Excesses of the Rich and Wealthy James Gordon Bennett Part 2

About the excesses of the rich James Gordon Bennett, biography and history of his extravagent spending.



In 1887 Bennett established the Paris edition of The New York Herald, which lost money but gave him power and, one might almost say, prestige. The New York edition, however, was making good money, and with the proceeds Bennett decided to replace his 900-ton yacht Namouna with a fancier model. The Lysistrata was named "for a Greek lady reported to have been very beautiful and very fast." It cost $625,000 to build, the equivalent of over $2 million today. Among many luxuries, it had a full Turkish bath and a 24-hour masseur to ease the publisher's hangovers. Its most customized feature was, according to Lucius Beebe, "a soft padded cell with special seagoing fittings for the ship's cow, an Alderney which . . . supplied the Commodore's table butter and the ingredients for his brandy milk punches at breakfast. An electric fan blew gentle breezes over the cow in tropical climes; the finest of all-wool blankets warmed it in arctic water." Like Jay Gould's train-traveling bovines, Bennett’s cows had to have just the right butter-fat content to suit him.

Though a stingy employer, Bennett could be an ardent tipper. One night he tipped the porter on the Blue Train between Paris and Monte Carlo $14,000. The lucky recipient resigned from his post and opened his own hotel. In a rather different mood. Bennett conducted an interview with a young man who wanted a job on the Paris Herald. Throughout their conversation. Bennett appeared to be in physical discomfort, squirming in his seat. Finally he pulled a huge wad of money out of his back trouser pocket and tossed it into the fireplace. Bennett's visitor leapt from his seat, grabbed the thousand-franc notes from the fire, and handed them to the publisher. Throwing them back onto the flames, Bennett snapped, "That's where I wanted them in the first place."

The stories of Bennett's extravagances with the $40 million he spent in his lifetime could go on and on, but there is one in particular that perhaps best illustrates the man.

It begins with Gordon Bennett's passion for a good Southdown mutton chop, for which he searched far and wide. In a small family restaurant in Monte Carlo he found the mutton chop of his dreams. Bennett lunched there daily. But one day he arrived to find his regular terrace table occupied by a large group of drinkers. Bennett had nothing against the consumption of spirits, of course, but he was displeased.

He approached the establishment's owner and asked if the restaurant was for sale. He informed the proprietor that he could name his price but that he must sell on the spot. The transaction was completed for $40,000. The drinking party was asked to leave, and Bennett sat down to his mutton chops. After his meal Bennett gave the restaurant to the waiter who had served him-with one provision-that a place be reserved for Bennett each day, and that the mutton chops always be prepared by the same chef. Bennett didn't even know the waiter's name, which, in fact, was Ciro, and three Ciro's restaurants were eventually ranked among the world's most famous purveyors of fine European cuisine.

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