I’ll supply multiple choices for the above question: A.) The main quad at Duke University; B) Her grandparents’ tobacco homestead in Durham; C) Shangri-La (her Hawaiian home; D) Hillsborough, NJ- home of Duke Farms; E) Newport’s Rough Point; F) a combo of two of the above.
Ms. Doris Duke, sole child of James Buchanan Duke, bought a Boeing 737 plane in 1987, and when making the deal with Middle Easterners, she asked they throw in a couple of camels. Her two pet camels spent summers with Doris at Rough Point in Newport and passed the colder months at her New Jersey farm.
If you venture to Newport, Rhode Island to discover The Gilded Age, you have loads of mansions to tour, many built by the Vanderbilts. Some of the most visited are: The Breakers, The Marble House, The Elms, and Rosecliff. You can hike on the Cliff Walk where you stroll past opulent mansions. As you near the end of your stroll on this dramatic path and cross over the bridge, just past the last home of the unfortunate Sunny Bulow, you’ll spy the exquisite English Manor that belonged to the heiress with the familiar surname to all North Carolinians—Duke.
Upon her dad’s death in 1924, Doris Duke had an 80-million-dollar trust. What to do with so much dough? Hoard stuff, I mean, collect.
Doris Duke amassed Persian rugs, Chinese Ming Dynasty porcelain, French furniture, Chinese wall paper, musical instruments, renowned paintings, Flemish tapestries, rock crystal chandeliers, and …pets! One tidbit I gleaned from taking the tour is how to differentiate the armchairs from the Louis XIV, Louis XV, and Louis XVI eras: Louis XIV armchairs have curvy, stout legs; Louis XV armchairs sport skinny, curvy legs; and Louis XVI armchairs possess tapered, painted legs.
Another tidbit I remember— besides her love of purple, the camel motif, and mother-of- pearl desks— is that Doris threw small dinner parties, unlike the lavish fetes of her Newport neighbors. Once, Elizabeth Taylor stretched out for a snooze on the living room sofa, and another time Doris’s dog stole Jackie Kennedy’s sandwich from her plate before she’d even taken a bite.
The landscaped grounds designed by Frederick Law Olmsted are lovely; likewise, are the morning room, the music room, the yellow room, the dining room, the pine room, her purple bedroom, and the inviting solarium. Yet, what I liked best was the Great Hall. Why? Because its 26-foot high ceiling reaching the second floor and the oak paneling of the walls with the medieval- looking doors remind me of the dining hall at Duke’s West Campus. Although Rough Point was built by Frederick Vanderbilt, James Buchanan Duke altered many of the interior rooms; the Great Hall was one of them reconfigured to suit his tastes.
JB Duke was a collector and between his acquisitions and his daughter’s purchases, the home is akin to a museum of fine treasures including paintings by van Dyck, Thomas Gainsborough, and Ferdinand Bol. Unlike many of the lavish homes of Newport, this one’s furnishings were left unchanged since Doris departed in 1992. In 2000, it opened to the public for the first time.
How is Doris Duke remembered? She was more than a spoiled, little, rich girl. She was a benefactor who in 1968 set up the Newport Restoration Foundation. One of the reasons Newport has more Colonial structures remaining than any other city in all the USA is because of Doris Duke, who restored 84 houses through the Foundation.
So, next time you enter the wealthy enclave of Newport, RI visit St. Mary’s Church where Jackie and Jack tied the knot on September 12, 1953, but also tour one of the legacies of a NC tobacco farmer’s granddaughter. Get to Rough Point!