A reader of this blog asked what Pierre du Pont (1870-1954) paid for Longwood Gardens. The question is answered in the 12-minute video that runs continuously in the library of his home there: $15,500 in 1906. Visitors coming from the video often comment on what a bargain he got, but there has been a lot of inflation since then. A website that specializes in tracking inflation says that $15,500 in 1906 is equivalent to $350,000 today. Then, too, Pierre essentially bought a tumble-down, abandoned farmhouse with no electricity or indoor plumbing off of isolated Doe Run Road that looked nothing like the Longwood Gardens of today: no conservatory, no flower walk, no outdoor theater, none of that, so he certainly got no bargain. It was a bottomless money pit for him. (The owner at the time did not live there. He only bought it for the timber value of the trees and had already built a sawmill in the back to cut them up. Pierre stepped in at the nick of time, “to save the trees,” which is still the philosophy at Longwood Gardens. “What would Pierre have done?” those in charge often ask themselves.)
Visitors also ask how he died. He died suddenly in 1954, 10 years after his wife, Alice, of a burst aortic aneurysm (bulging). My father had that aneurysm, too, in the 1980s, but a routine operation placed a Dacron tube over the bulge, and he soon forgot all about it. In Pierre’s time, there were no symptoms until the aorta burst. If it occurred in in an artery in the brain, it would be called a stroke and be just as sudden, just as unexpected, and just as fatal. Even if a doctor was on site, there would be nothing he could do.
(In Pierre’s day, all doctors were men. My first exposure to a woman doctor was the company doctor at ICI-Americas. Some male employees were apoplectic at the thought of her doing the annual physicals, but they survived.)