Tags Posts tagged with "Leah Dunaief"

Leah Dunaief

Johness Kuisel with her granddaughter Caroline

Kyle Barr – Deborah Barr

Kyle Barr, right, with his mom Deborah and his twin brother, Kris

She was working even when she wasn’t. After coming home from her job as a secretary for an attorney in Riverhead, my mom would fret about what my family was going to eat for dinner. It didn’t matter if most of the people left in the house were self-sufficient, Mom was going to make something for everyone, she was going to vacuum the floor, she was going to start the laundry, and by 10 p.m. she would be snoring on the couch, as if her batteries were depleted and no amount of coaxing would get her to restart without a recharge.

I think I’ve got my sensibilities toward work from you, for either good or ill. By your example, I finish what I start, even in times like this. I don’t do things halfway, because each thing should be treated with care.

That is, at work, at least. I know you would still be ashamed to see the way I keep my home.

 

Courtney and Caroline Biondo – Johness Kuisel

Johness Kuisel with her granddaughter Caroline

To us, Johness is Mom and Granny. 

My mom is the driving force not only of my life, but for 44 years has been the heart and soul of Times Beacon Record newspapers. She is the epitome of class. She teaches me to always be my very best and always put forth my very best effort, more importantly as a mother myself.

Our Granny is the one to watch college football with on Saturdays, the NFL on Sundays and basketball during the week. Granny is always up for a trip to the beach to lounge in the sun and collect shells. Granny likes to sit with a cat in her lap after a long day and sip a Bloody Mary. Granny teaches us to never give up, because you’re often closest to succeeding when you want to forfeit. She teaches us to explore through travel and to always be eager to learn new things.

 

Daniel Dunaief – Leah Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief with his mom Leah 

When I was young, my mother started these papers. When I called her at work, Mrs. Kuisel answered, much as she does now. “Can I speak to my mom?” I asked. Mrs. Kuisel asked me who my mother was because so many mothers worked at the papers. The question is one I’m happy to answer every day. I’m proud to say that who I am and who my brothers are begins with being numbers 1, 2 and 3 sons of Leah Dunaief. Sure, my younger brother and I might argue about the order of importance, but we are all grateful to have learned numerous important lessons, including never to wear jeans in the ocean or to use apple juice to clean our faces, from a woman we’re fortunate to call mom. I wish her and all the other moms dealing with the ever-fluid new normal a happy Mother’s Day.

 

Rita J. Egan – Rita M. Egan

Rita Egan with her mom Rita

When I was a kid in Queens, more mothers were beginning to go to work full time, outside of the home. My mother was no different. At first, she worked as a cashier at Alexander’s Department Store, but she knew she needed to make more money, and she soon took a night class to brush up on her typing and shorthand. After a few different jobs, she eventually found herself working for Con Edison in its transportation department. She lived in Queens when she first began working there but eventually moved out to Smithtown. She would be up before the sun, even leaving before sunrise to catch the train, and while she soon became part of a carpool, the more convenient ride didn’t stop the early morning rush to be at the office by 7 a.m. I may not have inherited my mother’s knack for getting up before the crack of dawn, but I would like to think I take after her when it comes to getting up every morning and doing whatever it is that needs to be done, even when times are rough.

While Mother’s Day may be celebrated a little bit differently this year, here’s hoping we can all find some way to celebrate all the special women in our lives.

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By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

“When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d” is a poem written by the great Walt Whitman as an elegy for the great Abe Lincoln, who died around this time in May of 1865. For me, it too honors my mother, whom I also regard as great, as I guess we all do our mothers, if in a more personal context. I think of my mother whenever lilacs bloom because she loved the flower, with its heart-shaped leaves and its perfume fragrance, and because she died right around Mother’s Day when, to me also in her honor, lilacs bloom.

My mother grew up in the earliest years of the 20th century in Corona, a then-countrified section of Queens in New York City. She told us that on her way to elementary school, she sometimes had to wait for the cows in front of her to finish crossing the road, which is certainly a different picture than what I saw of the neighborhood when I was shown the house in which she and her siblings, parents and maiden aunt lived. (That last is an expression from a century ago.) She also lovingly described the backyard as “completely filled with lilac bushes whose scent filled the entire block.”

