Series Sponsored by Ventfort Hall Board Member Lucille Landa and William Landa

All talks will be available on Zoom with some limited appearances at Ventfort Hall on some dates and will be announced along with sign up information. Cost is $20 per person.

June 8, 4:00 pm.  Multi-faceted writer, director, performer, producer Michelle Cohen explores “Mary Pickford: The World’s First Major Movie Star,” her rise to fame from a penniless pioneer in a new medium to an astute businesswoman and actress. Her relationships with husband Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., Charlie Chaplin and D.W. Griffith resulted in the formation of United Artists.  As an actress, her work defined film acting. As a producer, she set standards for high quality. She helped shape the trade through precedent-setting contracts, foundation of the Academy, as well as the Oscars annual event. Mary’s decisions still influence Hollywood.

June 15, 4:00 pm.   Award-winning author and journalist Patricia Miller will discuss her book “Bringing Down the Colonel: A Sex Scandal of the Gilded Age and the “Powerless” Woman Who Took on Washington.” It’s the story of Madeline Pollard, who in 1893 sued Congressman William Campbell Preston Breckinridge for breach of promise to marry, launching a sensational scandal. Shockingly, Pollard revealed during a five-week trial that made front-page news that he seduced her as a teenager. This was undoubtedly a #Me Too moment. Other players included Jennie, a young office worker sent by Breckinridge allies into a home for fallen women to spy on Pollard.

June 22, 4:00 pm.   “Tiffany, La Farge and Their Revolutionary Opalescent Glass Windows” is the subject art historian Sylvia Laudien-Meo will present, highlighting the new craft of opaque glass panes that revolutionized the decoration of Gilded Age churches and homes. Artists Louis Comfort Tiffany and John La Farge were the lead competitors for commissions. Their works express the new interests in travel and foreign cultures, new passions for nature and landscape, an interest for symbolism, the Pre-Raphaelites and Art Nouveau, especially for complex interior decoration. Laudiew-Meo: “We will look at the artists’ newly developed techniques as well.”

June 29, 4:00 pm.   Historian and licensed guide (board member of the Guides Assn. of NYC)
Bob Gelber will give a virtual tour of “New York’s Woolworth Building & the Five-and-Dime Store Legacy.”  It was built to represent Frank W. Woolworth’s success and wealth from creating the first five-and-dime stores in America and then worldwide.  Gelber will discuss an overview of Woolworth and his bargain stores, why the building’s design was ahead of its time in 1913, a virtual look at the unique architectural details from its terracotta façade to its ornate lobby that has a sculpture of Woolworth counting nickels, also rare photos of off-limit areas.

July 6, 4:00 pm.  James Rodger Fleming is a professor of science, technology and society, and his subject will be based on his new book “First Woman: Joanne Simpson and the Tropical Atmosphere,” the story of the first American woman to earn a Ph.D. in meteorology.  Her discovery?  Clouds are the spark plugs in the heat engine of the tropical atmosphere, and heat from the tropics drives the planet’s general circulation. Simpson held a passion for clouds and severe storms. She flew into and above them, photographed, modeled and attempted to modify them, studying them from all angles.  She blazed a trail for women in a male-dominated field.

July 13, 4:00 pm.  Focusing on five people, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Prof. John Matteson will cover “A Worse Place Than Hell: How the Civil War Battle of Fredericksburg Changed a Nation,” his new book. Young Harvard intellectual Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. confronted grave challenges to his concept of duty. One-eyed army chaplain Arthur Fuller pitted his frail body against the evils of slavery. Walt Whitman, a gay Brooklyn poet condemned by the guardians of propriety, and struggling young writer Louisa May Alcott nursed soldiers.  John Pelham, a West Point cadet from Alabama, achieved excellence in artillery tactics as he served a doomed cause.

July 20, 4:00 pm.   The New York Times bestselling author Amy Sohn will present an account of Anthony Comstock, anti-vice activist and U.S. Postal Inspector, and his war on women’s rights. In her new book, entitled “The Man Who Hated Women: Sex, Censorship, and Civil Liberties of the Gilded Age,” she describes his eponymous law of 1873 that penalized the mailing of contraception and obscenity with harsh sentences and steep fines.  Between 1873 and the ratification of the 19th amendment in 1920, eight women were tried under the Comstock Law. They took him on in explicit writing, seeking to redefine work, family, sex and love for a new era.

