Hillwood House Museum, Washington D.C.
Marjorie Merriweather Post (1887-1973), sole heir to the Post Cereal fortune, created Hillwood Museum and Gardens, her former home, a twenty-five acre estate in Washington, DC, as her legacy. This was her final home, following a life of privilege and opulence in American’s Midwest, the Connecticut suburbs, New York City, and Europe. From the very beginning of her residency at Hillwood House, her idea was to create a setting to display her collection of fine and decorative art, mainly from 18th-century France and Imperial Russia.
In this section on Hillwood I have shown its grand Georgian entrance, used when it was Mrs. Post’s private home, but not as today’s visitor entrance.
Hillwood’s main entrance is guarded by an 18th century lion (see photos #2 & #3) that once reclined on the terrace at Somerset House in London.
“I find it wonderful, dear, that we are permitted to experience this glorious thing. I am so deeply grateful always. It’s a marvelous gift at any time to be in love, but the rare and tremendous thing is to have been chosen as the one to find you … Dearheart, I love you so deeply—so completely—and I am so proud & happy about it all—Perhaps it took all the lack & heartaches to make it so wonderful & so deeply appreciated.”
— from a letter by Marjorie Merriweather Post to her third husband, Joseph E. Davies
L’AMOUR, L’AMOUR, TOUJOUR L’AMOUR At the rear entrance to Hillwood, in a driveway roundabout, stands Cupid, God of l’amour. Marjorie could have taught a thing or two about l’amour to Cupid; she was married four times! In each case, it was Marjorie who initiated the divorce proceedings. She divorced Ed Close because they had grown apart; E.F. Hutton was cast aside because he was casting more than mere glances at other women; and former Ambassador Davies had become nasty and abusive. After this third divorce, the Postum Cereal Company heiress legally returned to her maiden name. In a single stroke she jettisoned 50 years worth of surnames, Marjorie Post Hutton Davies. She was in her late 60s.
In 1958 Marjorie married again, this time to Pittsburgh businessman Herbert A. May, Jr. Known socially as Mrs. May, legally she remained Mrs. Post. Mr. May was gay though; and when the threat of scandal appeared, Mrs. Post added another l’amour failure to her list.
When Mr. May paid too much attention to attractive waiters Marjorie could be heard muttering, “It isn’t natural; it isn’t natural.” Which raises the question, What would Mrs. Post think about her beloved Hillwood celebrating Gay Day? Which it does each yer. And hosting a reading of The Boys in the Band? Which it did in 2009.
And using the word fabulous for Hillwood’s “motto”! It could not get more gay than fabulous. It looks as if the current directors of the museum are rubbing gayness in the heiress’s face.
Hillwood’s Japanese-style garden was one of the first to be planted following the renewed acceptance of Japanese culture in America during the 1950s.
It is considered one of the finest examples of it kind in the U.S.A.
Visit to the Japanese Garden, as well the entire grounds of Hillwood House, is included as part of the admissions price.
“Forgive me dear Leila and Marjorie if any sentiment I have expressed is not in harmony with your own convictions. I had to give vent to pent up feelings—So I talked with our dear son—he seemed so near, and perhaps suggested or helped me.
Oh! happy soul!
So free from earth’s
Grandeur and suffering.
— the suicide note left by C. W. Post for his second wife, Leila, and his daughter by his first marriage, Marjorie Merriweather Post
GRAND EXIT Mrs. Post idealized her father. It has been suggested that her unsuccessful love life was caused by her fruitless search to find her father in each of her husbands; these men could not measure up to C.W. Post.
And so, without a husband to rest next to for eternity, where does one choose for a final resting place? Mrs. Post picked her Rose Garden at Hillwood. The urn at the top of the 10-foot tall granite column, at the center of her Rose Garden, contains the ashes of Marjorie Merriweather Post Close Hutton Davies May.
Mrs. Post employed 30 gardeners to look after the gardens and the greenhouses at Hillwood. The Rose Garden was gift to Mrs. Post from her friends.
“Since I have no son to give to the war, I will offer the Sea Cloud.”
— Marjorie Merriweather Post’s reasoning for leasing her yacht to the US Navy for $1 a year in 1942
SONS AND DAUGHTERS Mrs. Post did not have a son, but she did have three daughters. A portrait of herself with Adelaide and Eleanor (see photo #1), from her first marriage to Edward Close, hangs in the stairway of Hillwood’s visitors center.
Also, hanging there is a portrait of Mrs. Post in the ensemble she wore for her presentation at the Court of St. James in 1931 (see photo #1). The cereal heiress had a strong interest in European royalty, especially the British royal family, and was thrilled when she was presented at Court.
Mrs. Post’s third daughter, by her second husband, E.F. Hutton, is Nedenia Marjorie, better known as Dina Merrill, the actress.
The Sea Cloud saw service in the North Atlantic as a U-boat spotter and weather ship. For the Midwest born and bred Mrs. Post, her patriotism came naturally; thankfully, Midwestern taste did not.
Marjorie Merriweather Post, the only child of C.W. Post and Ella Merriweather, was born in 1887. C.W. Post made a fortune in the food industry, founding what later become General Foods (maker of the Post cereals). Marjorie's parents instilled in her a love of the arts. Her third husband was ambassador to the Soviet Union in the 1930s, where she acquired a huge collection of Russian art and antiquities--many at rock-bottom prices. And with the vast inheritance received from her father, she amassed a collection of French art, too.
In 1955, she bought the Hillwood estate, near Rock Creek Park. Living out her last years here, she died in 1973. Post willed that her home would become an art museum. Surrounded by 13 acres of woods and formal gardens, it is managed by a non-profit foundation.
The interior of the mansion contains the finest collection of Russian art outside Russia, as well as many other priceless works from France and elsewhere. Alas, photography is NOT allowed inside. But you can shoot anything outside. The gardens alone make it well worth the trip. Space allows me to show only a few highlights of the Rose Garden, French Parterre, Lunar Lawn, Pet Cemetery, Friendship Walk, and my favorite, the Japanese Garden.
The largest collection of Russian art/collectibles outside of Russia and stunning gardens on 25 acres of beautiful land make this museum well worth the visit. It was the residence of the late Majorie Merriweather Post (the same Post as the cereal company) and she thought so much of her collection that she stated in her will that she wanted her house turned into a museum so that all could enjoy it.