Setting “The Gilded Age” Straight

When HBO introduced “The Gilded Age,” its new collection a couple of railroad baron and his spouse preventing for social standing in opposition to the Old Guard of New York within the eighteen-eighties, Keith Taillon took notice. “I was excited, but I didn’t want to get my hopes up,” he stated the opposite day, strolling round Murray Hill. He’s an professional within the structure of the interval. “I don’t want to sound historically conceited. But I wanted to be pleasantly surprised.”

Keith TaillonIllustration by João Fazenda

Taillon, who’s thirty-four and has a B.A. in historical past and a grasp’s in city planning, runs the Instagram account keithyorkcity, the place he posts about Manhattan historical past, usually sharing tidbits in a voice out of “Gossip Girl.” (“lol sweeping around the room telling the curtain seamstress what to do,” reads one “Gilded Age” submit. “Rude.”) On weekends, he offers strolling excursions. The present, which was created by Julian Fellowes (“Downton Abbey”), spent almost a decade in improvement limbo. The set price range is alleged to be huge.

Taillon, who has a beneficiant beard and spherical glasses, discovered the primary episode higher than he’d anticipated, however he had quibbles. On his stroll, he stopped by spots the place real-life dramas of the Gilded Age had unfolded. At the Morgan Library & Museum, on Madison Avenue at Thirty-seventh Street, he identified a brownstone mansion from the eighteen-fifties, noting that it was the kind of home that “The Gilded Age” ’s Agnes van Rhijn, a forbidding old-money widow performed by Christine Baranski, would have lived in. It was one among three adjoining homes owned by the Phelps-Dodge household, a mining dynasty; as they died out, the homes have been bought by J. P. Morgan.

“Old money really disdained ostentation,” Taillon stated. In the present, van Rhijn lives along with her sister and niece on Sixty-first Street, subsequent to Central Park. The rapacious robber baron George Russell (performed by Morgan Spector) and his vulgar spouse, Bertha (Carrie Coon), construct a monstrous white mansion throughout the road. Russell recollects each Cornelius Vanderbilt, who amassed the household fortune, and his heirs, who have been resented for his or her gaudy homes and carriages.

Taillon stated, “What irks me about the show is that they portray the van Rhijns and the Russells living across from each other, up on Sixty-first Street.” He headed north on Madison. “And, in 1882, Sixty-first Street was really the hinterland, especially for wealthy families.” (Also a “goat-infested wilderness,” in line with his feed.) He went on, “My thing is, if you’re going to tell the story of an old New York family like the theoretical van Rhijns, they probably should have lived down here, in Murray Hill.”

Taillon’s personal historical past is much less rarefied. He was born in Plattsburgh, New York, and grew up in Abilene, Texas, close to the place his father was serving within the army. In center faculty, he was assigned to analysis an outdated constructing and write a proposal arguing that it ought to have a historic marker. “For a lot of kids, it was just another project,” Taillon stated. “For me, there was a spark there.” He moved on to researching outdated shipwrecks. When “Titanic” got here out, in 1997, he was upset that the film obtained so many information fallacious, and that the 2 protagonists have been made-up characters. “All my classmates at school suddenly were interested in this thing that was a very personally nerdy obsession for me,” he stated.

After school, Taillon processed loss of life claims for a funeral-insurance firm to economize to maneuver to New York, the place he obtained a company place at Ralph Lauren. When he was furloughed, in the course of the pandemic, it appeared like an indication. To fill his days, he determined to stroll each avenue in Manhattan, a distance of round a thousand miles. He narrated the walks on Instagram. “People around the world who were in lockdown were watching my stories and feeling like they were on vacation,” he stated. His following grew, and now he’s making a residing out of his ardour, having been employed by the Fifth Avenue Association to write down essays concerning the thoroughfare for its bicentennial celebration, in 2024.

After marching previous the Cartier Building, at 653 Fifth Avenue, constructed as a personal residence by an inheritor to a Florida railroad empire and, as legend has it, traded to Cartier in 1917 for a strand of pearls, Taillon reached the location of the fictional Russell home, on Sixty-first Street. (The spot is at the moment occupied by the Pierre Hotel, whose ground-floor restaurant faces a plastic surgeon’s workplace.) He gestured towards Central Park, which in “The Gilded Age” seems as a wall of foliage; within the eighteen-eighties, he stated, it will have been a number of scraggly younger timber. “To have so many people introduced to Gilded Age society and the fight between old and new New York through, you know, fake characters and slightly incorrect locations,” he stated, sighing. “I’m not angry by any means. It’s just frustrating.” ♦


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