Rarely is one allowed such an intimate glimpse into the "high peaks" of a life so extraordinary and exciting as that of C. V. Whitney.
Scion of a distinguished family of great wealth, "Sonny" Whitney early displayed the zest for life and the adventurous spirit which have led him into a varied array of achievements remarkable even for the Whitney clan. A pilot in World War I and an AAF officer in World War II who was involved in such events as Iwo Jima and El Alamein, Whitney later, as assistant secretary of the air force, played a crucial role in ending the Berlin blockade. A sportsman with an absorbing love of the outdoors, Whitney has been a member of the Yale crew, captain of an international championship polo team, a hunter of note, and a Thoroughbred breeder whose stable has been a leading money winner.
An interest in art inherited from his mother has led Whitney to help develop and support galleries and museums such as the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Wyoming; his involvement in the entertainment world gave him a significant part in the production of the motion picture "Gone with the Wind." His other activities range from work as a "mucker" in a mine to ventures in finance, founding of the first ocean aquarium, Marineland, and world travel with enough adventures to fill another book.
High Peaksis a set of selected memoirs which will appeal to all who seek joy and adventure in living.
Front MatterFront Matter (pp. i-iv)
Table of ContentsTable of Contents (pp. v-vi)
ForewordForeword (pp. vii-viii)Holman Hamilton
On meeting Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney, one is impressed by the incredible youthfulness, the vitality of the man, and the vividness of his conversation. A vital, vivid spirit also characterizes much of “Sonny” Whitney’s writing. He recently worked two years on an autobiography of a more or less traditional sort. Ultimately “I abandoned it because I don’t live in the past,” he says, “and so I could not recall sufficient details for a conventional biography.”
Fortunately, he hit upon a new and far more satisfactory plan, concentrating on the “high peaks” of a varied career. This more selective method gave the...
PrefacePreface (pp. ix-xii)
1 From Ice Cream on Sundays to the Wild Blue Yonder1 From Ice Cream on Sundays to the Wild Blue Yonder (pp. 1-8)
My boyhood home was a glorious country estate of some thousand acres near Old Westbury, Long Island. It was a big red brick house situated on top of a hill, with rolling green pastures to the south and a wild forest to the north. Dominating the estate was a brick tower that stood two hundred feet high with a windmill on top, supplying us with water from a well in the sands below. We had a stable full of horses, a good-sized kennel, an outdoor tennis court and swimming pool, and an indoor gymnasium replete with bowling alley and squash...
2 Living It Up2 Living It Up (pp. 9-15)
I was midway through my career at Yale when the twenties exploded on the scene. I think it’s fair to say I was more than ready for them. The pace was fast and exciting and I was young, healthy, and nottoobogged down with serious thoughts.
My career at Yale pretty much followed the pattern of my career at Groton. Athletics first (this time rowing—and I made the varsity crew), studies second. I majored in anthropology, but the courses I enjoyed most were American and English literature. As a result of getting five of my compositions published in...
3 Viva Mexico!3 Viva Mexico! (pp. 16-24)
I can truthfully say that I made myself a millionaire by pyramiding an investment of $3,150. This of course was the American dream. And it started with my going out west, just as Horace Greeley had urged all young men to do.
After my European holiday, my father—true to his promise—shipped me west to work for the Metals Exploration Company in Comstock, Nevada. The company, which he owned, was reworking one of the great silver mines of that area that had been abandoned in the 1890s for lack of ore. But it seemed a prospector had recently discovered...
4 No More Regrets4 No More Regrets (pp. 25-32)
It seems incredible since, in a manner of speaking, I had been brought up with horses, that I didn’t see a horse race until I had been out of college for several years—1927, to be exact. Well, at least it was a big race—the best there is, the Kentucky Derby—and I arrived in style from New York in my father’s private Pullman car, the “Wanderer.” I recall, however, that I wasn’t overly impressed with my first sight of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, now one of my favorite spots in the world.
“We’re here, Mister Sonny,” said Randolph,...
5 The Chocolate Soldier5 The Chocolate Soldier (pp. 33-38)
I have had some thrilling experiences with my racehorses and perhaps the most exciting of my equestrian superstars was Equipoise. Because of his rich brown coat, he was known as the Chocolate Soldier.
