The Mark Twain House & Museum welcomes Robert Engel to the Trouble Begins stage for his lecture: Lurking, There, in the Underbrush: The Gilded Age in the Adirondacks.
In Gilded Age America, more than now, new cultural trends were lifted to prominence by America’s wealthiest families. The descending strata of society would soon emulate those above. Except what, pray tell, were the Vanderbilts of Fifth Avenue doing deep in the piney woods? Robert Engel’s lecture will examine how and why the Adirondacks became a stage for 19th-century America’s growing regard for its remaining wild places. We will look inside the Prospect House hotel on Blue Mt. Lake and nearby Great Camp Sagamore to see examples of how the wealthy and the ultra-wealthy “roughed it” in style. Before that was possible, a complex travel network would need to be in place. Thomas Clark Durant, the man in charge of building the eastern half of the Transcontinental Railroad, saw the Adirondacks as a business opportunity. The plan was that Thomas would design the transportation infrastructure and his son, William West Durant, would design the camps. William’s efforts resulted in the Adirondack Style of architecture. Robert promises to spend the summer figuring out how Mark Twain fits into all of this.
In-person attendees are invited to come to the Museum center early to visit this year’s summer exhibition For Business or Pleasure? Twain’s Summer Sojourns which highlights the Clemens family’s American-based summer vacations. Learn more about the exhibit by CLICKING HERE. Virtual attendees will receive a link to watch live via YouTube.
Robert Engel was for six years the Historian at Great Camp Sagamore where he reimagined the two-hour guided tour. Built in the 1890s by William West Durant, Sagamore became the Adirondack retreat of Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt. Robert is a great grandson of Richard and Margaret Collins, Sagamore’s first caretakers. In addition to building and maintaining the camp, the Collins’ and their staff also provided a human element to the Adirondack experience of some of America’s most sophisticated people. Robert earned a master’s degree in History Museum Studies from the Cooperstown Graduate Program. From there, he researched the art collection at the Buffalo Bill Historic Center in Wyoming, was Assistant Curator at the Adirondack Museum, Curator at Clermont State Historic Site, Exhibits Coordinator at the New-York Historical Society, and Director of the Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum in the Bronx and the Rensselaer County Historical Society in Troy. Along the way, he earned a diploma from the Wine & Spirits Education Trust. With his eight siblings, Robert spends as much time as possible at the home his grandparents built on Blue Mt. Lake. He and his wife Judy split their time between their Manhattan apartment and their 1870s Adirondack farmhouse.