Big House Thursday

I talked Richie into going to the Biltmore House today, since no one on our team was racing. What a treat that was! Of course I had seen photos of the house, and I thought I knew what it would be like inside: cold, drafty, overwhelming in an I’ve-got-tons-of-money sort of way. But it wasn’t. It was actually—and this is hard to comprehend for a two hundred fifty-room house—cozy. We took the audio tour (which I recommend) and I’ve come away with a different idea of rich. More in the noblesse oblige way and I’m not being ironic. Biltmore did, and continues, to provide employment for hundreds of people—today eighteen hundred people work on the estate.

Back in the late nineteenth century, when Biltmore was being constructed, workers were paid well. Stone carvers were paid four dollars a day in an era when four dollars a week was a typical wage. After the house was up and running, each servant was provided with a private, furnished room—unusual for that time. The Vanderbilt’s treated people so well that it was not uncommon for generations of the same family to work at Biltmore.

So maybe you’re thinking that if you’ve inherited millions of dollars, it’s not exactly hurting you to treat people well, but all the same it is a choice. And the fact that these uber-rich people made the choice to promote and nurture rather than to exploit says something about wealth that you maybe don’t see often enough today.

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