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As we get ready to welcome visitors to a new season at Rough Point, we looked back to how former residents used to prepare for Doris Duke’s arrival at Rough Point for the season.
We spoke with Linda Knierim, who remembers arriving at Rough Point on a February evening as a young girl. This year marks the 50th anniversary of when she first came to Rough Point to live with her parents, who were the new caretakers of the estate, and her younger brother.
Listen as Linda shares her story.
LK: And then we came here and it just seemed like such a long drive to come up. And then that ferry – I didn’t know there was a ferry that we had to take either.
While Linda was excited about living in a grand summer cottage on Newport’s famous Bellevue Avenue, she did not expect it to be so, well, haunting.
LK: We must have got here and it was maybe five, six o’clock at nighttime, so it was dark. So all I knew [was] we were coming to a summer cottage. I had no idea what the summer cottage was like, and we were greeted by a painter [at the] back door and came in… He opened up the Dining Room door, and everything was covered in white. It was like different size ghosts greeting us. And I was like, “Oh my gosh,” because I had it in my head that we were going to see real thick carpeting [and] all this beautiful furniture, not ghosts. And then we saw each room and everything. It wasn’t until the next day when my brother and I went outside that you saw how big the house really was. Then we thought, “Hmm. I think we’re gonna like it.”
Linda also recounts what it was like to prepare for Doris’s arrival each year.
LK: Well, I think my mom was busy, I guess probably like in March, getting the house ready, taking some of the cloths off and putting things away, folding them up. But then my dad was busy outside getting the gardens ready and then my brother and I had kind of like control of the house, like on this side [the public spaces in the house beyond the servant spaces] and then, then everything was so different in June when Miss Duke came.
Today, we still continue the tradition of covering furnishings and putting away decorative objects during the winter months.
And Linda’s first impressions of Doris Duke did not meet her expectations of a grand, stylish, larger-than-life woman.
LK: I know she came up in May. It was because Duke Farms called and said the lady of the house will be coming, and just to keep the front gate open. And they didn’t know what time she was coming, so my brother and I went to friends’ houses. I couldn’t wait to get home to find out what kind of car she came in, how she was dressed. My mom said she just came in an old car, and she didn’t have that fur coat on or those gold jewels or anything. She just had on jeans and a t-shirt.
Linda does have some lasting impressions from her time at Rough Point.
LK: The crash of the water against the rocks and the smells of geraniums. My father had those real tall geraniums in the Solarium. They were in big pots and they were almost as tall as I am. So the smells of geraniums always bring [it] up… [Also] when I see those little oyster crackers because [the kitchen] stove had big long shelves always filled with them.
While we no longer have oyster crackers in the Kitchen, you can still experience the sound of the waves breaking dramatically on the rocks and enjoy the scent of the geraniums in the Solarium.
We hope you will visit us this upcoming season and discover (or re-discover) Rough Point for yourself.
Whether you are looking for a perfect gift or are celebrating the coming of spring, check out what’s new at our museum store.
2020 was a year of care and creativity at NRF’s museums. New on the NRF blog, Dr. Erik Greenberg, NRF’s Director of Museums, reflects on the past year’s challenges and triumphs and looks forward to the future.
According to former staff, when Doris Duke particularly enjoyed a recipe she would have it faxed to her other homes so that the cooks in each house could learn how to make the dish. Here are some recipes from Doris Duke’s personal recipe collection.
In part two of our special interview with Rough Point' Estate Gardener Tessa Young, we talk about off-season gardening at Rough Point, advice on how to prep your plants and gardens for the winter, and how to successfully get cozy this winter with houseplants.