Like everyone who will see this, I was born long after the Gilded Age ended. So how is it possible that I feel so nostalgic for these days of beauty and grace? I think I must be a ghost.

Today, I have for you pictures of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City at the turn of the century. There are also a few photos from the 1910s from a Senate inquiry into the sinking of the Titanic that was held at the hotel, and a couple of photos of women with their dogs from the first meeting of the American Pomeranian Club.

All photos courtesy the Library of Congress, except where marked.


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The Exterior

The beautiful Waldorf Astoria, which billed itself as the finest hotel in the world.


The Thirty-third street entrance


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The Rooms

The Waldorf Astoria had apartments. This room, with the carved mahogany canopy bed, fireplace, and lovely decor is called the Francis I bedroom.

This room is not quite so lavish as the others, though still quite beautiful. It’s labeled Room 212.

The Marie Antoinette Room. Can you imagine?


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The Public Areas

The Myrtle Room. I’m not sure what this was used for. I could imagine private parties, or maybe meetings?


The charmingly-named “Peacock Alley” was a three hundred foot long corridor connecting the Waldorf and Astoria Hotels. It gained fame in the early 1900s as the spot where the fashionable women of New York City paraded their fashions and jewelry for their peers. (Getty Images)


This one I find to be puzzling. It’s called the Ladies Hairdressing Room. There are three vanities for the room– not just from the angle the photographer captured, but the whole room. I’m guessing it might be a small room outside of a ballroom where women could freshen up?

Though it seems a little impractical even for then, it makes me think of how very over-crowded our cities are today.



A lavish, private dining room

The Billiard Room. Can’t you just see men with mustaches and top hats smoking cigars in here?


A reception room. I imagine this was used for smaller parties and events.

The Palm dining room: This room is so beautiful. Look. At. The. Chandelier.


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Notable People (1910s)

Senate Hearing on the Sinking of the Titanic. There is an arrow pointing to J. Bruce Ismay, the high-ranking White Star Line official. Passengers who came to testify at this hearing said they heard Ismay pressuring the ship’s captain to travel faster. Ismay, of course, was one of the lucky people to get a seat in a lifeboat.


“Miss M. Kennedy and Buttercup” at the American Pomeranian Club meeting


Mrs. George Peabody and Mauchi at the American Pomeranian Club meeting. That is a real hat Mrs. Peabody has on.


In my recent foray into the federal archives, I began to notice that the reference info on many of the most interesting photos indicated they came from San Francisco. Many of these San Francisco images were tagged “glamour photographs”: an irresistible combination!

I’m excited to share my findings here, but first I need to issue a warning that you may need to adjust your ideas around what glamour is. In some cases, what qualified as glamorous and exciting in 1900, may not be enough to land you in the next issue of Vogue in 2019. Also, Victorian San Francisco was a little less sensitive to language, as evidenced by some of the photograph titles.

Now, let’s take a look at these glamorous San Francisco residents! First, we’ll look at the telephone photographs. Continually changing technology is a feature of our modern existence, and an iPhone 4 is practically an antique. It may be difficult to understand what could motivate someone to pull out their Sunday best and have a formal, professional photograph made as they pose with a telephone.

But if we put it in context, it’s more comprehensible. In 1900, the telephone represented a huge leap in technology. The last major comparable invention was the telegraph, which had come out in the 1840s. The idea that you could press your ear against an odd-looking gadget and listen to the voice of someone who was miles away must have seemed close to magic.

Young woman with telephone, circa 1909


At the telephone, 1907


Good News 1909.


Then, there are the flower girls. These very feminine young ladies were not about to stop with a flower or two. Or even a bouquet or two. These ladies brought the whole garden with them. Think of them as the original Flowerbombs.

Woman, “Flora,” posing in studio, three-quarter length, standing, facing right, holding flowers by E.J. McCullagh, circa 1900


Lillies, 1902. The pearls for her hair are an interesting touch!


Many people were interested in athleticism. You’ll notice most of the photos in this post feature women, but we do have some male representation in this category. The Strongman was postcard-worthy in 1901, but we live in an age of steroids and Monday Night Raw. I’m not sure this fellow would fare against Triple H or John Cena.

Miss Swim, 1904. It seems like it would be hazardous to go into the water wearing this. Just the sheer weight of the clothing would be enough to sink you.


Strongman, 1901.


Next, we turn to the modern woman. The important thing here is to note the variety of what a woman can be: anything! A gun-totin’ moonshiner’s daughter, a football fan… the possibilities were endless!

On the question of all the upkeep women do, my initial thought was that there would be less work. Women weren’t having their eyebrows threaded or wearing Spanx or getting Botox injections back then. But I was wrong on that one. As you’ll see, the lack of modern conveniences only caused women to have to work that much harder.

The moonshiner’s daughter, 1901. I’m guessing this was a costume that was meant to be humorous, and you.wouldn’t have bumped into this gal in San Francisco, even in 1901. I can’t imagine how she would be received in Haight Ashbury, circa 2019, but this might actually fly in the Tenderloin.


Football girl, 1906



Woman draped in sheer fabric, standing, full-length, facing left, holding up her hair over heating vessel, 1908. This picture and the next were in all likelihood meant to American, more straight-laced version of French postcards. I’d like to know more about the heating vessel and if this was a common way for women to dry their hair.


Woman wearing corset, brushing her hair, 1899. I’ve read that corsets caused all kinds of health issues for women. In attempting to achieve an hour-glass figure, they frequently resorted to crushing their internal organs with corsets. Of all the photos, this is the only one that made me cringe. Can you imagine how uncomfortable she must have been?


Finally, there are the vamps.

In the Harem, 1900. This was at the beginning of an era that romanticized eastern cultures, which eventually came to its peak in the 1920s.
Woman in belly-dancing costume smoking and holding package of cigarettes, 1900. Another example of the fascination with all things eastern. In 1900, the cigarettes and clothing would have been considered to be far too much for polite society.


Lastly, I just want to remind everyone in the Bay Area to please join me at Burlingame Library on December 10 at 7 p.m. I’ll be there to talk about my book, The Poisoned Glass, and I hope to see you there, too!

The incredible life of Mata Hari, the beautiful World War I-era dancer and spy, is going to be the subject of an upcoming series on Old Spirituals.

In her day, Mata Hari inspired early film stars. Since then, countless artists, actresses, and models have tried to recreate the mystique that was effortless for the Dutch dancer. She was known for many things, including her elaborate costumes and headdresses.

Countless intriguing figures peopled the 20th century, but Mata Hari still fascinates us over 100 years after her death. These photographs may give you some idea of why!






Possibly the most famous photograph of the mysterious Mata Hari