THE STORY OF CARAMOOR The rich history of Caramoor gives it its character. Caramoor is the legacy of Walter and Lucie Rosen who established the estate and built a great house as its centerpiece. Their legendary musical evenings were the seeds of today’s International Summer Music Festival. The magnificent Rosen House and majestic Venetian Theater are remnants of the Rosens’ incredible vision and energy that have propelled the musical endeavors at Caramoor.
MISS DODGE TO WED - FRIENDS SURPRISED The engagement of Caramoor’s founders, Walter Rosen and Lucie Bigelow Dodge, caused quite a stir when it was announced in the New York Times on July 16, 1914. The account, which rivaled a Downton Abbey plotline for its soap-opera sensationalism, described an impetuous society girl running off with an older man:
“The announcement of Miss Dodge’s engagement and approaching marriage … will come as a surprise to her relatives and friends in New York. Her aunt, Miss Grace Bigelow of 21 Gramercy Park, said that she had not heard of the engagement and could not believe that it was true… . ‘My niece was with me only two weeks ago, and I am sure that if she had been contemplating such a step at that time she would have told me.’”
The newspaper described Mr. Rosen as a Harvard graduate and partner of the International banking firm Ladenburg, Thalmann, and Co., adding that he was “considerably older than Miss Dodge.” Lucie Bigelow Dodge was 24 (Walter was 39), the granddaughter of John Bigelow, a former ambassador to France. She was born in New York and lived there until her mother divorced and the family moved to London in 1911.
The newspaper article also refers to an earlier incident in Lucie’s life:
“A year ago last April Miss Dodge came into considerable publicity when she disappeared from her mother’s home in London, England, and was found later in a rooming house in Shaftesbury Avenue, in the heart of the theatrical district, where under an assumed name she was making plans to embark upon a stage career. It was said later that … her real reason of disappearing was that her mother wished her to be married to an English society man; that she considered herself an American girl and, therefore, refused to obey.”
According to the newspaper, a friend explained Lucie’s disappearance from her mother’s London home: “Miss Dodge had simply wanted to earn her own living instead of leading an idle life. For two years, this friend went on to say, she had been a stenographer and secretary to her grandfather and really left her mother’s home to get a position of a similar nature in London. There had never been any question of marriage involved.”
How true was the “considerable publicity” surrounding Lucie Bigelow Dodge? Her letters and diaries tell a different—yet equally surprising—story. Lucie did indeed run away from her mother’s London home, but mostly to escape her controlling mother rather than to nab a rich, older man. She met Walter after leaving London, and married him a mere month after their initial introduction.
“Lucie and Walter were very much in love,” explains Merceds Santos-Miller, manager of Caramoor’s Rosen House. Ms. Santos-Miller, who has spent the past year archiving the Rosens’ personal papers, called the couple a “perfect example of love-at-first-sight.”
According to Ms. Santos-Miller, Lucie’s mother was controlling and prone to extreme behavior. After Lucie ran away from her London home, the family agreed that Lucie should go to New York, to live with her aunt. She vacationed at the family’s country home in St. Anne de Bellevue, Quebec, where her brother introduced her to his friend, Walter Rosen. Although Walter was 14 years older than Lucie, they shared the same interests. They loved art and music and beautiful things.
In a July 1914 letter, Lucie addresses Walter with “My Dearest, whom I love so much that I think it may be naughty to love any one so much.” Walter, in turn, compliments her “charming words” and tells how “happy and inspired” he feels.
Although there aren’t too many courtship letters—due to their hasty marriage—the few that exist express Lucie’s gratitude for the stability, love, and comfort Walter brought her. Their marriage lasted 37 years, until Walter’s death in 1951. Its legacy, perhaps their most romantic expression of all, endures today.
The story of Lucie and Walter leaves me “happy and inspired,” wondering about true love and its legacy.
What do you think? Do you believe in love at first sight? Or have I been watching too much Downton Abbey? Tell us about your wedding at Caramoor. Post a comment below and let us know what you think about love, romance, art, and music.