By Samuel S. Williams.
In his search for a secluded spot wherein to rest his tired nerves and to escape from the strenuous American life, the modern millionaire travels the world over. But the cable and the telegraph wire have made the playgrounds of Europe mere suburbs of New York. Aix-les-Bains and Homburg, Carlsbad and the Alpine villages, once havens of health, arc now bustling with business and social distractions. The American resorts, from Bar Harbor in the north down through the checkered list of Newport, Saratoga, Lakewood, Atlantic City, Old Point Comfort, St. Augustine, and Palm Beach in the south have developed the same nervous atmosphere. No wonder the overwrought captain of industry is willing to give a fortune for a single night's peace and quiet.
There is just one spot in the United States that affords the seclusion from public gaze, the surcease from business, the freedom from social demands, and the complete relaxation from nervous tension that the millionaire seeks, in combination with the perfection of physical comfort that he cannot do without. One hundred leading American capitalists have taken possession of it, and have founded there a club, the richest, the most exclusive, the most inaccessible of all - a veritable retreat for all multimillionaires.
JEKYL ISLAND, GEORGIA
All along the Atlantic coast, from Cape Hatteras to Key West, there is a fringe of islands, long and narrow, originally mere sand-bars piled up by the sea, but now covered with tall pine forests and the rich vegetation of the South. Some of them are uninhabited; some are the haunts of fishermen and petty smugglers; some are highly cultivated, and produce the fine Sea Island cotton; some form petty sovereignties, like Cumberland Island, the home of the Carnegie family; but one stands out unique - Jekyl Island, the winter resort of the country's financial kings. It is a strip of land fifteen miles long and scarcely one mile wide. On one side the rollers from the broadest stretch of the Atlantic wash its low, sandy beach; from the other side there is an outlook across lagoons, inlets, creeks, and miles of semi-tropical swamp to the mainland. The nearest town is Brunswick, Georgia, ten miles away.
The island is the property of the Jekyl Island Club, which is nominally a sporting association. The constitution of the club says: "Its purpose shall be to own and maintain a hunting, fishing, yachting, and general sporting resort, and to promote social intercourse among its members and their families." Its State charter gives the club the right to maintain ~ a racecourse, to erect hotels, to build and operate railways, to install a telegraph and telephone system of its own, and to do all manner of things that business men might covet in Wall Street. But in reality scarcely one of these charter rights is exercised. The deer jump across the most frequented roads fearless of a hunter's gun. The gamekeeper's preserves furnish such quantities of birds that shooting them is too easy for sport. The hard, white sand beach is the only race track. Some strap rails laid along the dock for the baggage truck form the only tramway. The world of industry and commerce, of railroads and factories, of trusts, mergers, and monopolies, is something wholly apart from this island paradise.
FROM FROZEN NORTH TO SUNNY SOUTH
When the snow lies deep in northern cities, the Florida Limited leaves New York on its daily run to the land of sunshine and warmth. Just before it reaches the Florida line, a stop is made at a little wayside station in Georgia. The passengers see the name on the wooden station - Jesup. A luxurious private car is detached, and at the end of a humble local train it disappears into the swamps. That car is conveying a weary millionaire to Jekyl Island. It jolts along through the forest for an hour, and finally stops at Brunswick, a dry spot in a great region of coast swamps.
The millionaire steps from his car, twenty-four hours away from New York: A sailor in smart yachting uniform salutes him. Servants attend to his luggage. He steps aboard a trim little steamer, and it darts away toward the island, whose tree-tops can be dimly seen out seaward, across the miles of intervening marshes. He has left the strenuous world behind him. He is going to get his sleep and rest. He can find it at Jekyl, in the comfortable hut not luxurious club house; or perhaps he owns one of the cottages that lie scattered about the island. He hears nothing from the outer world; he scarcely more than glances at the newspapers. There is a telegraph cable to the mainland, perhaps because some of the Gould's, who control the Western Union company, have a cottage here, but the operator has the lightest task of any employee in the whole system.
A WINTER PARADISE
That night the tired millionaire sleeps. Like every other island dweller, he has retired before ten o'clock. Not a sound reaches him save from the soft Southern wind and the sea. Not a duty awaits him the next day. He can walk, ride, or drive in the thick forests; he can play golf; he can fish; he can go yachting; he can do anything that unlimited wealth can offer; but the chances are that he will do none of these things. He will simply lie back and idle away the days in this earthly paradise.
Nature has done much for Jekyl. She has built here a broad, hard, sandy beach along the ocean's edge that makes a finer drive than any in Central Park or the Bois de Boulogne. It is ten miles long, as smooth as a billiard table, and doubly flanked by the roaring ocean and the dense semi-tropical forest. Nature has given the island a glorious climate, a wealth of trees and flowers, an abundance of birds and animals, and sheltered waters for lazy life afloat.
