Six and Twenty Club hears about an American dynasty — the Vanderbilt Family

Submitted by Mary Ann Raizk

WILMINGTON — After a few months hiatus due to the county’s uptick of coronavirus, the Six and Twenty Club was able to meet in person on March 11, at the First Christian Church, hosted by Pat King.

The new president, Cindy Petrich, called the meeting to order. Members answered roll call with quotations. Secretary, Mindy Henson, read the minutes from December. At the next meeting, the club will resume reporting of historical minutes.

The leader for the afternoon’s program was Mary Ann Raizk. The book she chose to pass this year is Amor Towles’ first book, Rules of Civility. It takes place in 1938, when three young adults accidentally meet in New York City and their lives become inextricably tangled. Through Towles’ exquisite writing, he explores how our decisions and chance encounters affect us for a lifetime.

For Raizk’s program, she chose to review the history of the Vanderbilt Family from the new book written by Anderson Cooper, The Rise and Fall of an American Dynasty. Cooper is a broadcast journalist and commentator, and is the great, great, great, grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt, the famous steamship and railroad magnate of the 19th century.

Cornelius gave $2 million to Central University in Tennessee, which was renamed Vanderbilt University, in his honor. He also gave a million dollar ship, the USS Vanderbilt, to the Union Navy during the Civil War.

With the aid of a family tree chart, Raizk pointed out some of the more famous family members. Cornelius Vanderbilt II built the famous summer home “The Breakers,” in Newport, Rhode Island. Sister-in-law Alva helped the family break into “society” by throwing a huge ball and outsmarting Mrs. Astor.

A daughter of Cornelius II, Gertrude, married Harry Payne Whitney, and founded the Whitney Art Museum in New York City. Her brother, Reggie, married Maria Morgan. They had a daughter, Gloria Laura Vanderbilt. On her marriage to her fourth husband, Wyatt Cooper, she had two sons, one of whom was Anderson Cooper.

Gloria was a socialite in New York society, friend of the rich and famous. Anderson spent more time with his mother after his father died, when she ventured into the fashion and art world. Together they wrote a book and made an HBO documentary about her life.

Like many of her predecessors in the Vanderbilt Family, she made and inherited fortunes and lost them. Raizk ended the program by showing a short video of a tour through “The Breakers” mansion which she and her husband had visited in the fall. Raizk mentioned that in the new HBO series, “The Gilded Age,” the newly rich Russell Family is loosely based on the Vanderbilts.

The afternoon ended with Mrs. King inviting members to pick up packaged chocolates and water bottles from her lovely, Irish-themed table, decked with shamrock plants and green accessories.

Submitted by Mary Ann Raizk