The Daily Reckoning PRESENTS: Americans are consuming and indebting themselves just to "keep up with the Jones." But did you ever wonder who this infamous Jones was? In this classique essay that ran on Sept. 30 of last year, Addison Wiggin looks at the face behind the phrase...
THE MYSTERY OF WYNDCLYFFE
by Addison Wiggin
"Guys, here's a rich metaphor for you," writes friend and colleague Porter Stansberry. "The house that originally spawned the term 'keeping up with the Jones' and which led to the building of gaudy mansions on the Hudson River is collapsing and in disrepair..."
The story was printed in yesterday's Wall Street Journal. "It was the original McMansion"...so grand it had its own name: Wyndclyffe. The house was built in 1853 by Edith Wharton's spinster aunt, Elizabeth Schermerhorn Jones, and kicked off a flurry of mansion building up the Hudson River Valley. Wyndclyffe sported a four-story tower, 24 rooms, 80 acres of lawn and "sweeping river views."
After the completion of the Jones house, turret towers and extra wings began appearing on nearby homes - hence the now-famous phrase, "keeping up with the Jones." Nowadays, the maxim illustrates the modern desire of suburban Americans to keep up appearances...by taking out home equity loans to buy Humvees and home theater systems.
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P.S. "Miss Jones, Edith Wharton's spinster aunt," the WSJ article states, "was a cousin to the Astors and entertained William and Henry James in the mansion. After she died, the house was purchased by Andrew Finck, a brewer who, legend has it, set up a beer tap that flowed from the basement to the tennis courts. During the Depression [the last great credit-goosed financial disaster to visit the land], Wyndclyffe was neglected, like many other lavish houses of the time. Then it had a string of owners, most of whom didn't live in the house or make repairs. Neighbors say Wyndclyffe briefly housed a nudist colony in the mid- century."
The ruins are apparently littered with garbage and frequently used by bands of nosed-ringed teenagers, dressed in black and sporting Matrix-style long coats. When asked what should be done with the ruins, Charles Eggert, who owned Wyndclyffe in the '60s and '70s, said, "Maybe some crazy idiot will buy it. I think it should be torn down."