My mother was the bridge for her parents and older siblings between the Ukraine, from which they emigrated, speaking not a word of English, and America, the repository of their dreams. She was probably 4 years old when they arrived and moved into the house on Corona Avenue, and she was sent off to school where she learned the language and brought it home, along with the ways of the new country. That she was bright must have been apparent to the teachers because she was skipped grades twice during those early years and graduated from junior high or middle school when she was 11. Although she yearned to go on to high school and college, her father had suffered a debilitating stroke, and she, along with her older brother and sister, were obligated to work and support the family of nine. She won a scholarship to what was then called a “business school,” where she learned in record time to be a credentialed bookkeeper and was hired as such by a man named Mr. Mosler, a member of the well-known family that made Mosler Safes and Vaults.

My mother worked all her life, arranging her work hours somehow around the responsibilities of caring for my father and three children. She was well ahead of her time, of course, as a “businesswoman,” but apparently neither she nor my father thought it odd that she should have a work life outside the home. It was apparent to me at an early age that she was different from the mothers of my friends. She didn’t bake cakes or cookies, was a terrible cook — except during holidays when she focused on preparing delicious meals — didn’t knit and didn’t seem interested in stylish clothes. Indeed, it would have been strange had she been restricted to the home for all her adult life since she was both worldly and had a manner that I would today call “commanding,” despite her short stature. She was occasionally asked if she were a lawyer.

For all of that veneer, my mother was generous, warm and affectionate with all of us, had a great laugh, had a close and supportive relationship with my father, and together they provided a safe and nurturing home in which we were raised.

My mother reaches the level akin to sainthood, in my opinion, because of the way she welcomed and raised my younger sister, who had Down syndrome. Despite the prevailing attitudes then, in 1942 when my sister was born, of stigma and institutionalization, my mother insisted that my sister had a right to a “normal” life within the family and to learn and grow to the fullest extent of her capability.

Again, my mother was way ahead of her time. 

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By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

“It’s May, it’s May, the merry month of May!”  according to the Elizabethan poem by Thomas Dekker and then twisted a bit to “lusty month of May” by “Camelot’s” Lerner and Loewe. I’m willing to believe them, if you are, and there are a couple of items of good news that we can celebrate in our war against the novel coronavirus as the
month begins.

First is the unexpected progress coming from the University of Oxford toward a vaccine. Despite the earliest hopes for such an effective halt to the COVID-19 pandemic involving a 12 to 18- month timetable, which would suggest toward the end of 2021, it turns out that scientists at Oxford’s Jenner Institute are way ahead. 

They have been holding previous clinical trials against an earlier coronavirus that are proving harmless to humans. Having cleared that major hurdle, now they can go to the head of the international race. They will be holding trials involving over 6,000 people with their new vaccine toward the end of the month. Not only do they want to show that the vaccine is safe but also that it works.

Then, “with an emergency approval from regulators, the first few million doses of their vaccine could be available by September — at least several months ahead of any of the other announced efforts — if it proves to be effective,” according to an article by David D. Kirkpatrick that appeared on the front page of this past Tuesday’s The New York Times.

There is evidence from the National Institutes of Health’s Rocky Mountain Laboratories in Montana that this new Oxford vaccine may indeed work. It has been in a limited animal trial there and found to protect against COVID-19.

Other scientists at Oxford “are working with a half dozen drug manufacturing companies across Europe and Asia to prepare to churn out billions of doses as quickly as possible if the vaccine is approved. None have been granted exclusive marketing rights, and one is the giant Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest supplier of vaccines,” according to the Times. The idea of having several is to obtain billions of doses quickly and to avoid anyone making a lot of money from the pandemic.

There are a couple of American companies that are also doing research, along the same lines as Oxford, of altering the virus’s genetic material and conducting small clinical trials. They too must demonstrate both safety and effectiveness. The same goes for a Chinese company.

