The Washington Post

At Hillwood, celebrating the art of living large with Marjorie Merriweather Post

Imagine, if you will, being the richest woman in America. Crazy, wildly, bigger-than-winning-the-lottery rich. Imagine the parties you could throw.

Marjorie Merriweather Post never had to imagine: The Post cereal heiress inherited $27 million in 1914 (about $621 million in today’s dollars) and built that into an even bigger fortune. Oh, and she loved to entertain.

Majorie Merriweather Post with Indian Ambassador B.K. Nehru in 1965. (Harry Naltchayan/The Washington Post)

She had houses and parties all over the country. In 1955, she bought Hillwood, a fabulous D.C. estate where she lived until her death in 1973. The mansion and grounds were turned into a museum, whose latest exhibit, “Living Artfully,” celebrates her lavish lifestyle. It debuted Tuesday with (what else?) a fancy party.

“My grandmother would be so pleased,” Ellen Charles told the guests dining on the estate lawn. Post, she said, was “blessed with the ability to live an amazing life of great luxury. But what was really amazing about her was that she was not embarrassed by her wealth — she loved to share it with people whether they were friends or people she felt needed an uplift in their life. She was truly one of the most generous women I have ever known.”

Before a dinner in Post’s style (monochromatic table settings, linens and flowers to match her collections of  rare china), guests — Costa Rican Ambassador Muni Figueres, Tommy Boggs, the French ambassador’s wife, Sophie Delattre — wandered the house for a glimpse of what it took to pull off one of her signature soirees.

The dining room at Hillwood. (Tony Powell)

By the time Post bought Hillwood at age 68, she was an old hand at living large. She spent spring and fall in Washington, hosting a parade of lunches, teas, garden parties and dinners. Formal meant long gowns, tuxedos and big jewels. Dinner was served in the massive dining room; every plate and dish was an antique. She had up to 300 full-and-part-time staff (never called them “servants”) for Hillwood and her two other estates, but planned menus and guests lists herself.

Which doesn’t mean she was above a little self-promotion: Guests were typically served Jello, Maxwell House coffee, and other General Foods products. Because, really, who was going to complain?

WASHINGTON DC - JUNE 4 - HANDOUT IMAGE: Hillwood Museum executive director Kate Markert presents a birthday cake to Helen Charles, the granddaughter of Marjorie Merriweather Post at the Living Artfully Opening Gala on June 4, 2013. (Photo credit: Tony Powell) FOR ONE TIME USE ONLY. NO SALES. Hillwood executive director Kate Markert presents a birthday cake to Ellen Charles, the granddaughter of Marjorie Merriweather Post at the “Living Artfully” gala Tuesday. (Tony Powell)

No Jello on the retro menu Tuesday night: Tomato gazpacho, salmon en papillote (a favorite at Post’s dinners), and baked Alaska. Plus a cake for Charles, who artfully celebrated her birthday with four candles on her cake.


Related: At Westminster dog show, D.C.’s Ellen Charles has two winners in the ring


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