Musings on the 400 List

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Paley Park. 9:30 PM. Photo: JH.

Monday, September 26, 2022. A cooler weekend in New York. The temps up in to the mid-70s at the top of the day, and down to the high 60s at night. It was sometimes sunny and sometimes cloudy but the air was just cooler, accompanied by an occasional breeze. The apartment — which only gets Sun in the mid-to-late afternoon — felt like we could have used a little heat. Uh-uh; not until the temps drop to 55; that’s the rule. So you put on a sweater as it’s not warm enough; autumn has arrived. Gently. At first.

A lot of my daily reading about the world we’re living (here/there/everywhere) is scary. The world we’re living in and the financial, and the everything else problems seem greater than ever. Yes I could think of it in terms of certain individuals and leaders, but in a very real way, they are just players in the drama like the rest of us.

Although, nothing can stop Hermes from moving on up, or across the street in this case, to larger digs at 706 Madison Avenue, a former neo-Federal style bank built in 1921.

I think our modern world has expanded and developed to a point where we seem to be losing touch with each other individually — all made possible ironically by our communications technology, most specifically the cell phone.

I started this to Diary to work some of the emotional out of my way before reporting on last Wednesday night when the city traffic was at a near standstill.

It had been UN Week and President Biden was in town to give a speech. They closed down much of the parts of town where he would be so that all traffic had to be diverted. ALL. In a city of 17 million cars and trucks moving through on an average business day, shutting down 10, 20, 30 blocks of major avenues at Rush Hour. All this so that one man can be transported with – a parade of police escorts and additional limousines — while the rest of the world is trying to finish up their day and go home.

The traffic over on Park.

The situation raises the question: Who plans the timing, and who would approve of timing such “visits” at rush hour in the center of the city? What is the message there, as all of these schedules are public relations activities? Who’s in charge? And why?

Nevertheless life goes on. Wednesday was a perfectly nice mid-September day in New York. It was the day of the annual Quest 400 party at Doubles.

Here I am with Ray Kelly and Gale Hayman trying out a new smile.

For those unaware and curious, the Quest 400 was an idea I pulled out of a hat about thirty years ago one month when I had nothing to publish. And I had the rent to pay; and was paid by the piece. As we got closer and closer to publishing day when it all goes off to the printer, nada.

Somehow in my desperation, possibly because it was compatible with the Quest editorial and audience, I thought of Mrs. Astor of the late 19th century whose original 400 list became the be-all and end-all of New York Society’s Who’s Whom.

Caroline Astor’s “list” number was reported to be the capacity of her original ballroom of her brownstone mansion on 34th and Fifth. The number was the creation of Mrs. Astor’s PR guy, Ward McAllister, specifically for the press. (Her ballroom on 34th had a capacity of 369! This was back in the late 1880s. Exclusive as her annual January Ball was, it was widely publicized by the papers. Every detail; what they wore, what they ate, every name of every guest. It was New York’s version of  royalty, as international royalty in those days ruled. And the term “the 400) went into the American language.

Ward McAllister, who was the creative force behind Caroline Astor’s “list,” was driven by personal motives and a hunger for media attention which did little to endear him to the old guard. But they still wanted “in.”

So when we put together the late 20th century version, literally a century later, the world had changed beyond recognition. Everything from Mrs. A’s world was gone including the mansions, the manners, and the ballrooms she used. Not to mention the guests on the list. So who would They be? How were we going to figure that out pronto.

Heather Cohane, the magazine’s founder and publisher, had shoe boxes full of party photos taken for the picture pages of previous editions. Out of the shoe box came the photos.

Every time there was more than one photo of someone (or a couple), we’d put them in a separate pile. Then we went through the pages to find the “obvious” social names and put them on the list, as well as the leaders in the city, and the stars who came by often or lived here. It wasn’t exclusive like Mrs. A’s, but the objective was to reflect well known/popular/prominent individuals in the wide community that New York is.

Grace and Chris Meigher.

Because we all like lists to read (requires no brain power whatsoever and also won’t hurt) we put John F. Kennedy Jr. at the top of the List, mainly because he was also the most popular man in New York.

And so it began. In the decades since under the owner/publisher Chris Meigher, the List has grown and changed to reflect the more recent New York social world. Society no longer exists in the form that brought Mrs. Astor power in the/her world. Public Relations is a more authentic word for our world today. However, the names do reflect as an active aspect of the social community that is New York.

