Hillwood Estate, Museum, and Gardens – Fun Things To Do In DC

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Today, my friend and I toured the Hillwood Museum & Gardens Estate in Washington, D.C. — the personal home of one Marjorie Merriweather Post – a rich heiress to the Post Cereal fortune. You probably don’t know much about Marjorie, which is why I am going to take you into her home and world and tell you all about Hillwood as part of my ongoing Guide to D.C., because visiting this place is my most favorite thing I have ever done in D.C. Ever. And I was born and raised here. Literally I have 28 years of D.C. under my belt, and this was my favorite thing I have ever done.

ole marj

The first thing you need to know about Marjorie was that she was the original boss-ass bitch. The woman was a BAUSS. CRUSHED life. 4 Husbands, billions of dollars, 3 homes, a pet cemetery to end all pet cemeteries, and basically financed the Cartier business. Casually owned like half of the art of czarist Russia. Entranceway boasted 18th century painted portraits of Catherine The Great. And would drop like 4 thou on a 2-inch miniature dog relic from the Ming Dynasty. Literally she was a legend.

You know how people always use & make fun of the term “summer” as a verb, and how bougie it is, to like “summer in Montauk” or reference people who “summer on the Cape”? Well Marjorie WINTERED places. She fucking WINTERED in Palm Beach, Florida. That right there is about the APEX of wealth, when you Winter some place. She summered and wintered and falled and sprang while the rest of us trolls simmer in one damn place for 12 months of the year like peasants.

Hillwood, a 25-acre piece of land overlooking Rock Creek Park in Washington, D.C. was her Fall & Spring property. She also had Mar-a-Lago (a name that is so fantastically sensory and fairytale-esque — take me to Mar-a-Lago, it sounds like something lovers would whipser to one another in Casablanca, or the scene of a great crime novel), her Palm Beach property where she wintered; and a third place in upstate New York where she summered.

Hilwood

Hillwood is the most incredible place I have ever been. It is so impressive, and so full of historical gems that it feels impossible that it’s real; and especially that someone could have THAT much money. Which is bringing me closer back around to my earlier point about Marjorie being a boss-ass bitch. I love any woman who had 4 husbands. Do you know how much balls that takes? I guess it takes the balls of a billionaire. But she gave 0 fucks. Just like, tried that, did that, on to the next one. And in like 1930’s and shit too.

Before we talk more about old Marj, let’s talk some about her house. Hillwood. The kitchen! I absolutely died when walking into her kitchen. It opens with a long, impressive Butler’s Pantry (I fucking love Butler’s Pantries – want one badly), and the first thing I said upon taking it in was…..oh my god it’s….just….so….1950’s. I hadn’t realized yet that she had purchased the place in 1955, so yes, the Butler’s Pantry and Kitchen were indeed just that. So VERY 1950’s.

butlers pantry

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I couldn’t get over the kitchen and spent the most amount of time in the kitchen by FAR. It was dreamy in a way I really could never find the words to describe. It was a beautiful, crisp, clear, sunny October day – and the kitchen gets so much good natural light, with big sunny windows overlooking a little garden patio. And the place had very few visitors in the middle of the day Wednesday, so I was in there completely by myself (Anna had already moved on to the dining room and like 3 other rooms while I continued to marvel at the kitchen). And I just wandered around literally FEELING in my core what it felt like to be in that kitchen in 1958 and 1961 and ’63, as water simmered and pots and pans clanked and clamored and staff cooks plated food.

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Being in it felt like time travel. It gives me butterflies even to think about. All of this original 1950’s equipment (hugggeee freezers — I later learned her husband (of the time) was some kind of freezer magnate – he would be), and getting to see the dinner party menus on display. One of the menus that had been saved and was on display was from a dinner party Marjorie threw on October 17, 1963; and because we were visiting in October, so it was the same time of year, and same kind of light, and same time of day that they would have been cooking, it just felt like you could really feel what it was like. How could you not feel like that – everything was the same! You’re IN the kitchen, as it looked, as it was, when the cooks were cooking for that very dinner party in October of 1963. Except it’s October 2014. But everything is exactly as it was.

