Eugenia and Her Ornaments
Written By Leeann Donnelly
We are fortunate to have treasured stories from people who lived, worked or visited Biltmore throughout our history. These colorful recollections give us real clues to what life was like at the estate. They also serve as the foundation of stories we share with guests who visit us today. Eugenia Hallyburton Chandler shared one recollection of being a child on the estate at Christmas. Her story illustrates both her love of the beautiful holiday decorations and the candor of her youth!
For the youngest members of the estate, treats like special sweets, clothing, games and toys were standard gifts. Eugenia recalled the Christmas parties in the Banquet Hall; where there were “mounds of oranges . . . and this beautiful Christmas tree and I know they had gifts for all the kids.” One year Eugenia was given paper dolls as a gift from Edith Vanderbilt. And as children sometimes will do, she honestly replied that she didn’t like them and asked Edith to give them to someone else.
We have all wondered if that comment caught Edith by surprise, but Eugenia recalls she said “Well, Eugenia, what would you like?” Eugenia replied, “That ball, right up there.” Pointing to the tree, she had her eyes set on a colorful, shiny glass ball hanging from the tree branches. Quotes like this next one tell us so much about the personality of Edith Vanderbilt. Eugenia remembered, “she called in Donohue [the butler] and she stripped that tree and gave those balls to the children. She knew what they liked. Every time she went on a trip and came back after that, she would bring me some Christmas balls.”
Our design team enjoys remembering Eugenia and her beloved Christmas ornaments when they decorate the Banquet Hall tree each year. The team hangs hundreds of colorful balls on trees in the house, some inspired by the ones that Edith may have presented to the children. When she became an adult, Eugenia displayed her beloved collection in her home every year until an accident one holiday season. “I had some of the prettiest ones you ever saw until my cat pulled the tree over in the foyer and broke them all,” she shared. While her story has a bit of a sad ending, we so enjoyed hearing about Eugenia’s fond Christmas memories of Biltmore and her ornaments.