John Armstrong Chanler-known as Archie to his family-was an heir to the Astor fortune, an eccentric, dashing, and handsome millionaire. Amelie Rives, from a Southern family and the goddaughter of Robert E. Lee, was a daring author, a stunning temptress, and a woman ahead of her time. Filled with glamour, mystery, and madness, their love affair and marriage made them the talk of society in the Gilded Age. Archie and Amelie seemed made for each other-both were passionate, intense, and driven by emotion-but the very things that brought them together would soon draw them apart. Their marriage began with a "secret" wedding that found its way onto the front page of the New York Times, to the dismay of Archie's relatives and Amelie's many gentleman friends. To the world, the couple appeared charmed, rich, and famous; they moved in social circles that included Oscar Wilde, Teddy Roosevelt, and Stanford White. But although their love was undeniable, they tormented each other, and their private life was troubled from the start.
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June 26, 2006
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Excerpt from Archie and Amelie by Donna M. Lucey
The Education of an Astor, or A Name That Rings Like Bullion
The irony of Archie man on the run, hiding his face as he crossed the familiar Manhattan precincts of his youth was not lost on the Astor heir himself. He had been, and still considered himself, one of the princes of the city. In fact, much of the real estate he traversed during that hansom cab ride in 1900 was owned by his family.
The story of the Astor wealth was legend, and Archie could recite it chapter and verse. He had been schooled in the family history and in the expectations that it created. Archie understood only too well the burden involved. As the eldest son in his huge family (he had seven surviving brothers and sisters), he carried a particularly heavy load. All of the Chanler siblings prided themselves on their individuality, on their strong-willed and often eccentric ways. They all professed an indifference to money. Why not? They had plenty of it. Piles of it had been amassed by their forebears, and none of the current generation least of all Archie wanted to spend their lives the way their great-grandfather William Backhouse Astor had.
Nicknamed Landlord of New York, William Backhouse Astor was both reviled and envied in his lifetime. Hewas a hard dreary looking old man and the richest in the world, in the estimation of Lord Rosebery, the future prime minister of England. Six feet tall but stoopshouldered, William B. Astor spent his life hunched over his contracts and leases. He had inherited from his father, John Jacob Astor, vast stretches of Manhattan real estate, and as the population boomed in nineteenth-century New York, the value of the land rose exponentially. By 1860 tenement slums with a population density of 290,000 per square mile became William B. Astor's specialty. The arithmetic was simple: one block filled with tenements could generate at least twice the revenue of a similar block with more-spacious middle-class housing.