Aiken became a playground for the rich and famous in the late 1800s, when wealthy people from the Northeast established the Winter Colony.
Some of those who visited and stayed for a while over the years were celebrities in the entertainment industry such as Fred Astaire and Bing Crosby.
But in his presentation to the Rotary Club of Aiken on Monday, David Tavernier focused on several Winter Colonists who weren’t as familiar to the general public even though they had plenty of money and were prominent in their fields of interest.
They included Mary Louise Curtis, founder of the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Willard Dickerman Straight, an investment banker, publisher, reporter and diplomat.
Another was F. Ambrose Clark, whose nickname was “Brose.”
His paternal grandfather, Edward Cabot Clark, was a partner in the Singer Sewing Machine Company, but Brose had no interest in business.
“I’m not a moneymaker,” he once said, according to his 1964 obituary in the New York Times. “All I know is horses. Why should I go puttering down to an office to meddle in something another man can do 100 times better?”
Clark devoted his life to the enjoyment of a variety of equestrian sports, including steeplechasing, polo, thoroughbred flat racing and fox hunting.
“He always had breakfast accompanied by a magnum of champagne,” said Tavernier, a retired banker who is the author of “Stories of the Rich and Famous: Aiken’s Winter Colony in the Gilded Age” and “More Stories of the Rich and Famous: Aiken’s Winter Colony in the Gilded Age.”
Tavernier also talked about Henry Worthington Bull, a partner in the brokerage house of Bull, Holden & Co. in New York.
His winter home in Aiken was known as Prickly Pear.
Bull served in the Spanish-American War with Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders.
He also was the president of the National Steeplechase and Hunt Association and the Turf and Field Club at Belmont Park in New York.
Bull and his wife, Maud, had no children of their own, but they raised two nieces after the divorce of their parents.
One of those nieces, Phyllis Livingston Potter, married Astaire.
“When the pair came to Aiken, they would stay in Uncle Henry’s cottage,” Tavernier said.
Sometimes the Bulls would lease Prickly Pear to Aiken visitors who were not members of their family, and Donna Marina Torlonia dei Principi di Civitella-Cesi was among their tenants. The Italian-American aristocrat was the paternal grandmother of actress and model Brooke Shields.
According to the Aiken Standard and Review in 1938, Bull said the following about this area: “The charm of Aiken is great to both young and old, and the daily life in that lovely South Carolina ‘city’ is rejuvenating to the latter and delightful to both. Particularly to the lover of the horse, it is ‘good to be alive’ in Aiken.”