When I was growing up in New Zealand we ate a lot of lamb roasts and mutton was considered suitable only for stews. You may remember Colonel D’Alton Mann thought they were a delicacy best paired with a bottle of champagne. Here’s another newspaperman who thought they made a worthy meal.
James Gordon Bennett and his son published the New York Herald. Gordon Bennett Jr., while devoted to the paper was also an avid sportsman and playboy, who, like Colonel Mann, liked to dine at Delmonico’s. One night while drinking there, a fire alarm went off nearby. Totally inebriated, he dashed outside in his evening clothes and made such a nuisance of himself trying to direct the firefighting operations that one of the firemen turned the hose upon him and sent him sprawling down the block. The next day when he sobered up he ordered rubber overcoats for all firefighters as he’d “never been so wet in all his life”.
He considered his income of a million dollars a year to be almost inexhaustible and once threw a large roll of bills into the fire because it interfered with the use of his pocket and spoiled the line of his pants. Occasionally he moved through restaurants pulling the cloths off tables and crunching crockery beneath his feet, telling the maitre’d to send the bill to his office.
Gordon Bennett was a dog fancier who sometimes judged the men in his office by how his dogs responded to them. Staff who were out of favour were known to secret portions of meat about their person to gain acceptance from the various Cocker Spaniels, Pomeranians and Pekinese who accompanied their master to work each day.
A keen sailor, he also practiced the gentlemanly sports of auto racing, pugilism and ballooning. He was a master of the lost art of coaching and was often seen riding his coach and four naked at midnight, destroying the formal gardens of his neighbours in the process and paying for repairs later.
One of the many incidents for which he was well known was the fighting of the last duel in New York. The ludicrous affair began when he arrived at the home of his fiancée, Caroline, in a partying mood. After consuming prodigious amounts of wine he proceeded to relieve himself in the astonished lady’s fireplace. He was flung out in the street and the next day Caroline’s brother waylaid him outside the Union Club and attacked him with a horsewhip. Bennett challenged him to a formal duel two days later with a retinue of surgeons at Slaughter Gap. No one was hurt as both men, who were excellent shots, settled the matter by firing in the air.
Bennett was always the master of the grand gesture. On a bet, he once coaxed a cavalry officer to ride his horse into the library of Newport’s most distinguished men’s club. When the board of directors chastised him he bought a huge plot of land nearby and built the Newport Casino, a far more extravagantly elegant club. When his favourite mutton chop-serving restaurant was too full to accept his booking he promptly bought it on the spot for $40,000. As the new owner, he had a table cleared and sat down to lunch. When he left he tipped the waiter most generously by handing him the deed to the restaurant with the proviso that there must always be a table reserved for him and that mutton chops would always be on the menu.