Saved by the bell

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Park Avenue bathed in the golden light of Saturday's sunset. Photo: JH.

Monday, December 7, 2020. It was a mild weekend in New York weather-wise, with lots of moisture but no heavy rains, and with temps in the mid-50s. Saturday saw very heavy dark grey clouds that filled the sky, which brought heavy rains until about noon. Yesterday, however, was cold, mid-30s. Ah, a touch of winter comin’ up.

Citylife. I stayed in all weekend except to walk the dogs and to pick up a couple of things at the market. The atmosphere in the news is generally depressing. It occurred to me for the first time this past weekend that those of us who are single, and particularly of an (advancing) age, are confronted with loneliness. This has never been a problem for me; in fact I like and need the solitary to concentrate and work. That’s my good fortune and also my landlord’s.

Saturday brought very heavy dark clouds that covered the sky, except by 4:45 p.m., in the distance to the west was the red sky at nightfall.

But this past weekend, for some reason which is not clear to me, I felt some of that on Saturday. I was reminded of Sinatra’s “Saturday Night is the Loneliest Night of the Year.” (Although I couldn’t remember the words when I tried to dredge it out of my memory.)

I could have gone out and found a friend to dine with. I thought of it, and asked a friend of mine if she’d like to have dinner. She said that ordinarily she would but she’s “afraid to be inside.” In a public place. End of story; no solution.

After that I decided to make my own dinner and cleaned out the refrigerator, and was glad to have stayed in. My social life is mainly sharing lunch or mainly dinner with friends and associates. It is a pleasure to share dinner with friends with whom you can relax and even have a good time. But before the lockdown last March, there was more than enough demands on my “social” time. And it always assured something of interest. New York can do that.

Looking north along an empty Park Avenue from 53rd Street on Sunday morning.

But since last mid-March, as it has been with most of us, it’s been me and the dogs. Actually their requirements (feeding, walking) is an excellent responsibility for those who are solo; a built in reminder that we are not the center of the world. Not to mention the inner joy they evoke in us. Children have that capability too. Walking the dogs also gives this observer opportunity to watch the progress of both the children and the dogs. It’s also good for an expected laugh at the personalities of both in action.

I mention this business of solace because I know it is having an effect on everyone in one way or another. And it’s at best uncomfortable;  but for many of us it’s a burden that is often quietly cloying. The natural thought is: get on with it. But the reality can nip that one in the bud.

This all comes from the hindsight presented also over the weekend. We received an email from our friend Louis Bofferding, an antiquarian and antiques dealer here in New York.  

I am neither an antiquarian nor a possessor, nor will I ever be.  Louis, however, is one of those guys who is deeply a collector as well as a dealer. Occasionally he sends out a message about his “new inventory offerings.” Again, my interest is just this side of peripheral, but among the pieces in his latest inventory is an Art Deco Tiffany desk set which had been owned by Oatsie Charles. If you don’t know whom I’m referring to, we ran a piece on her several months ago with photographs by one of her grandsons.

Oatsie at The Whim, as photographed by her grandson Nicholas Mele in 2012.

The actual Desk set (1930s) is sterling silver, Porto marble and leather. Its provenance was solely Philip Green Gossler, New York; and Marion “Oatsie” Charles, Newport, R.I. and the price, $10,000.

But the story, which is how you can always get DPC’s curiosity, was (I’m beginning by quoting Louis’ inventory offering):  

“On March 14, 1938, Mrs. Georgia Whiting Saffold Oates – a former Southern belle and a recent divorcee – plighted her troth with Mr. Philip Green Gossler then on his third marriage. If he was, as they used to say, ‘a caution,’ he was also a man of substance. A utilities magnate, he was  ‘one of fifty-nine men who ruled America,’ according to his 1945 obituary in The New York Times.” 

The Tiffany & Company Desk set.

The Tiffany desk set was his. His initials — P.G.G. — are engraved in several places. He was a kid from Columbia, PA who went to local university, studied electrical engineering (at Columbia) and eventually rose through the ranks of Columbia Gas & Electric, becoming chairman. Under his leadership, through mergers and acquisitions, Mr. Gossler turned it into one of the largest utility cartels in the world with 34 companies in eight states.

Oatsie, circa 1940.

Mr. Gossler evidently remained in his third marriage until his death in 1945. They lived in a townhouse on 65th Street just off Fifth. In 1938, Mr. Gossler gave his beautiful stepdaughter Marion an “extravagant” coming out party at the townhouse and the St. Regis Roof supper dance that followed.

Marion was already referred to as Oatsie — a name that a fellow debutante Brenda Frazier dubbed her. Evidently, she was one of those who could, like her stepfather, be referred to as a “caution,” painting her fingernails black which reflected her “black moods.” Her friends referred to her as “Black Marion.”

However the black part, Marion married first to a man named Thomas Leiter who was a Marshall Field heir whom she divorced after a few years, and remarried Robert H. Charles an aeronautic executive who became Assistant Secretary of the Air Force under Robert McNamara, Secretary of Defense in the Kennedy Administration.

That appointment was a bonanza for his very social and sociable wife who became Washington, D.C.’s most celebrated hostess (back in the day when they had hostesses who entertained). Oatsie “hung out the ham” for the likes of Jack and Jackie Kennedy, Ian Fleming, Truman Capote, Gore Vidal, Deeda Blair and many other of that ilk and fame.

Oatsie in 2012.

The desk set somehow ended up in the possession of Marion who never really liked her stepfather (to put it mildly). Louis Bofferding says that she kept the desk set because it was so beautiful. 

Oatsie died two years ago at 99. Her reputation was known far and wide by the social sets both Washington, Newport, here in New York and across the world. Aside from her possessions, she herself was, as Louis Bofferding describes the once proud possessor, “Fashionable to the bitter end, she enchanted, impressed, and intimidated more than a few.” According to her grandson who took the photos for our piece on New York and greatly admired his grandmother, “Most children were terrified of her — so were most adults.”

By the time I got to Louis’ inventory — which we’ll make available to you as soon as we can get his approval — the gritty, lone weekend described above had faded into vague memory. And alas, I’m tired enough to turn in as soon as this Diary is on its way to you, dear reader.

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