Excesses of the Rich and Wealthy Bradley-Martin Hall

About the excesses of the rich Bradley-Martin Hall, biography and history of his extravagent spending.



In February of 1897 Mr. and Mrs. Bradley-Martin of Troy, New York, decided to put themselves on the map. They had moved to Manhattan and had been doggedly social climbing, and now they were ready to go for broke--literally. During a period of serious economic depression, they planned an extravaganza so lavish that it created a major scandal.

The fete was to be a costume party, with each guest representing a historical character, and was to cost in the neighborhood of $200,000. The Bradley-Martins' social secretary composed lyric descriptions of the coming festivities for the newspapers. For example, there were to be "five mirrors on the north side of the ballroom richly but not heavily garlanded in a curtain effect by mauve orchids and the feathery plemusa vine. . . . The profusion of mauve orchids will stream carelessly to the floor, like the untied bonnet strings of a thoughtless child."

While the cream of New York society vied for invitations and began preparing their costumes months in advance, the newspapers and the clergy had a field day. They denounced the Bradley-Martins for spending money frivolously at a time when it might be better used for charitable endeavors. The Bradley-Martins responded to this criticism by pointing out that their ball would "stimulate trade" by giving jobs to out-of-work seamstresses, hairdressers, florists, and other artisans. This rebuttal heightened the controversy, and the upcoming party filled columns of newsprint. One clergyman, deeply affected by the Bradley-Martins' point of view, declared from the pulpit, "The public be damned, let the Bradley-Martins spend their money as they please."

And so they did. The Bradley-Martin ball offered endless culinary delicacies, 6,000 mauve orchids (not to mention the feathery plemusa vine), and 400 carriages to take the guests home. Mrs. Bradley-Martin wore a 20-ft.-long train on her gown, and between $60,000 and $100,000 worth of diamonds (reports varied). However, she was clearly outdone by the Mrs. Astor, who sported $200,000 worth of jewels. One London magazine estimated that the ball's feminine revelers used more than 500 lb. of rouge, two and a half flour barrels of powder, and enough powder puffs to make a pile 10 ft. high and 6 ft. wide.

The total cost of the ball was $369,000. Upon discovering this, the New York City tax authority doubled the Bradley-Martins' tax assessment; as a result, the miffed couple left the U.S. permanently for Scotland and England. Oscar Hammerstein I subsequently wrote a farce called The Bradley-Radley Ball, and the event is still remembered as one of the most controversial moments in the history of spending.

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