Why Newport? Part of it was the temperature, oceanside climate, and proximity to New York: an important shipping hub since the Revolutionary War, the Rhode Island town and New York City were connected by both rail and road. Yet, it was man-about-town Ward McAllister (here portrayed by Nathan Lane) who made it a bonafide hotspot of the Gilded Age. In the 1850s, the lawyer bought a home in the area. During the warmer months, he’d frequently entertain his high-profile guests by the sea. According to the New England Historical Society, “McAllister then made the place famous for his ‘picnics.’ Soon enough, many were convinced to join him.” After the leading architectural firm of the era McKim, Mead & White built the Newport Casino in 1879—a recreational complex that included tennis, squash, billiards, and lawn bowling—the tycoons of the era began snatching up land, razing the more modest homes, and building their own, often designed in homage to European palaces. During this pre-income tax era, the town became a shrine to booming capitalism: high society by the sea.

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