By Robert Engel
Great Camp Sagamore’s Historian from 2017 – May, 2023
Margaret Emerson Vanderbilt loved to compete. She also expected her guests at Sagamore to engage each other on the field of battle, be it croquet, tennis, or canoe racing. As a guest of Margaret’s, you didn’t have to win but you did have to play. Did the actress Gene Tierney and the business magnate Howard Hughes confront one another on Sagamore’s tennis court? Sure they did, maybe. Did General George Marshall play Madame Chiang Kai-Shek in a croquet match on the Main Lodge lawn while discussing the fate of the world? Why not?
Competition was Margaret’s way of drawing people together. The idea was that if you met someone new at Sagamore and then spent the day either teamed together, or competing against one another, you would have plenty to talk about at dinner.
The best part was that famous guests did not need to discuss the work that made them famous. They could instead talk about missed wickets and sizzling backhands. At Sagamore, they had the rare opportunity to feel and act unaffected by their fame. How wonderful.
There’s a favorite moment near the end of the history tour at Great Camp Sagamore. The guide has led his or her group out of the Playhouse, where Margaret’s guests might have competed at pool, ping pong, dancing, and martini mixing, not necessarily in that order. Now, at the closed entrance of the last building on the tour, the guide will recap Sagamore’s gaming traditions as they ask first-time visitors to guess the function of the building they are about to enter. Does anybody know?
That’s right, the Vanderbilts bowled.