Oscar Wilde in the Catskills
After traveling across the vast expanses of the American south for more than a month, lecturing in 18 cities, Wilde returned to New York for some rest and relaxation with friends at the exclusive Summer resorts of the north-east.
On July 15, 1882. Oscar gave a courtesy lecture at the Casino during a week’s stay with Julia Ward Howe and friends at Newport, RI, (revisited here) and he did not lecture again for two and a half weeks.
During that time he:
— visited Long Beach with Sam Ward where he was to be found creating interest on the beach;
—cruised around Long Island for three days with Robert Roosevelt aboard his yacht, occasionally swimming, fishing and calling in at popular hotels;
—visited the actress Clara Morris at her retreat in Riverdale, NY;
—stayed with statesman John Bigelow at his summer home at Highland Falls, near West Point;
—vacationed at Long Branch spending a night as guest of former President of the United States, General Ulysses S. Grant, which must have provided a interesting counterpoint to his recent stay with Jefferson Davis, the former president of the Confederate States of America, at his home at Beauvoir;
—traveled to Peekskill to stay with clergyman and social reformer Henry Ward Beecher with whom he attended a church service and a military band concert.
After all that urbane socializing it was time to head for the hills for more urbane socializing—and a return to lecturing.
The social lion was about to become a mountain lion in The Catskills.
In the mid-to-late 20th century, the Catskill Mountains were a popular resort destination primarily for the elite of the east’s largest cities. The region became known for continuing a Romantic Movement in art and literature and gave rise to the ‘Hudson River School’ of art.
The area was once named on an 1656 map of New Netherland as Landt van Kats Kill (‘cat creek’ in Dutch), perhaps explaining some of the confusion over the years about the name which has given us variant spellings such as Kaatskill and Kaaterskill, both of which are still used, for example in the regional magazine Kaatskill Life, and as the names of a mountain peak and a waterfall; indeed, in 1882, Wilde lectured at the Kaaterskill Hotel.
Oscar’s extended visit occurred at the heart of his tour of Summer resorts in the north-east, and he took in all the most exclusive and popular hotels. Oscar was accompanied by wealthy patrons from New York City including Sam Ward and Richard Doyly Carte, and was feted by local communities at the height of his fame: at one point he was given a celebrity breakfast at the top of Mt. McGregor.
He was in The Catskills from August 9—19 with the exception of one day (August 16), when he traveled to Long Beach, RI to fulfill a previous engagement.