This year’s Delaware Antiques Show loan exhibition is from Winterthur and highlights H. F. du Pont’s table settings. One part of the exhibition focuses on a 1954 house party. Although house parties were held at Winterthur at least twice a month, Harry du Pont planned them months in advance. For example, while summering at his Southampton beach house in July 1954, he plotted out his soirées for November. On July 28, he wrote an invitation to Charles Blyth, a Burlingame, California financier. Du Pont had heard that Blyth and his wife Kay would be on the east coast in November and asked if they, and their travel companions George and Isabel Leib, would be interested in spending a weekend at Winterthur in November.
Three days before he sent the letter, du Pont dined with George and Ethel Garrett. George had been ambassador to Ireland during the Truman administration. Ethel had a lot in common with du Pont. In her party guide How to Do It (1957), Elsa Maxwell — renowned as the hostess with the mostess — described Ethel as “one of the best hostesses in Washington.” Du Pont also invited the Garretts to his November bash.
On August 16, 1954, du Pont extended an invitation for the November 12 weekend to Eddie Morgan, a Baltimore lawyer with an interest in horses and a farm in Middleburg, Virginia.
A day later he wrote a chatty letter to his first cousin Pauline Robinson, a New Yorker vacationing in France: “We have had a lovely summer. Southampton has been quite gay. The George and Ethel Garretts… have been great additions.” Another Southampton friend, Adelaide Leonard, was asked to attend the November 12 party.
The energetic widow of investment banker Edgar Leonard, Adelaide split her time between Southampton, Tuxedo Park, and 142 East 62 St. A celebrated blond beauty, (you can see her portrait in the April 15, 1934 issue of Vogue ), she, like Ethel Garrett, was known for her swell parties. Maxwell advises the readers of How to Do It to make Adelaide Leonard’s sautéed trout with cottage cheese pancakes. Leonard wrote her own party tips (A Depression Dinner Party) for the March 1933 issue of Arts & Decoration.
Du Pont’s wife Ruth, asked her friend Elsie Woodward to the November 12 house party as well. Woodward’s late husband William Sr. had been a year ahead of du Pont at Groton and Harvard. Elsa Maxwell also featured her in How to Do It, commending the Woodward buffet specialty: thinly sliced Virginia ham. Like Eddie Morgan, Elsie was part of the horsey set. Belair, the Woodward stud farm in Bowie, Maryland, produced two Triple Crown winners. On an interesting note, less than a year after this Winterthur house party, Elsie Woodward attracted national attention when her daughter-in-law Ann shot and killed her son Billy in what Life magazine called the “Shooting of the Century.” The sensational murder has been the subject of three books, including the novels Answered Prayers by Truman Capote and The Two Mrs. Grenvilles by Dominick Dunne, and the subject of dozens of magazine features and hundreds of newspaper articles.
Richard D. Kernan of New York, considerably younger than the rest of the guests, rounded out the party. A Harvard graduate (1931), vice president and treasurer of Equitable Life Assurance, and a self-described appreciator of beauty, he would visit Winterthur 26 times between 1950 and 1967.
Written by Maggie Lidz, Estate Historian, with research help on the guest list from Debra Shedrick and photo identification of Elsie Woodward by Edward Lee Cave.
For additional blog post on Dining with Mr. du Pont visit http://emilyevanseerdmans.blogspot.com/2012/11/dining-with-mr-du-pont.html