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The menu was my version of heaven. Although I am obsessed with all history and everything about America, I have realized that without question I am MOST enthralled with mid-century America. Post-war, pre hippy. Bobby and Sally. Refrigerators. Jello molds. Ham. Chevys. Kitchen Aid Mixers. Airplanes. Pan Am. Televisions. Microwaves. Wedge salads. Bar ware. Red wagons. And house wives doing French/foreign things and saying French/foreign words related to home & garden like “jardiniere” and “chinoiserie” —  THAT. SHIT. GETS. ME. GOING.

So to see a dinner party menu with the words: “caviar and blinis” to start, and ROAST BUTTER BALL TURKEY with sweet potatoes, marshmallow, vegetable jardiniere, APPLE JELLO RING WITH ASSORTED FRUIT, FILLED WITH BALLS OF STRAWBERRY SHERBERT. That is like fucking POETRY to me. That is like a beautiful man singing love poems into my ear. And to know that it’s not a caricature, it’s not an oversimplified thing we’ve come to stereotype of a decade, it’s not {just} from the mind of Mathew Weiner for a Hollywood TV show, nor a myth; no, it was the real-life, actual, dinner menu from people’s real lives in 1963 — from a woman who was as cultured and wealthy as they come, and quintessential AMERICAN (a fucking CEREAL HEIRESS FROM ILLINOIS) — and in her billion-dollar mansion she is serving her esteemed guests jello with balls of sherbert and butter ball turkey. COOL ME DOWN, cool me down, because I am HOT. With passion. For how fucking cool that is.

I don’t know what to tell you it’s just my own particular brand of crack. I love mid-century America.

(NOT TO MENTION THE VODKA AND DOM).

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As we continued to explore the ground floor, I could NOT. GET. OVER. JUST. HOW. WEALTHY. THIS WOMAN WAS. I mean you’ve never seen so many ITEMS — things, pieces of furniture, that must be worth MILLIONS individually! In and of themselves! And there are like 10,000 items in the place – tables, chairs, sculptures, figurines, plates, dishes, PAINTINGS. So many paintings. You’re looking at some Asian quartz sculpture and it’s probably from like 200 B.C. Bitch collected art from Jesus of Nazareth. She owned a casual two DIAMOND-STUDDED-monogrammed Faberge eggs that the last tsar of Russia, Alexander II, gave to his mother for Easter in1896 – a practice his father, Alexander III had started within the Romanav family (giving commissioned Faberge eggs as gifts) that they continued until THE FUCKING RUSSIAN REVOLUTION IN 1917 WHEN HE AND HIS ENTIRE FAMILY WERE EXECUTED BY THE BOLSHEVIKS, MARKING THE END OF IMPERIAL RUSSIA AND ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT EVENTS IN THE ENTIRE HISTORY OF THE WORLD. Yeah, Marjorie just owned some of Alexander II’s personal family gifts (by Faberge). Casual.

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Also, I loved the contrast between the kitchen and the rest of the house — because the kitchen, at the time, was literally THE most modern, of-the-times, state-of-the-art 50’s thing ever; but ONLY the kitchen. The rest of the house is as 18th century as it gets. So you go from this like, tile-floored, starburst-design, green-and-yellow AS-1950’S-AMERICA-AS-IT-LITERALLY-GETS-kitchen, to….Versailles. To as 18th-century-France as it literally gets. Post cereal and bread boxes to Louis XIV and Marie Antoinette. It’s kind of amazing.

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When we got upstairs, and got to a room that displayed some of Marjorie’s original receipts from transactions at the Cartier store in Paris, is when I really began to digest the sheer magnitude of her fortune. One of the receipts, was for 11,000 dollars, for two. Cartier. Picture Frames.

PICTURE FRAMES.

IN 1931.

