbilt and estate superintendent Chauncey Beadle.  Edith wrote year after year sending her love and best Christmas wishes to those living and working on the estate.

To me, the century-old holiday traditions here illustrate how deeply the Vanderbilts treasured family and community.  Telegram after telegram in our archives serve as tokens of recognition that Biltmore was home for Edith Vanderbilt.. .and that this timeless, magical place was never far from her heart at Christmas-time.  Just as Edith wrote to those she held dear, we send you Best Wishes for Christmas and the New Year!

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