Like to visit model homes? Open houses? Curious about how other people live? Or once lived? Traveling offers many opportunities to tour homes of the rich and famous — even the infamous.
I unabashedly take advantage of opportunities to peek into lives and lifestyles of historically significant people. It is a curiosity I share with many others — perhaps you too!
Here are some of the homes I have toured recently:
• Newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst began building his 68,500-square-foot castle in 1919 on a 250,000-acre plot atop a hill on the California coast, complete with 56 bedrooms, 61 bathrooms and amenities galore. I enjoy visiting this house — 12th largest in the U.S. — but I can’t imagine an ego big enough to live there.
• The Vanderbilt family’s Biltmore House in Asheville, North Carolina, is actually the country’s largest house — boasting four acres of floor space and 135,280 sq. ft. of living area. Built in the 1890s, it has 250 rooms.
Touring these two complexes leaves one in awe. In trying to reconcile this over-the-top opulence, I concluded — at the very least — building and maintaining these vast complexes provided, and still provides, job opportunities for many skilled craftsmen and other workers.
• Monticello, the Virginia plantation home of Thomas Jefferson, third president of the United States, is one of my favorites. A rendering of his home appears on the back of nickels and two-dollar bills — the gift shop at Monticello still gives change in $2 bills.
I was surprised that you actually enter the home from the side not shown on the money!
Of many creative features at Monticello, my favorite is the alcove bed built into the wall between two rooms. One side faces his bedroom — the other side, his study. Clever!
• Not far from Monticello, in nearby Staunton, Virginia, is the birthplace home of Woodrow Wilson, 28th president of the United States. His Presidential Library is next door — an added bonus to this visit.
While other Woodrow Wilson homes can be toured in Georgia, Washington D.C. and South Carolina, I found this one especially poignant because it depicts the humble roots of a young dyslexic boy who overcame his difficulties to become president of Princeton University, Governor of New Jersey and the only U.S. President to actually earn his PhD.
• In Springfield, Illinois, I visited the home of our 16th president, Abraham Lincoln. The home is almost completely original and the docents are so knowledgeable, you would think they are family members.
While history portrays Lincoln as bigger than life, his home reveals more humanity. One interesting revelation to me was the sympathetic view presented regarding the often-questioned mental stability of Mary Todd Lincoln.
• In Missouri, I visited the home of the infamous outlaw Jesse James. It is where he was shot and killed by fellow outlaw Robert Ford. The bullet hole is still in the wall.
• These homes were old, to be sure, but I saw the “Oldest House in the USA” in Santa Fe, New Mexico – a claim that is a little suspect because there are other houses on the East Coast claiming to be the oldest. All of the houses were built in the 1640s.
• Finally, the home of Warren Buffett in Omaha, Nebraska. His modest five-bedroom home, where he has lived for 50-some years, is on the corner of a well-traveled street and lacks any visible sign of tight security — other than a chain across one side of his circular driveway.
In spite of his $72 billion net-worth, he is just a neighbor in his community. My kinda guy!