At Bailey's Beach, the Ruling Class
By GUY TREBAY
The names drift through the air like fragments from a Social Register Genesis, not excluding the begats. Everyone is somehow connected to someone, Cushings to Ameses to Cuttings, and Slocums to Drexels to Wetmores and Browns. At a certain level of a certain segment of society, the one Gore Vidal calls America's ruling class, any conversation is destined at some point to become a narrative of tribal history. This is rarely more clear than on the buffet line for dinner here at Bailey's Beach on a summer Sunday night.
Bailey's Beach is the democratic-seeming name given to a rumpled but exclusive club located at the apex of the social order in this city of 27,000, long considered the queen of American resorts. The official name of the place is the Spouting Rock Beach Association, named for a geological formation, and membership in it tends to define summer life here in ways that are sometimes difficult to comprehend, even for insiders.
"People kill to belong to the beach," said Beth Pyle, whose twin sister, she added, has never quite made it into the club. "It has really driven some people crazy when they don't get in."
The beach itself is a crescent of coarse gray sand off Ocean Drive at the terminus of the famous Cliff Walk, the shoreside path skirting the opulent chateaus erected by men known in their day as tinplate or railroad or tobacco magnates. Of the Vanderbilts and Astors, whose marble and limestone palaces along Bellevue Avenue remain the city's largest tourist attraction, there is not locally "one living, breathing member left," said Eileen Slocum, a Republican Party stalwart and Newport's octogenarian doyenne. But this is not to suggest that their class is defunct. As tourists queue up along Bellevue Avenue every day awaiting admission to Gilded Age palaces turned museums, like the Breakers or the Elms, they are not likely to have much inkling that, behind the nearby hedges, there remains intact a world of emerald-barnacled dinosaurs attended by uniformed retainers and underwritten by ironclad fiduciary trusts. There are people still living in Newport who have not only never held jobs, but "literally never met people outside their class who didn't work for them," said Ennals Berl, whose family owns Seaweed, a 19th-century "cottage" overlooking Bailey's Beach. (more)