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Hillwood Estate Museum and Gardens
(Photo by Todd Franson)
Even granting that she was a perfectionist, former staffers told Chung that Post didn't overburden them. Rather, she treated them with grace and respect, paying high wages, offering medical benefits and being predictable in both hours and demands. ''On the one hand, she was incredibly difficult to work for because she had very high standards,'' Chung was told. ''But it was also very easy to please her because she made it abundantly clear what those standards were; there was no mystery to that.'' From all accounts, an impressive woman -- especially so, given that Post, though she did have several husbands in her day, was also an independent woman in an era when a female head of household was uncommon.
Chung's insights into the working class at Hillwood factor into a new exhibit at the estate based on her informative new book, Living Artfully: At Home with Marjorie Merriweather Post. ''If you've been to Hillwood before,'' explains Chung, ''you've had the opportunity to appreciate [Post's] decorative arts collection, but you were not told the stories of the life at the house. So that Downton Abbey aspect had not been revealed until this time.'' Also new are glimpses into her other two estates -- through memorabilia and videos -- as well as special access tours, offering views of one of Hillwood's four fallout shelters, the movie-pavilion balcony with gorgeous film-projection booth and Post's personal massage room.