In the cities of the West, where the golden stream flowed so freely

In the cities of the West, where the golden stream flowed so freely in these thriving days and those who would scale society's heights often had so much to forget, even greater extravagances were sometimes recorded. It took many diamonds and much wine for some of the new dowagers to erase entirely the mark of the laundry tub or kitchen sink. Only money could do it, and the sensational inspired most newspaper copy. The new plutocracy gave dinners at which cigarettes were wrapped in hundreddollar bills or the guests found fine black pearls in their oysters. For one gala occasion the room was filled with cages of rare song-birds and dwarf fruit-trees, while half a dozen graceful swans swam in a miniature lake. There was a famous horseback dinner. "The guests were attired in riding habits," wrote Frederick Townsend Martin; "the handsomely groomed horses pranced and clattered about the magnificent dining-room, each bearing, besides its rider, a miniature table. The hoofs of the animals were covered with soft rubber pads to save the waxed floor from destruction."

The Bradley Martin ball in 1897 created the greatest sensation of the Gilded Age. The ball-room of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel was converted into a replica of Versailles and sumptuously decorated with rare tapestries and beautiful flowers. Mrs. Bradley Martin, as Mary Queen of Scots, wore a necklace of Marie Antoinette's and a cluster of diamond grapes once owned by Louis XIV. The suit of gold-inlaid armor worn by Mr. Belmont was valued at ten thousand dollars. The publicity given this affair was incredible. The New York Times and the Herald virtually gave over their front pages to descriptions of it, and the London papers all carried cabled dispatches. On the morning after the affair, the London Daily Mail, with allowance for the difference in time, reported: "Mrs. Bradley Martin, we have every reason to believe, is dressed at this very moment in a train of black velvet lined with cerise satin, and a petticoat, if it is not indiscreet to say so, of white satin, embroidered with flowers and arabesques of silver." The LondonChronicle congratulated New York society on its triumph -- "It has cut out Belshazzar's feast and Wardour Street and Mme. Tussaud's and the Bank of England. There is no doubt about that."

But there were limits to which even the American public would go in condoning such heartless extravagance in a year when there was widespread distress among the poor. The storm of disapproval that followed in the train of this ball drove the Bradley Martins out of the country. Depressed by their unexpected notoriety, they settled permanently in England.

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