NINETEEN

THIRTY

ONE

Do you have any concept

Of how opulent it is

To spend

11 THOUSAND DOLLARS

ON TWO PICTURE FRAMES

IN THE YEAR

NINETEEN THIRTY ONE

?????!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

It’s outrageous to spend 11,000 on 2 Cartier Picture Frames in the year 2014. 1931????!!!!! That must have been like a million dollars at that time. ON TWO PICTURE FRAMES!

Then we made our way around to the CLOSETS.

The closets were my other favorite part besides the Kitchen. Just so………historic in there time period-ness. They smelled pink and girly and magical and American. Girlfriend did NOT shy away from extravagance, in her dresses, jewelry, property, and items. Everything.

The estate has 2 original dresses on display in the closets, and they were CAPTIVATING to look at.

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One was from her daughter’s coming-out in some British Royal court (literally half the shit she and her daughters were ever doing made no sense, but of course, #wealth), and it gave me CHILLS. The first thing I thought was that it reminded me of the style of 1920’s dresses, and the display card said that she had worn it in 1929. To look at a real dress, that was PRESERVED from 1929, a real dress from Bergdorf Goodman, that a real life girl in 1929 picked out, and wore, and has just been kept in the family and handed down and now EIGHTY years later is in front of my eyes, is thrilling. For someone who loves history, and fashion, it’s truly thrilling.

MMP Cartier Necklace

After touring all of the house, and some of the gardens outside, we made our way to a separate structure on the property that currently has a Cartier exhibit showing some of Marjorie’s most incredible Cartier pieces and their back story. There was one necklace (above!) that I literally could not even conceive of a price on. It is absolutely massive – and an original commission that she worked with the Cartier bros to design. It is like, detachable into a brooch and multi-layered with a GIANT sapphire and like 400 billion trillion diamonds surrounding the center piece and cascading down into waterfalls. I literally was like………this necklace has to be worth 3 billion dollars. I mean I just don’t know how you could price an original Cartier commission, that large, that beautiful, with that many diamonds, from like 1940. Somebody tell me what that’s worth. The exhibit did not.

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I also couldn’t believe that her 3 daughters wouldn’t want these things…to own them. Personally. To WEAR them. And pass them down in the family. Not have them on view for strangers. Anna explained inheritance tax to me. She also said they probably already own something BETTER than even what’s on display. And that they probably already got (money-wise, property-wise) way more than what’s at Hillwood – that they already got theirs. But I just kept being like, DON’T THEY WANT TO LIVE HERE? Don’t they want to OWN Hillwood? How are they cool with this just being a spot for history weirdos like myself to have religious moments in the kitchen of? And like wander the halls of fantasizing about their mom’s 1950’s jello molds?

Also the exhibit said something about how some of the Cartier items were on loan. So maybe those 3 daughters do get to wear those necklaces around their ski chalet on Christmas or wherever they Winter nowadays. Literally, one of the emerald rings was the biggest, most awe-inspiring piece of jewelry I have EVER LAID EYES ON. I can’t conceive of a person being wealthier than Marjorie Post. I think she is the richest person that has ever lived. I think I just stepped foot onto the home and grounds of the richest person in humanity. Because I’m not wrapping my head around owning porcelain urns from Alexander The Great’s reign over Russia and Cartier sapphires the size of a baby shoe. That’s just………that’s where my brain says “cannot not compute.” The woman had more plates – just….PLATES…than all of the industrial kitchens in Russia. And they were like NEXT LEVEL plates too, like crystal-encrusted patterns from imperial Moscow that like Peter The Great used to entertain his enemies. I don’t even know. Everything she owned had some back story and connection to like the most famous people that have ever lived in Russia and France – and they worth a LOT today let me tell you.

