The Realms Of Gould

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At the age of forty-four, Miss Gould, the quaint little lady in the dowdy clothes who was the image of the rich spinster aunt everyone dreams of having, shocked the nation by announcing her engagement to Finley J. Shepard, a minor operating official in the Gould System. They were married at Lyndhurst on January 22, 1913, a holy day in the bride’s calendar because it was the fiftieth anniversary of the wedding of her mother and father. It was one of the great days in the history of Lyndhurst. A special train brought guests from New York, flags were flown by the people in Irvington, and the old house was filled with flowers and excitement. Mr. Shepard was a handsome, stalwart figure in the best tradition of the Young Men’s Christian Association, whose tastes rather miraculously coincided with those of his bride. They spent their honeymoon at Lyndhurst.

It was a happy marriage for the Shepards as they moved back and forth with the seasons between 579 Fifth Avenue in the winter, the old Gould homestead at Roxbury for the summer, and Lyndhurst in the spring and fall. And it was a happy marriage for Lyndhurst, for the clatter of growing children again resounded in its halls. Mrs. Shepard could not bear children of her own, but she and her husband adopted three orphans—two girls and a boy—and raised another boy as a foster child. Frank Gould’s two girls by his first marriage frequently spent the nine months of each year allotted to him with their Aunt Helen. Much to her distress, however, although the smart but immodest little frocks in which they arrived were promptly banished in favor of voluminous pinafores, nine months were hopelessly inadequate to undo the sophistication acquired in the three months spent with their mother. When they were all at Lyndhurst together, with their entourage of nurses, governesses, and maids, it was a crowded, busy household that justified Hone’s description of Lyndhurst as “an edifice of gigantic size, with no room in it.”

For people of wealth, the Shepards had little taste for lavish display and in their later years preferred the simpler life at Roxbury, where the old Gould house had been remodelled and enlarged so as to accommodate their extensive ménage. In honor of its new dignity it was given a name of its own. Not unexpectedly, in view of its proximity to the Jay Gould Memorial Reformed Church, which the children had erected soon after their father’s death, it was called Kirkside. Lyndhurst, while never neglected, entered a state of decline matching that of its mistress after she suffered a stroke in the fall of 1932. As the cozy realm of sanctimonious piety and of reverence for the rich simply because they were rich, in which she had flourished, was engulfed in the stock market crash of 1929 and the Great Depression of the I93o’s, the once dauntless Miss Gould became a quaint and somewhat irrational little old lady. The diminishing income from her trust perplexed and alarmed her. The New Deal infuriated her. The twin menaces of atheism and communism, inseparably linked in her mind in a conspiracy lurking under every bed, terrified her. Even the girls at Vassar, she was convinced, had become so irreligious and so dangerously radical that she withdrew several scholarship grants.

Helen Gould Shepard died at Roxbury on December 21, 1938, at the age of seventy, in the house where her father had been born. In her last will and testament she bequeathed the Fifth Avenue mansion and Kirkside to “my beloved husband,” but surprisingly Lyndhurst was passed over in silence to become another of the anonymous assets comprising her residuary estate. The net value of the entire estate, according to the transfer tax appraisal, was $3,272,918. Mr. Shepard, as the residuary legatee, inherited most of it. Sadly, however, since Mrs. Shepard had had no children of her own, the far larger amount constituting the principal of her trust fund was distributed among Howard, Anna, Frank, and the surviving children of George and Edwin, who had died earlier. In accord with the terms of her father’s will, her adopted orphans were firmly excluded.

Lyndhurst, to the prudent Mr. Shepard, was merely a wasting asset devouring his capital, and he was anxious to be rid of it as quickly as possible. In 1939, even more than in 1880, the market for a Lyndhurst was negligible. Even the rich were still suffering from the Great Depression: income taxes were becoming genuinely burdensome, and fears aroused by F. D. R. and the New Deal still lingered. The abundant supply of servants and other menials at low wages, so vital to the flourishing existence of great houses, was being eroded by social change. The Goulds themselves were Lyndhurst’s best and perhaps only hope of survival.

Of the six children of Jay Gould who had grown up at Lyndhurst, George, Edwin, and now Helen were dead. Of the living, Howard had deserted a grandiose folly on Long Island, liberally emblazoned with what he fondly believed to be the Gould coat of arms and unblushingly called Castle Gould, and was now settled permanently into the life of an English country gentleman. Frank Jay had lived in France, where he had extensive business interests and grand personal establishments, for over a quarter of a century. In addition, he owned a twenty-seven-room Tudor mansion a few miles down the road from Lyndhurst, near Ardsley. He had bought it in 1933, but he had never lived in it, and so far as is known, he may never have bothered even to look at it. Eventually, he gave it away. Anna, once the little girl who had played with her dolls at Lyndhurst, was now the Duchesse de Talleyrand, mistress of palaces and chateaux in France, where she had lived ever since her marriage forty-four years before to a charming rogue named Count Boni de Castellane.