The Gilded Age is finally here! The HBO Julian Fellowes prestige television drama, that is, in the vein of his lavish signature series Downton Abbey.
It’s been awhile since New York City history has been depicted on screen; The Alienist, The Deuce and The Knick themselves seem like ancient history.
Judging from its glittering trailer, The Gilded Age depicts the social worlds of New York during the 1880s, a time of great wealth and power within a turbulent metropolis. It’s a tale of old money and new, the dyed-in-the-wool Knickerbockers vs. the ambitious nouveau riche.
And performed by a cast largely comprised of Broadway stars and award-winning actresses? Darling, our tables are set.
NOTE: Tom Meyers is the co-host of the official Gilded Age Podcast. I (Greg), however, have not seen any of the episodes and am watching eagerly alongside you!
But how should one prepare for the new show? Over the years, the Bowery Boys Podcast has explored many Gilded Age subjects. And the new Bowery Boys spin-off show The Gilded Gentleman is, of course, singularly devoted to the period.
Before settling in to watch stars Christine Baranski, Cynthia Nixon and Audra McDonald engage in social warfare, get into the perfect mindset with these shows from the Bowery Boys (and Gilded Gentleman) back catalog.
The Rise of the Fifth Avenue Mansions
At the heart of New York’s Gilded Age — the late 19th century era of unprecedented American wealth and excess — were families with the names Astor, Waldorf, Schermerhorn and Vanderbilt, alongside power players like A.T. Stewart, Jay Gould and William “Boss” Tweed.
They would all make their homes — and in the case of the Vanderbilts, their great many homes — on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue.
The Fall of the Fifth Avenue Mansions
In this episode, the symbols of the Gilded Age are dismantled.
During the late 19th century, New York’s most esteemed families built extravagant mansions along Fifth Avenue, turning it into one of the most desired residential streets in the United States. The ‘well-connected’ families, along with the nouveau riche, planted their homes here, even as the realities of the city encroached around them.
But by 1925 most of the mansions below 59th Street were gone, victims of changing tastes and alterations to the city landscape.
Edith Wharton’s New York
In this show we examine the story of Edith Wharton — the acclaimed American novelist who was born in New York City and raised inside this very Gilded Age social world that she would bring to life in her prose.
She was a true ‘insider’ of New York’s wealthy class — giving the reader an honest look at what it was like to live in the mansions of Fifth Avenue, to attend an elite dinner soiree featuring tableaux vivant and to carry forth an exhausting agenda of travels to Hudson River estates, grand Newport manors and gardened European villas.
Thomas Edison and the City Lights
The streets of New York have been lit in various ways through the decades, from the wisps of whale-oil flame to the modern comfort of gas lighting. With the discovery of electricity, it seemed possible to illuminate the world with a more dependable, potentially inexhaustible energy source.
Thomas Edison envisioned an entire city grid wired for electricity. From Edison’s Pearl Street station, the inventor turned a handful of blocks north of Wall Street into America’s first area entirely lit with the newly invented incandescent bulbs.
The Complicated History of the Waldorf Astoria
The Waldorf-Astoria — or the Waldorf=Astoria or even the Waldorf Astoria — has been a premier name in hotel accommodations since the opening of the very first edition on 34th Street and Fifth Avenue (the location of today’s Empire State Building).
But the history of the current incarnation on Park Avenue contains the twists and turns of world events, from World War II to recent diplomatic dramas.
Who Was The Real Mrs. Astor?
In The Real Mrs. Astor, Carl looks at one of the most legendary figures of the period – Caroline Astor, or the Mrs Astor, the ruler and creator of New York’s Gilded Age high society in the early 1870s.
In collaboration with Southern social climber Ward McAllister, Astor essentially created the rules for who was ‘acceptable’ in New York social circles.
The Opening of the Metropolitan Opera
The original Metropolitan Opera House — nicknamed the Yellow Brick Brewery for its bulky exterior design — was built by the families representing New York’s nouveau riche who felt slighted by Old New York’s upper class.
While it was technically Gounod’s opera Faust which played from the stage, most of the spectacle was actually in the audience — and up in the regal boxes, called the ‘golden horseshoe’ for its extravagant roster of social-climbing elite.