Hillwood Estate, Museum & Gardens

Everyone needs hobbies, and this rich lady had lots

November 8, 2012

Marjorie Merriweather Post was as silver and foxy as a lady can be.

Cereal heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post, who owned Hillwood from 1955 until her death in 1973, amassed imperial Russian art and 18th-century French decorative items. Her “outdoor rooms” — self-contained, themed gardens — were the toast of D.C. She adored her pets and gave them a sweet little cemetery. The force that ties it all together: her superhuman powers of good taste.

In the Russian Liturgical Gallery lies the Holy Grail … a grail that’s holy, anyway, and looks the part. Catherine the Great gave the jewel- and gem-laden chalice to a St. Petersburg cathedral in 1791. A crowd favorite is the 1833 painting “A Boyar Wedding Feast”: Look for the “problem relative” (every family has one!). Post owned two Faberge eggs; both are in Hillwood’s Icon Room. The prize inside the pink egg was, sadly, lost long ago: a toy figure of Catherine the Great, riding in a chair carried by two servants. Outside, the most showstopping space is the rose garden, designed by Perry Wheeler, who helped create the White House Rose Garden.

Hillwood Estate, Museum & Gardens, 4155 Linnean Ave. NW; 202-686-5807.

Did You Know?

›› At age 27, Marjorie Merriweather Post became one of the world’s richest women when her father, C.W. Post, died in 1914. He founded the Postum Cereal Co., later known as General Foods. His first product was Postum, a coffee substitute.

›› Catherine the Great commissioned the Orlov Service (aka tableware) in 1762 for her lover, Grigorii Orlov, who led the coup that divested Catherine of husband Peter III. Look closely: The little figures on the tea set are enjoying X-rated activities together.

›› Post hosted square dances in the lavish Pavilion room — after ladies put rubber tips on their heels to avoid damaging the elaborate, inlaid-wood floor.

Learn More! Explore D.C., a free iPhone app from The Washington Post, is a guide to the city’s attractions, big and small. Download it today from the App Store.

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