The photographs were taken by the master of party pictures himself, Patrick McMullan, whose lens has recorded the social world of New York dating back to Andy Warhol where Patrick, the kid, got his start with his camera.

L. to r.: Anne Fisher, Muffie Potter Aston, Deborah Norville, and Grace Meigher; Amy Fine Collins.
Jamee Gregory, Katherine Irwin, Peter Gregory, and Linda Hickox.
L. to r.: Elizabeth Meigher, Wilbur Ross, and Hilary Geary Ross; Ted and Amanda Meigher
Cornelia Ercklentz, Tom Quick, and Mai Hallingby Harrison.
Chris Meigher, Michele Heary, and Daniel Morales.
L. to r.: Mary Van Pelt, Michael McCarty, and Hilary Block; Cornelia Ercklentz and Betsy Frank.
Thomas Mastronardi, Blaine Caravaggi, Andrew Wetenhall, Sarah Wetenhall, and Paolo Martorano.
Chloe Lazard, Michael Mailer, Brooke Kelly Murray, Taki Theodoracopulos, Elizabeth Meigher, Nicole Fisher, and Erin Lazard.
L. to r.: Wendy Carduner, Jennifer Creel, and Grace Meigher; Elizabeth Loomis.
Karl Wellner, Deborah Norville, and Matt Rich.
Judith Grey, Ray Kelly, and Samira Shamoon.
L. to r.: Robert and Blaine Caravaggi; Cece Black, Leon Black, and Elizabeth Hartnett.
John Castle, Chris Meigher, and Kirk Henckels.
Christian Lokka and Meredith Ostrom.
L. to r.: Ned Pierrepont, Janie Pierrepont, and Oliver Singer; Nicole Fisher and Chris Meigher.
Karen Glover, Mary Van Pelt, Evelyn Tompkins, Hilary Block, and Mark Gilbertson.
Geoffrey Bradfield and Debbie Bancroft.
L. to r.: Amy Hutchings, Wendy Carduner, and Kate Earls; Alexandra Lebenthal and Jay Diamond.
Dr. Douglas Steinbrech, Polly Onet, and Mark Gilbertson.
Dr. Douglas Steinbrech, Polly Onet, and Mark Gilbertson.
Pam Taylor Yates, John Klopp, and Grace Meigher.
Arthur De Ganay, Dee Meehan, and Michael Meehan.
Lee Black, Cece Black, and Monique Merrill.
Ulrike Fedl, Rudy Albers, and Michaela Kesselman.
L. to r.: Barbara McLaughlin; Meredith Ostrom, Camilla Webster, and Anna Rothschild.
John Klopp, Amy Hoadley, Karen Klopp, and David Patrick Columbia.
Pam Taylor Yates, wit Harry and Gigi Benson.
Eleanora Kennedy and Neil Tandy.
L. to r.: Katherine Irwin and Guy Robinson; Tony and Sara Guernsey.
Montgomery Frazier, Consuelo Vanderbilt Costin, Emma Snowdon-Jones, and Brinton Brewster.
Hanna Howard and Sarah Solomon.
Patrick Murray, Brooke Kelly Murray, and Ray Kelly
L. to r.: Elisabeth Saint Amand, Mark Gilbertson, and Kate Earls; Kirk Henckels and Christy McGraw.
Michel Witmer.
Michael Mailer and Taki Theodoracopulos.
L. to r.: Tatiana and Thorne Perkin; Justin O’Neill and Haley Crawford.
Ronald and Harriet Weintraub.
Polly Onet, Debbie Bancroft, Monique Merrill, and Evelyn Tompkins.
Jeanne Lawrence, Taki Theodoracopulos, Hilary Geary Ross, Wilbur Ross, and Dee Meehan..
L. to r.: Stephanie Krieger and Brian Stewart; Chloe Lazard and Erin Lazard.
Anna Rothschild and Camilla Webster.
Michaela Kesselman, Rudy Albers, Ulrike Fedl, and Chris Meigher.
Amanda Meigher, Sarah Solomon, Avery Haskell, Lindsay Sansone, Grace Meigher, and Hanna Howard.
Camilla Webster, Matt Rich, and Anna Rothschild.
Nancy Paduano and Peter Lyden.

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