Invites had been hand delivered by uniformed servants and the press had been invited beforehand to take exclusive photographs of the decor and build the hype. The Vanderbilts were trying to flex their muscles for New York’s high society, particularly Mrs. Alva Vanderbilt, the new ambitious wife of William Kissam Vanderbilt, grandson to Cornelius “Commodore” Vanderbilt, the shipping and railroad mogul who had struck it rich after the Industrial Revolution.
To society snobs of the day, such as the Astor family, the Vanderbilts were still “new money”. When an infamous “list of 400” was circulated by Mrs. Astor (aided by social arbiter Ward McAllister), identifying the people who could be counted as members of New York’s “Fashionable Society” amongst the vastly increasing rich families of the Gilded Age, the Vanderbilts were deliberately left off the list.
Mrs. Astor did not receive an invitation to the Vanderbilt ball. Nor did her daughter Carrie Astor, who had been excitedly preparing her costume and dancing skills for weeks. When all their friends received invitations except for them, Mrs. Astor was going to have to do some grovelling.
As the gossip stories go, Alva (pictured above) claimed that since Mrs. Astor had never called on the Vanderbilt home on Fifth Avenue to introduce herself formally, she had no address to send an invite. Mrs. Astor begrudgingly dropped in on the French chateau style mansion that overshadowed all the other luxurious homes on the street and left her visiting card. The following day, the Astor’s received their invite. (Read more.)