Mrs. Vanderbilt was a socialite, who was looking to emulate the opulence of European aristocrats, he said.
In fact, she traveled to Europe with designer Stanford White, a partner in the architectural firm that built the mansion, to pick out the furnishings, Rector said.
“She had a major voice in how the mansion was set up,” Rector said. “Basically, these financiers and industrialists lived in a style emulating European pomp. That is reflected in the furnishings, the tapestries, the walls and in the design of the architecture itself.”
It is worth noting that the entire estate, including the original furnishings, was donated to the National Park Service at the urging of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Rector said.
“When Frederick turned the property over to his niece (Margaret Louise Van Allen), she didn't have the need for the estate, so she tried to sell it off outright with the only stipulation being that the property stay intact,” Rector said.
“It was during the Depression, and not many people had that kind of money, so basically, FDR talked to her and asked her if she’d be willing to donate it to the National Park Service.”
Though some of the family’s personal items may have been removed, everything else was left as is when it was handed over, Rector said.
“It’s all the original furnishings set up the way it was when they lived there,” he said.