Another avenue of defense against COVID-19 is the use of blood plasma from the disease’s survivors on other desperately ill patients. Again, according to another article in Wednesday’s The New York Times by Audra D.S. Burch and Amy Harmon, the treatment may work. This involves finding survivors, with the same blood type as the ill patient, who will then volunteer to donate blood. The plasma in that blood, now termed convalescent plasma, is then injected into the gravely ill patient in order to bolster the patient’s immune system with new antibodies, “giving him more soldiers in his body to fight this war,” said Dr. Leslie Diaz, an infectious disease specialist at the Palm Beach Gardens Medical Center in South Florida where there was such treatment administered.

Initially to find such a donor, a frantic search was launched on social media that discovered an appropriate donor some 80 miles away. There is now a national program overseen by the Mayo Clinic, with the approval of the Food and Drug Administration, to use this experimental treatment on 2500 patients in U.S. hospitals. It should be said, however, that it is not clear whether having antibodies that are not their own would ultimately help or harm patients. This is only an experimental treatment under study.

So as we leave April behind, we should salute the American writer, T. S. Eliot, who began his 1922 landmark poem, “The Waste Land” with the words, “April is the cruelest month.” A hundred years earlier, he knew.

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By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

If presented with a decision you do not wish to make, especially if told you have no choice, don’t do it. Don’t accept the unacceptable because you are told there is no other way to go. There is (almost) always another way. I will share with you a true story that recently happened to make my point. It may seem like the telling of a miracle.

A man I know, who lives many hundreds of miles away, was having abdominal pain and his abdomen was somewhat distended, so he made an appointment and went to see his primary care physician. The doctor palpated his distressed area, front and back, and sent him for imaging tests. Of particular concern was the fact that the patient had come into this world with only one kidney. When the results came back, the prognosis wasn’t good. He was sent by his doctor to an oncologist.

At this next appointment the grim news was confirmed. He had a cancerous tumor on the kidney, and the organ would have to be removed. That meant he was fated to be on dialysis the rest of his life. The oncologist then sent the patient along to an oncology team that specialized in cancerous kidney surgery in a big city hospital. The appointment was for four days later, and while he waited, the man did extensive research on the internet, learning everything he could about cancer of the kidney. At that next visit, the diagnosis was repeated and the team urged what they believed to be the inevitable: arrange to have the stricken kidney removed.

Three doctor appointments, and at all three, there was agreement as to the diagnosis and treatment. Realizing that he was about to have his life altered, and determined to make one more try at changing the outcome, he returned to the internet. One physician in particular, the renal department chairman of a research hospital, had been impressively profiled. The hospital was in a different part of the country, and COVID-19 was beginning to close down most airline flights. With little expectation of actually being seen by this specialist, and while he was worried about how he might get there and return, he nonetheless picked up the phone and called the department. He was given an appointment almost immediately. He almost didn’t accept it when he was told that he couldn’t bring his test results with him, that those tests would have to be done all over again. But in the end, he went.

It took three flights before he reached his destination, and together with his family, he checked into the hotel opposite the hospital, as he had been instructed to do.

For the next two days, there were extensive tests, and then the chairman told him the conclusion: the chances were 95 percent that they could save his kidney. He wheeled around and hugged the doctor.

Three days after the surgery, which involved a technique called modelling accompanied by 3500 pictures of the diseased kidney, he walked out of the hospital, holding his family tightly around him. The doctors told him the wondrous news. He was cancer free. The tumor had not yet begun to spread. 

He had found the right person to deal with his problem because he refused to accept the original path laid out before him, even though he had been told there was no choice. He was determined to find another way, creative in his casting about for an alternative and tenacious enough to transcend the obstacles on his way to a successful outcome.

I have known this story for more than a month, thrilled by its outcome yet not wanting to invade the privacy of the principals. So I have not identified any of the people or institutions involved. But I believe it is an experience that must be told to be of possible help for others. And the choices one is presented with don’t have to be life threatening. They can just be part of daily life. The moral is still the same.

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

In the crunch of reporting the latest COVID-19 news and working remotely to the extent possible last week, we failed to notice our media company’s anniversary. Last Wednesday marked the 44th year since we offered the first issue of our first newspaper, The Village Times, to the community. 