July 27, 4:00 pm.  Known far and wide as Mr. Mummy, Egyptologist Bob Brier returns to reveal “The Murder of Tutankhamen.” Three thousand years ago, King Tut, a 19-year-old pharaoh, died mysteriously.  A small tomb was hastily readied, his body was mummified, fabulous jewelry and furniture were gathered and the tomb sealed. Then silence.  Brier will describe the extraordinary discovery of the tomb in 1922 by Howard Carter.  Examining the king’s skull, a letter from his widowed queen and a royal ring, Brier will further unravel the mystery of the king’s death, presenting his theory that the young pharaoh was murdered.

August 3, 4:00 pm.   With an extensive background in Gilded Age history, author and architect  Gary Lawrance will focus on “America’s Riviera: Gilded Age Houses and Gardens of the Hamptons,” the subject of his bestselling book, Houses of the Hamptons 1880 – 1930. A premier resort long known for its glamour, luxury and architectural achievement, the speaker will discuss such estates as Wooldon Manor, a 58-room English Tudor colossus; Red Maples, of Beaux-Arts opulence; Villa Mille Fiore, modeled after Rome’s Villa de Medici; The Orchard, a Stanford White commission; Chestertown House, with a du Pont collection of early American antiques.

August 10, 4:00 pm.   Historian and NYC guide Dave Gardner will give us the scoop on “The Titanic Epilogue: New York City After the Great Sinking.” His specialty is the ill-fated maiden journey of the Greatest Ship in the World and its aftermath. With his personal collection of historical photographs and vintage postcards, he will cover the tense days of high hopes, a play-by-play of the sinking’s impact on New York, the arrival of the survivors, the media spectacle, the official investigation, the dispelled century-old myths, forgotten plaques, statues, gravestones and memorials found throughout New York dedicated to the Titanic’s 1,496 lost souls.

August 17, 4:00 pm.   A most timely subject: art museum curator, lecturer and historian Robin Jaffee Frank returns to present “Love & Loss: Framing Memory in American Portraiture” based on years of research that led to a book and essays on Victorian mourning miniatures. She says, “Understanding the personal stories of love and loss that such keepsakes commemorate returns to them their power to move us.  And these exquisite objects and their histories have highly personal resonance today… looking at these objects that attest to the resilience of the human spirit, reinterpreting them for this moment, convinces me that the topic matters now.”

August 24, 4:00 pm.    The ultimate frequent flyer, raconteur and author Rene Silvin will relay his experiences with “The Concorde: Technology Meets Glamour.” The speaker flew on this technologically advanced plane 160 times. As one of Air France’s best customers, he was treated to a very early non-stop flight originating and ending in Paris.  It was akin to a 3 ½ – hour test flight over the Atlantic. Silvin will give us an in-depth feel of his flights. Of the 350 aircraft planned, a mere 20 were built, and only 14 of these supersonic and expensive marvels went into service. He will also introduce us to the famous folk with whom he rubbed elbows in flight.

August 31, 4:00 pm.   He was an Oklahoma-born oil tycoon and she was a Michigan-born beauty who for 40 years traveled the world acquiring antiques and decorative arts.  Historian and author Francis Morrone will tell “The Story Behind the Wrightsman 18th-Century French Collections at the Met” that are exhibited in recreated and stunning rooms and galleries in the museum.  Charles and Jayne purchased and gave to the museum hundreds of works, including porcelain, gilt bronzes, antique furniture, boiseries, paintings and sculpture.  Leading experts, even from beyond the Met, were approached to advise on their museum-quality acquisitions.

September 7, 4:00 pm.   Filmmaker and director Robert Steven Williams will uncover the facts for us behind his film “Gatsby in Connecticut, the Untold Story.”  With historian Richard Webb, Williams dug into the Princeton University Archives; they interviewed many scholars of the book’s author, F. Scott Fitzgerald, met with Scott and Zelda’s granddaughter.  Who was the mysterious millionaire that inspired the character of Jay Gatsby? What was the real inspiration for Gatsby’s mansion? And why doesn’t the geography of the novel reflect that of Long Island rather than that of Connecticut? Our inquiring speaker Williams has the answers and more.

September 14, 4:00 pm.   In a lively behind-the-scenes demonstration, curator Diane Shewchuk will provide the where-with-all for “Showcasing 18th-Century, Victorian and Jazz Age Fashions at the Albany Institute of History and Art.”  She will discuss how dresses made of fragile silks and beaded chiffons are carefully placed on mannequins and how to create the proper silhouette, as well as the secrets of the dress trade by looking inside dresses with an emphasis on Victorian dresses made by the legendary Paris couturier Charles Frederick Worth.  Shewchuk has curated numerous exhibitions on a variety of themes.