James Gordon Bennett’s Newport (continued)
In addition to coaching, the charismatic Bennett loved yachting. He was a Commodore of the New York Yacht Club and did a great deal to promote competitive racing. On a whim, Bennett would sail nearly anywhere in the world. Once, when entertaining three very prominent Newport socialites for dinner upon his ocean going yacht, Bennett had too much to drink. The ladies, appropriately dressed for a formal dinner, were a bit shocked at his rude behavior. Without any apology, Bennett left the table and passed out in his cabin.
It wasn't long before the ladies realized that the yacht was putting out to sea. They frantically called the captain and asked him to put them ashore. He conveyed his regrets, but indicated that Mr. Bennett had ordered him to set sail for Egypt and that was what he proposed to do. It was not until the following morning, when Bennett finally came to, that the order was given to return to Newport. Bennett's most magnificent yacht was the
Lysistrata. The conversion of this vessel to steam power started the trend for that type of yacht. Bennett had the Lysi strata appointed for many luxuries. He had a Turkish Bath installed and actually had a cow and miniature dairy on board so that he would always have fresh milk.
Bennett used his newspapers, the New York Herald and the Paris Herald to further his ambitions and whims. He is the one who sent Henry M. Stanley on an expedition in Africa to find Dr. Livingstone in 1874-78. While it is true that Livingstone wasn't really lost, the expedition across Africa introduced Americans to the continent of Africa and greatly increased the circulation of the Herald.
Through his own yachting experience and using the resources of his newspaper, Bennett organized a system of storm prognostications that proved extremely beneficial to shipping interests. He helped finance a number of worthy expeditions, including one to the North Pole and he helped promote a trans-Atlantic cable.
While he spent money lavishly and entertained on a large scale in Newport, he could also be very stern. As publisher of the New York Herald, he realized that the antics and ceremonies of the very rich interested not only those participating but the general public as well. As a result, he carefully selected an excellent newspaperman as his Society Editor. While Colonel William D'Altron Mann who
practically invented the gossip column in his Town Topics, used his information to blackmail the rich, Bennett enhanced the lives of those around him. When Grace Vanderbilt held her "Fete des Rosas" extravaganza at her Newport mansion "Beaulieu", Bennett gave the ball four and a half columns while allocating only one half column to Theodore Roosevelt's campaign for the presidency.
The New York Herald often carried the most detailed accounts of weddings of the socially prominent, reporting in depth on the apparel worn, food served, and the splendors of the event. On one occasion, however, the usually correct Society Editor made an error. In reporting on one of Mrs. Stuyvesant Fish's extravaganzas, he inadvertently attached the names of a number of prize fighters and athletes to the guest list making it seem as if they had been honored guests. Mrs. Fish was incensed. She called the Herald, demanded to speak with Bennett and proceeded to give him a tongue lashing for the error.
Bennett, never one to accept harsh criticism, became very angry and told Mrs. Fish that her name would never appear in his newspaper again. Shortly after the altercation, Mrs. Fish realized how significant it was for her to have good publicity, called Bennett and apologized. For someone in her position, this was practically a miracle.
In Newport, Bennett is most often remembered as the man who shook up the very staid members of the ultra-exclusive men's club. The Reading Room, and for establishing the Casino which brought tennis, polo, and other entertainments to Rhode Island.
The story of the iconoclast, James Gordon Bennett, Jr. and the Newport Casino will be continued.