For me, that is akin to forgetting my birthday; so exciting and memorable were those early days. After incredibly long hours and endless hard work, we had created something that had never before existed and both proudly and nervously had given it to the residents to judge. Would they become engaged or would they ignore our efforts? Would they find what we published to be relevant and important to their lives or would they just go on without us? Such are the thoughts and fears of entrepreneurs.

I was just asked recently why I wanted to start a newspaper. I had to stop and remember what life was like on April 8, 1976, because we were certainly a product of our times. My husband and I had come with our children to live here on the North Shore of Suffolk County largely because of the university. The State University at Stony Brook was just in its earliest years, a medical center was planned, and my husband wanted to practice his specialty, along with a research hospital affiliation, wherever we settled. That’s the way it was then: a physician hung out a shingle wherever he wanted a private practice and began to see patients. 

We were utterly charmed by the picturesque village of Stony Brook, with its quality schools, rich Revolutionary War history, cultural offerings and unending recreational opportunities both on land and on the Sound. After a time, we came to learn there existed a seemingly unbridgeable town-gown split. Thousands of new university hires and students were pouring into the community every year, in some ways upending the peaceful existence of longtime residents, even as they prompted property values to soar. The 1960s were, anyway, unsettling times, with the Vietnam War, assassinations and bursts of protests in the streets. Yet the small villages offered a peaceful and fulfilling existence, it seemed to me, if only there could be better communication between the university and the residents.

I had been thinking, as I worked for Time Inc. in New York City, about what I imagined were the joys of owning a community newspaper: meeting residents, serving their needs for information, providing a “town hall” for dialogue from all points of view, offering opinion through editorials, tracking local accomplishments in the arts, sciences, sports and cultural worlds and strengthening the sense of community for protection and pride.

So when my youngest of three started first grade, I saw my opportunity. I assembled what turned out to be a brilliant and committed team of largely other housewives, sold shares to families in order to capitalize the venture, rented an office on Route 25A in Setauket, and we were off. The thrill and excitement of creating a newspaper to serve a community could fill a book, and perhaps one day it will. There are so many stories, some side-splitting funny, some tough moments, some amazingly stupid mistakes, so many honors and awards for encouragement, and the bottom line: here we are, 44 years later.

Speaking of the bottom line, like so many other small businesses, we are in an unprecedented position now, with our traditional advertisers shuttered and their customers shut-ins. Our revenues have dramatically dropped, yet we feel it is our ethical duty to keep our communities informed of the latest information concerning COVID-19 via print and daily internet, yet our expenses continue. Indeed, we have been designated as “essential,” and we are publicizing every week, at no cost to them, other such businesses that are open, including restaurants and pharmacies.

These are our papers and internet presence. They are also yours. We trust we are serving you well.

Please note last week’s column contained several errors for which I humbly apologize. Please check any information that you might use. My thanks to the readers that pointed out the errors.

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By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

If you are feeling a mite anxious these days, just know that you are like the rest of us. According to a Siena College poll released Monday, New York State residents are “deeply worried,” with 92 percent of those polled saying they were “very” or “somewhat” concerned about coronavirus. That’s as quoted by The New York Times. The poll was conducted between March 22 and 26 and surveyed 566 NYS registered voters by telephone.

Maybe we would feel better if we thought of this time as extended snow days? After all, remarkably we had no snow days this winter. I confess that’s something of a disappointment for me. I enjoy snow days — if they happen to occur on days when no one is inconvenienced. I accept them as a gift of time, like maybe one or two days to be homebound. That’s a chance to answer emails and cook a new recipe. But this coronavirus distancing is too much of a good thing; rather it’s a wicked thing. It’s scary because people are sickening and dying, and the governmental projections of casualties for the next two weeks are pouring oil on the fire.

There are two parts to our fear. 

Health, of course, is the first. We should all do what we are urged to do: Stay indoors to the fullest extent possible, wash our hands, use hand sanitizer when we can’t, don’t assemble in groups of any sort, even neighbors or relatives beyond our nuclear families and stay occupied — with work or entertainment.