Man with his millions has done much, too. Leaving part of the island in its untouched wildness, he has turned the rest of it into a beautiful park. He has built fine houses, which he misnames cottages for simplicity's sake, and he has furnished them with every luxury. An oasis in the Sahara was never more rich in its contrast to the surrounding sands than this island retreat of millionaires in the midst of the Southern swamps.
The constitution of the Jekyl Island Club says that its membership shall be limited to one hundred members. It is always kept a little below that number, and now has eighty-six names on its rolls. Most of them are synonyms for enormous wealth. Some represent old accumulated fortunes that without effort roll into greater volume. Many more stand for that restless, maddening struggle which is never satisfied with its piling up of money and power.
Yet it is not money alone that admits to membership. If it were, there would be no vacant numbers in the limited hundred. Money is a requisite, for none but the rich could pay the cost of beautifying and maintaining this island of luxury; but the club's unwritten rules require something more of the candidate. He must be a man of brains, of power, of respected position, one who has done something worthy of the world's esteem.
There is one other rule. The member must be able to drop business, forget his wealth, lay down his scepter of power while at Jekyl; and this is a more difficult task for many of them than the making of a million.
THE PERSONNEL OF THE CLUB
The roster of the club is a list of familiar names. Most noted, perhaps, of all is that of J. Pierpont Morgan, closely followed by William Rockefeller. George Gould, and Edwin Gould. Then come the heads of the two greatest financial institutions in New York - James Stillman, president of the National City, commonly called the Standard Oil bank, and George F. Baker, president of the First National, the Morgan bank. Around them is a group of banker millionaires somewhat less widely known to the world at large, but recognized barons of finance in Wall Street - Cornelius N. Bliss, Le Grand B. Cannon, Latham A. Fish, John S. Kennedy, Charles Lanier, James A. Scrymser, John A. Stewart, and .John L. Waterbury. These men represent wealth and power more than many governments. The railroads contribute their masters in James J. Hill, L. C. Ledyard, Samuel Spencer, Samuel Thomas, and Henry Walters; commerce its leaders in Marshall Field and Cyrus H. McCormick, of Chicago; John Claflin and M. C. D. Borden, of New York.
Then there are individuals of peculiar fame. Joseph Pulitzer, editor of the New York World, recently gave two millions of dollars to found a school of journalism at Columbia University. Morris K. Jesup, has expended large sums in building up the American Museum of Natural History in New York and in sending scientific expeditions to the uttermost parts of the earth. Another member was the late Gordon McKay, of Newport, who gave munificently to Harvard University. And so the list of millionaires could be continued through varying degrees of wealth and fame.
CLUBHOUSE AND COTTAGE COLONY
While the clubhouse, with its numerous private suites of apartments, furnishes accommodations for most of the members and their guests, others have preferred to build cottages of their own. The most striking of these is the house of Edwin Gould, a low, white building of Spanish type, inclosing an inner courtyard. Only one story in height, it covers ground enough to afford ample room, and many members of the Gould family sojourn here. Last winter the Countess Castellane, formerly Miss Anna Gould, occupied it for several weeks. At the other end of the row is the rambling cottage of Joseph Pulitzer, with its rooms so arranged that the sunlight pours into them all day.
Each winter the club opens for a Christmas dinner, and the members come and go until warm weather drives them away toward the end of April. The markets of North and South are drawn upon to furnish them with luxuries. There are stables for their horses and carriages. The servants of each guest are attended to as if he were in his own house.
No outsider is allowed to land on the island, so that the public man seeking escape from interviewers is in safe seclusion. Mr. Rockefeller, Mr. Morgan, Mr. Hill, and their allies find it an excellent hiding place. Each year, on Washington's birthday, Mr. Morgan goes to Jekyl Island accompanied by a coterie of chosen friends who call themselves the Corsair Club. In summer these same men sometimes meet aboard Mr. Morgan's yacht, the Corsair, when she steams Out to sea after the day's business is done, and far beyond Sandy Hook the good company of business allies and personal friends spend many a pleasant night. In midwinter they gather for a reunion dinner on their Southern island. It is a feast of Croesuses. If practically all the club members at Jekyl are millionaires, this inner circle - the Corsair Club - is composed of the multimillionaires.
But with all their wealth their dinner is not extraordinary. Its quality is the best, but there is nothing extravagant about it as things go at Jekyl. The presence of these financial magnates does not create a ripple in the luxurious calm and peace of the island, for it is in search of calm and peace that they themselves are there.
Originally published in Munsey's Magazine. February 1904.