He wasn’t a big horse but he had tremendous courage. Handicapped with one badly formed foot which often caused him excruciating pain, he nevertheless gave everything that was in him to win a race. Several times, in fact, he was disqualified for biting another horse in the neck when trying to pass him. Even my first meeting with Equipoise was dramatic. My dear father died in 1930,...
6 Gone with the Wind6 Gone with the Wind (pp. 39-46)
The 1930s were extremely busy years in my life. I was chairman of the board of directors of three major pioneering ventures, each of which I had founded: Pan American Airways, Hudson Bay Mining and Smelting Company, and Marineland of Florida.
I was now also busy with things artistic. I was a director of the Metropolitan Opera Company of New York, as well as a trustee of the American Museum of Natural History. And since I’ve always had more than a fair share of energy and stamina, I also found time to organize and captain the Old Westbury polo team...
7 Tournasol7 Tournasol (pp. 47-52)
Polo was in its heyday in the 1930s. When my father captained the first great American team to defeat the British in 1909, America became more polo-conscious than ever before. Then when my boyhood pal Tommy Hitchcock changed the game from one of tactical skill to one of speed, long hitting, and rough riding, polo became even more popular. So by the time the 1930s rolled around, well-bred ponies were bringing astronomical prices if they had the speed and endurance required on the polo field. To mount and train a championship team in those days required as much thought and...
8 A Night with a Sultan8 A Night with a Sultan (pp. 53-58)
Early in the 1930s, as chairman of the board of Pan American Airways, I made the first passenger flight across the mid-Pacific to China, for which I received the Order of Blue Jade, then that country’s highest decoration. In the late 1930s when Pan Am decided to conquer the vastness of the South Pacific islands, I was on this pioneer flight too, escorting a group of newsmen and dignitaries in a giant seaplane called the China Clipper, bound for New Zealand, Australia, Bali, Java, Borneo and the Philippines. And it promised to be a long trip. Today’s airplanes travel at...
9 Spearhead of the Eighth Army9 Spearhead of the Eighth Army (pp. 59-64)
How, in the dramatic year 1942, did a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Air Force (me), crouched down among some rocks on the desert of North Africa eating some vegetable stew, come to meet there none other than the commander-in-chief of the Eighth Army (the fabled General “Monty” Montgomery)? And wind up with an invitation to tea? But in wartime, I had already discovered, the least expected does occur.
You see, the day after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December, 1941, I, a World War I veteran, enlisted in the army air force. I was told that...
10 Serpent of the Nile10 Serpent of the Nile (pp. 65-73)
I wouldn’t blame anyone who reads this story for calling me a liar, but wars have their lighter sides, and truth can be stranger than fiction. So let me transport you to Cairo, Egypt, in the winter of 1942–43, at a time when World War II was in a critical stage.
I was a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Air Force and had just completed two months’ service at the front lines. Our air force units were attached to the British Eighth Army. From Alamein to Benghazi, our small American Desert Air Task Force had done its share...
11 Yankee Maid at Iwo Jima11 Yankee Maid at Iwo Jima (pp. 74-78)
In march, 1943, I was recalled from Africa to serve at headquarters in the Pentagon, where I was assigned to the Plans Division under General Kuter. In February, 1945, the American forces were closing in on Japan and the major assault was imminent. If successful, it was hoped that this would trigger the surrender of Japan and the end of World War II.
Jim Forrestal, our secretary of the navy and a personal friend, requested that I be appointed Army Air Force adviser to him and accompany him on the forthcoming invasion. The request was granted, and we departed on...
12 Taming of the Bear12 Taming of the Bear (pp. 79-84)
On june 17, 1973, theHerald-Leader, our Lexington, Kentucky, newspaper, carried the following U.P.I. message from Berlin, Germany: “On the 25th anniversary of the Soviet blockade of Berlin, the city anxiously looks ahead toward the role it will play now that the Communist threat appears to be ended. During the 320-day Blockade, which began June 19, 1948, West Berlin was called ‘the outpost of freedom.’”