The second part is economic. We read or hear that thousands are losing their jobs as business slows to a crawl or stops altogether. Businesses have no revenues with which to pay their employees. When companies like Macy’s and the Gap are furloughing most of their 125,000 and 80,000 workers respectively, how about the small business owner? They are all wondering how they will pay their rents, utilities and vendors. With no rents coming in, landlords worry about how they will make their mortgage, taxes, maintenance and insurance payments. And on and on, it’s a game of economic dominoes.

There are federal loans available, ranging from a maximum of $25,000 as bridge loans for disaster-related purposes to $210 million for disaster loans. These are made possible through the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), and for more information go to their website, www.sba.gov/disaster, or they can be reached  by phone or email for an appointment and advice. The trouble with loans, of course, is that they have to be repaid and with interest. That is more than most small businesses would be able to do, especially those already hit by the retail downturn.

While this is all incredibly worrisome, it might help to project into the future. How will we live differently? How will we work differently? Even, how will we shop for food differently? The world will change. Can we make it for the better?  

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By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Hello. Here we are again, one week later and still in the midst of COVID-19. In fact, we are in a lot deeper. I’m sure, even if we here in New York are used to being the center of everything, that it doesn’t make you a little bit happy to know we are at the epicenter of the United States pandemic. 

By the way, have you figured out how novel coronavirus morphed into  COVID-19? It was pointed out to me that the CO comes from corona, the VI from virus and the D stands for disease. The number 19 represents 2019, the year it emerged and flung itself on the unsuspecting population of the world. In fact, this new coronavirus was named by the World Health Organization.

The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. Robert Burns wrote that saying, and well before COVID-19. Only he said it more elegantly in “To a Mouse.” What the Scottish poet wrote was, “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men/Gang aft awry.” Well, I suspect you too, like me, are feeling awry or off-balance. 

This past Sunday was to be our 44thth annual People of the Year celebration at the Three Village Inn in Stony Brook. There we would have handed out certificates and expressed appreciation to those who had worked to make our lives better during 2019. Instead all such gatherings were shut down for fear of contagion. Breakfast and luncheon appointments were cancelled, meetings were postponed indefinitely, children were home from shuttered schools and colleges, and supermarkets were swept clean of all animal protein and, would you believe, toilet paper.

This whole subject has got to be the dark comic relief of the times we are living through, as I have mentioned before. Who would have imagined that social status could be determined by how many rolls of toilet paper one possesses? Never mind Rolls Royces! Open your bathroom cabinet and let’s see how many rolls you’ve got in there. I’m happily receiving all sorts of cartoons on the subject. The latest one shows a typical family of four: — husband, wife, daughter and son, — in a subterranean room, up to their waists in rolls of the stuff, and the father asking, “Did anyone bring any food?”

There are things I have learned since this all began. I’m not talking about the big stuff, like what’s really important in life. No, more basic things. I never thought, when washing my hands, that I should also be including my wrists. I considered washing my hands to be just my hands. Now I soap up to above my wrist bone for the requisite 20 seconds, then rinse thoroughly. So if you see me and the front of my blouse is a little wet, you’ll know that I was diligent.

But you probably won’t see me, and I won’t see you because of self-isolation and social distancing. From six feet away, you won’t be able to judge the condition of my blouse. 

And by the way, how is your unsocial life going? Under the heading of learning new things, I have participated in my first Zoom session. And my second. And my third. The meetings were with the sales staff, and although we couldn’t share the cookies or pretzels usually brought by sales people to the meetings, we did get to see each others’ faces and hated the sight of our own necks.

All joking aside, I am as worried about the survival, among others, of small businesses in our villages as I am about the virus. That includes our business. It is short-term survival when revenues only trickle in and expenses continue rushing out. 

We know what we do, by delivering the latest news and vital information, is essential for the community. And in fact, so is what the other businesses do, for they make up the hearts of our villages. The government has just offered help for us to survive. We hope it arrives in time. 

Photo from METRO

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Do you feel like you are living in the “twilight zone”? Our current world would make a riveting episode for Rod Serling’s 1960s television series. Here is an example of life imitating art, with our deserted village streets, our closed schools and our shuttered shops. Only residents popping out of restaurants with takeout orders offer signs of normalcy. I keep pinching myself, but nothing changes. This is not a bad dream. This is real.