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After checking out the Cartier exhibit, we walked all around the outdoor grounds of the property. There is a SUPER cool little Japanese garden with mini little bridges, stone paths, and rushing water. It was impressive and fun. Then there’s a putting green that’s very relaxing to sit and chat near. And there’s a whole bunch of winding paths through gardens and woods. But my FAVORITE part. Was the unabashed pet cemetery. That clearly stole the show even over the most dazzling Cartier diamond necklaces you’ve ever seen. Stones 3 x bigger than the necklace in Titanic? That shit had nothing on the grave stones of her 42 dogs, with names like “skampi,” “petite chou,” and “CREME DE FUCKING COCOA.” SHE HAD A DOG NAMED CREME DE COCOA.

creme de cocoa gravestone

Marjorie

Marjorie Post was a badass, 4-husband, Russian-art-dealing, Cartier-comissioning boss, who built a pet cemetery for her fallen dogs named things such as Creme De Cocoa. I have never loved someone as much as I love Marjorie Post. She threw BALLER dinner parties, bathed in Dom Perignon, dressed for every event like she was the queen of fucking England, DRIPPED in diamonds, and ran a billion-dollar business like the boss-ass bitch that she was.

That’s my favorite picture above. She legit dressed like she was the Queen of England. As Anna said to me when I said this: “she was.”

She’s basically a gay man’s dream – in addition to everything mentioned above (let’s just reiterate real quick here – cartier,  4 husbands,  Romanav art collection, dog named creme de cocoa), the tag line of the Estate and Museums is “Fabulous – Where Fabulous lives”, and each visitor is given a name tag that says “Fabulous.”  Coolest. Woman. E-V-E-R.

Marj and Scamps

Seriously though, she inherited her father’s cereal business at age 27 and crushed it as the head of Post Cereal. Instead of doing idiotic things with her billions, she was smart, and tactical, with an eye for design, quality, and craftsmanship, in art, interiors, and jewelry. So much so that she knew to collect Cartier and Russian art. And husbands.

She is truly a feminist icon and my idol. Nobody but Marjorie told Marjorie what to do, least of all the men she was married to. She wasn’t EXACTLY living in a time when women were bosses (of companies, of themselves, of ANYTHING), husband-collectors, and the money-makers in the marriage. She wasn’t some twee heiress who sat around in her castle of billions and catered to her man. She was too busy BUYING ART FROM THE FUCKING ROMANAVS. And patronizing Cartier before they were Cartier. I literally fucking love her.

And most importantly, as my friend noted, all of THIS (Hillwood, the very green grass we were strolling on, with its 25 acres and unfathomable art and jewelry collection) is here. MANY people, Thomas Jefferson included, don’t manage their estates and affairs well enough to, when they die, not only be able to give things to their children and family, but have their possessions and estates and affairs so well-managed that they can leave them perfectly-preserved to the public, to view in all their glory, decades after they die. THIS, this place, in all its grandeur and glory, is proof of her business acumen and capabilities. That’s there’s even this left, today, says what we need to know about Marjorie Merriweather Post.

I. love. her. And Hillwood is the most wonderful place I have ever been in Washington, D.C. I feel honored and lucky that this wonderful woman chose this place to be where she falled and sprang.

And the city she chose to bequeath her billions of dollars worth of land, diamonds, and Russian art.

Boss.

Ass.

Bitch.

You do you, Marj. We love you.

2 Comments

Filed under Good Shit You Should Know About, History, Inspiration, LOLz

2 responses to “Hillwood Estate, Museum, and Gardens – Fun Things To Do In DC

  1. V

    umm, might have to visit here yesterday because I’m kind of obsessed with Russian history (as my blog name implies) especially Nicolas II. I’m like the basic, middle class woman earnestly trying to buy the crown jewels from that Straight Talk commercial that ran a few years back except whenever I see Fabrege eggs. “Not trying to haggle here, just shoot me a number.”

    This bitch reminds me of a non expat version of Peggy Guggenheim, my ultimate idol, who had three husbands, an extensive art collection, earrings custom made for her by Calder and was ultimately buried alongside at least a dozen of her dogs.

    • haha you’re hilarious I loved this comment!!! hahhaha just shoot me a number, lol on a faberge egg that’s amazing. Yes you MUST visit, and I TOO am OBSESSED with Russian history! Obsessed. In 6th grade I said I was going to name my future sons Gorby and Glasnost. Normal.

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