As I read the above, I suddenly recalled the part I played in terminating that historic blockade of Berlin. The story has never been told. Here it is.
About thirty years ago, in 1948, I...
13 How Come Kentucky?13 How Come Kentucky? (pp. 85-90)
I have been asked a thousand times what made me finally decide to spend so much time on my farm in Kentucky when I used to visit it for a maximum of about ten days a year. The answer to this is interesting and dramatic.
I was riding high in the year 1958, because in January I had married the girl of my dreams, Marie Louise Hosford. She is better known today as Marylou, and to me, for some unknown reason, as Mary.
We had both suffered from unhappy marriages when we met in Scottsdale, Arizona. I was producing movies...
14 Buffalo Bill Cody14 Buffalo Bill Cody (pp. 91-96)
My mother, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, got involved with Buffalo Bill when the family took a trip on our private Pullman car, “Wanderer,” in the early 1920s, to see a bit of the Far West.
I knew the name Buffalo Bill because my greatest thrill as a young boy in New York City had been to go to the “Wild West Show” in Madison Square Garden. Colonel Cody, alias Buffalo Bill, Annie Oakley, real Indians, and cowboys from the plains put on such a show as we easterners had only dreamed of. I remember today one scene in the show where...
15 Whence Cometh My Help15 Whence Cometh My Help (pp. 97-102)
The outdoors has played a very important part in my life. I have had many exciting adventures in the outdoors, but here I am going to narrate the kind of experience which almost anyone can have in this amazing country of ours. If you live either in a city or in its suburb, you can take advantage of the wonderful opportunities which the more remote areas offer.
Kentucky prides itself in its system of state parks, which are situated within an hour to an hour-and-a-half drive from all its centers of population. This enables the working man to take his...
16 The Great Discovery16 The Great Discovery (pp. 103-106)
My golden years started when Mary and I were married in January, 1958. I am actually writing this story on our eighteenth wedding anniversary. We have led and are still leading an exciting life with business interests, civic affairs, the outdoors, colorful social events, and children to care for.
In the 1960s, while Mary was basically occupied with the loving care of five children, the frightening spectre of old age approaching came to haunt me. When you have been very active both physically and mentally all your life, the relentless symptoms of age, which do occur, tend to depress you....
17 The Sea around Us17 The Sea around Us (pp. 107-113)
The concept of Marineland occurred to Douglas Burden and me in the mid-1930s when, as trustees of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, we led a fierce battle against some of the old guard, in order to change the basic purposes of the museum.
These purposes had been to “collect, catalogue, and display.” We wanted these changed to “collect, display, and educate.” That word “educate” would lead to environmental study and man’s place in the scheme of natural history, hence, what is now termed “ecology.” We wanted to bring the museum to life and find a...
18 Royal Visit, 197418 Royal Visit, 1974 (pp. 114-120)
Loving the bluegrass country so much, I thought the one hundredth running of the Kentucky Derby in the spring of 1974 deserved something extra special, but I didn’t dream it might be a royal visit. The authorities chose Mary and me to entertain the Princess Margaret of England and her husband Lord Snowdon in our home. We had met the royal couple before, and, being the gifted hostess she is, Mary swung into action almost as soon as we had word that the royal couple would stay with us for four days.
Actually, I had met the princess twice before....
19 Rock Fever19 Rock Fever (pp. 121-125)
Every year every man wonders how to spend his vacation. It is true that Mary and I have four homes in the United States, but each of them has business connections, with an office nearby and telephones ringing. So some ten years ago we started looking for a hideaway where our little family could spend a few weeks together in peace and quiet.
About five years later we found the ideal place on the island of Mallorca in the Mediterranean Sea, nearly halfway between Spain and Africa. So we bought two and a half acres of land on a hillside...
EpilogueEpilogue (pp. 126-128)
The reader must have noticed that these stories omit the names of many people who have been part of the episodes. It was impossible to name them all in my short story format, so in almost all cases I decided to omit names. I hope my many friends and acquaintances will understand.
I also hope they will give a better picture of the American scene and the ways of the wealthy than is usually depicted in the news media, television and the movies. I am very proud to be an American. I am gratified to have taken an active part...
Back MatterBack Matter (pp. 129-129)