What to do besides washing our hands? Don’t know about yours, but mine are already chapped from my conscientious response.

For starters, those not in essential businesses or services are asked to stay home. What has been deemed “essential” is interesting: pharmacies, restaurants — takeout only, gas stations, banks and liquor stores. Although we are not on the list, we journalists consider ourselves committed to providing factual information for our communities during these unprecedented times, and we remain at our posts although in a somewhat reduced number to honor the new phrase “social distancing.” For more about how we are functioning, please read the adjacent editorial. We are dedicated to bringing you a regular dispassionate update on the website and of course in the newspapers.

What else?

Certainly don’t check on the value of your stocks if you own any. Better to leave your 401K and IRA out of sight for now. No need to heighten the hysteria. And how long can we bemoan lost work hours, disappearing paychecks or sales revenues that have evaporated, even as our expenses continue unabated? For whatever consolation it may offer, we are all in this together, which means rules will be adjusted. 

The federal government has made some pledges of emergency cash, perhaps within two weeks, to keep the wolf from the door. There may even be subsequent payments. The infusion of such cash should stimulate the economy albeit briefly because it would probably be immediately spent. But for most families, it won’t go that far, which is frightening. Surveys have shown that four out of 10 Americans don’t have enough cash on hand to cover an unexpected $400 emergency expense without borrowing. Since the Federal Reserve has dropped rates close to zero, it is almost painless but always dangerous to borrow. Or perhaps it is an opportunity to renegotiate a loan or mortgage?

It is easy to be afraid. Society, as we have known it, is being altered — by government officials urging us not to touch or even be near each other. We can’t send our children to school, and now child care becomes a huge headache. But perhaps it won’t be because we may not go to work either. At least we can take care of the children. We are advised to maintain in our homes the same sort of schedule as the children follow at school: study hours, physical activity, playtime. More time with our families may be a blessing in disguise. Consider that we are being isolated from each other in the age of the internet, which means access to unlimited educational and recreational sources. The idea of learning remotely and working remotely is now going to be put to the test. There could be opportunity here.

I know this is tough to hear, but being upset doesn’t help anything. If we can calm down and manage the things we do have control over while we wait for the uncontrollable to settle down, we will have a good action plan to see us through these “interesting times.” There are, after all, closets to clean, desk drawers to sort, new recipes to try, books to finally read, movies to watch — even binge on if you have a series like “The Crown,” pleasurable moments to enjoy with family and the certitude that this, too, shall pass. 

This is the time that the Earth slowed down. The frenzy of everyday life is gone. Appointments, lessons, carpools, timelines, plans are all put on hold temporarily. It is a time for us to slow down, too, take some deep breaths, perhaps permit ourselves a nap in the afternoon. The tide has gone out and we can’t pull it back. But it will return on its own and just as strong.

Of one thing we can be sure: There will be a baby boom in nine months.

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By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Leave the coronavirus, Biden and Sanders behind for now and come with me to a delightful place. I will take you on my magic carpet to the largest private residence in America that is also a historic landmark: the Biltmore.

Located in Asheville, North Carolina, amid the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Biltmore is a country estate built by George Vanderbilt III in the style of a great European manor. To do so took six years of work by an army of artisans, and when the home formally opened Christmas Eve, 1895, it had four acres of floor space, 250 rooms, of which 33 were family and guest bedrooms, with 43 bathrooms, 65 fireplaces, three kitchens and an indoor swimming pool. In addition there were elegant furnishings, tapestries and artwork from Europe and Asia, and the home was ahead of its time with an elevator and
a refrigerator.

The mansion sat on 125,000 acres of forests, farms and a dairy, a 250-acre wooded park, five pleasure gardens and 30 miles of macadamized roadways. The architect was Richard Morris Hunt and the landscaper was Frederick Law Olmsted, known to us as the designer of New York’s Central Park. The cost to build such splendor was nearly $6 million out of Vanderbilt’s inheritance — that is about $1.6 billion today. He was then 33 years old.

