The Swan Bed is the most iconic piece of furniture in the Dollanganger Saga, its vivid description mesmeries readers and its often been wondered if such a bed existed …….
Well, although not quite as elaborate, it does not contain a ruby red eye nor a miniature version of itself, there is such a bed in existence, located in the bedroom of a grand mansion called Maymont, in Richmond, Virginia.
Maymont is an elaborate victorian mansion with a 100 acre estate of the gilded age originally owned by Major James H. Dooley, a wealthy Richmond lawyer and philanthropist, and his wife, Sarah (Sallie ) nee O’May.
The couple lived in the mansion from 1893 until their deaths in 1912 and 1925 respectively.
It is in Sarah’ s bedroom , this unique bed can be found and it is said she had a fondness for swans which inspired the name of their second home , Swannoa high atop Acton Mountain.
So, who was Sarah Dooley ? A lady of some breeding it transpires ….
“A descendant of several old Virginia families, Sarah (“Sallie”) O. May, the eighth of nine children, was born on July 23, 1846, in Lunenburg County at Locust Grove, the plantation of her mother’s parents, Peter and Sally Bacon Jones. Her father, Dr. Henry May, was born in Petersburg and was a descendant of Nathaniel Harrison of Brandon Plantation and Sir Edward Digges, one of the early royal governors of the colony (1655-58). Her mother, Julia Jones, died when she was no more than seven years old. Thereafter, she spent lengthy visits with her older, married sisters who resided in Staunton, Virginia. She married the promising young attorney James Dooley in 1869, and they began their life together in Richmond.
In 1886, the Dooleys acquired a tract of farmland along the James River. The childless couple, both in their forties, set about the transformation of the property. Soon it was recognized as a showplace that rivaled any of the new estates that were springing up throughout the country. Mrs. Dooley was an avid student of horticulture, and took an active role in planning Maymont’s gardens and overseeing their maintenance.
Sallie Dooley was also a writer, and her poetry and stories express both her passion for gardens and her love of the rural, antebellum world of her childhood. Her book, “Dem Good Ole Times,” published by Doubleday, Page and Co. in 1906 (second printing, 1916), is a collection of reflections and stories told from the perspective a former slave. In the local color tradition of 19th century fiction, the book is written in the black dialect of Southside Virginia that Mrs. Dooley knew from her childhood in Lunenburg County. Her book is an example of the romanticized literature of the Lost Cause.
In 1892, Mrs. Dooley became the founding regent of Virginia’s first chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, the Old Dominion Chapter. She was also a charter member of the Society of the Colonial Dames in the State of Virginia, a member of the Order of the Crown (Americans of royal descent), and a supporter of the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities and the Virginia Historical Society. Mrs. Dooley and her husband hosted lavish parties, several attended by hundreds of guests and catered by a New York firm. As prominent members of the community, the Dooleys took part in the important social gatherings of the city.
Sallie Dooley died at her summer home, Swannanoa, on September 5, 1925 at the age of 79. Her will included several sizable bequests: $500,000 to the Crippled Children’s Hospital, $500,000 to the Richmond Public Library and $250,000 to the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia. She designated that her jewels be sold to benefit Episcopal missions. As recommended by her husband, she left Maymont to the City of Richmond to be used as a public park and museum. It opened to the public in March 1926”
Source: The Official Maymont Website
So, a woman of some standing in Virginia society , who slept in a swan bed and married an up and coming lawyer … sound rather familiar ?
But it is her second home that really sparks an interest and shows off Mrs Dooleys extravagant taste …. Swannanoa on the top of Acton Mountain.
An italian renaissance style property built in 1912 apparently on the spot the Dooleys would picnic on their honeymoon – It is located on the crest of the Blue Ridge mountains, overlooking both Shenandoah and Rockfish valleys.
Even more elaborate than Maymont if possible, it contains tiffany stained glass windows of Sarah s image – a tribute of her husbands love .
These pictures show just how grand yet tastefully decorated Swannanoa was – Mrs Dooleys touch perhaps ?
Both mansions are famous in Virginia , Maymont now being a park and museum whilst Swannanoa has sadly fallen into disrepair.
But im thinking these mansions , Mrs Dooleys extravagant taste and that swan bed more than likely served as real life inspiration for Virginia when writing the swan bed and Corrines tastes in furnishings… even her personal story of marrying an up and coming lawyer has Corrine written all over it ……