Jan Aertsen van der Bilt emigrated to America in 1650 from Holland and was a farmer on Staten Island with his family. But it was Cornelius Vanderbilt ((1794-1877) who made the fabulous fortune. At 16, he borrowed $100 from his mother, or so the story goes, and started a ferry service across New York Bay. That grew into a fleet of more than 100 steamships that went as far as Central America and Europe. Appreciating the value of transportation, he eventually built a second fortune by investing in railroads, including New York Central.

He also believed in philanthropy, donating $1 million to Central University in Nashville that was renamed Vanderbilt University. Continuing with that tradition, his eldest son, William Henry Vanderbilt (1821-85), who in turn doubled the family’s assets, donating generously to the Metropolitan Opera and endowing the College of Physicians and Surgeons, the medical school of Columbia University.

And it was William Henry’s youngest son, George, born in 1862, who built the fabulous Biltmore Estate. He first visited the area in 1888 with his mother, who came to breath the healthy mountain air as a remedy for her asthma. He fell in love with its rugged beauty and decided to build his home, emulating the vast baronies of Europe, in Asheville. It was to be not only a showcase for his large art and book collections but also a retreat for entertaining and a profitable, self-supporting business. And so it is. In addition, with its thousands of original furnishings and artwork, it is an authentic picture of life during the Gilded Age. It is America’s larger version of Downton Abbey, only real.

Visitors can stay at The Inn on Biltmore Estate or other hotels on the property, and take the picturesque shuttles around the estate. There is much to see and do beyond viewing the four-story ornamental French Renaissance château-style mansion. A winery, stables offering carriage and trail rides, farms with animals, gardens, a conservatory and several restaurants and gift shops populate the acres. And flawless customer service from a large staff of some 2,300 accompanies the luxurious setting. More than 1.4 million guests visit the now downsized to 8,000 acres National Historic Landmark house, gardens, winery and village each year. And until April 7, there is an impressive exhibit of Downton Abbey, the series and movie, that further entertains. But at Biltmore, art merely imitates life.

Photo courtesy of Museum of the American Revolution

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

In this year of celebrating a century since women were granted the right to vote with the passage of the 19th Amendment, I will tell you a true tale from the dustbin of history.

Women voted for three decades after the American Revolution. They voted from 1776-1807 alongside men in, of all places, New Jersey. How do I know? Jennifer Schuessler tells me so in the Feb. 24 edition of The New York Times.

The women were only stopped from voting after “rampant fraud and corruption.” For example it seems that some men put on dresses to vote multiple times. New Jersey passed a law then, limiting voting in 1807 to white men.

Was it an early expression of gender equality or a legal loophole that enabled women — and African Americans — to vote at the dawn of our country? Or was that a myth?

The Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia located new-found poll lists that show women voted in “significant numbers” before they were denied. In August of this year the museum will open an exhibit called ironically, “When Women Lost the Vote,” featuring those documents. This is a great triumph for the museum and the tale.

While other states limited the vote to “freemen” or male inhabitants, New Jersey gave the right to vote to all “inhabitants” as long as “they” could show they had property worth 50 pounds. That ruled out most married women, whose property or income went to their husbands when they married. However, the law enfranchised many women, regardless of race, in New Jersey — or so the early story went. But where was the proof?

Then, an 1801 poll list from Montgomery Township, found in the New Jersey State Archives in Trenton, was the first real modern-day evidence of numerous women voters. The state archives had acquired the lists in 2016 “from the descendants of a long-ago county clerk.”

Now there are 18 poll lists from four New Jersey townships from 1797-1807 that have been found. Nine of them include 163 unique women’s names. The women had cast about 7.7 percent of total votes. On some lists, it was as much as 14 percent.

An interesting corollary is that the women’s names almost always appear in bunches, suggesting that women came to the polls in groups. Maybe that had something to do with the polls often being located in taverns “awash with drunkenness and guns,” according to The Times.

Philip Mead, chief historian at the Museum of the American Revolution, explained that there was difficulty in determining who met the property requirements, which contributed to the end of gender and race equality in New Jersey.

Still, Mead sees a positive message in this research for the museum’s exhibit: “In early New Jersey, we have women voting and African Americans voting. This is a story both about what we might have been, and about who we’ve become.”

It is a fitting tale to mark the end of Black History Month and the beginning of Women’s History Month.