NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) — Alexandra Aldrich — a descendant of America’s first multi-millionaire, John Jacob Astor — is the author of a book called “Astor Orphan” and writes about generations later how keeping up appearances meant more than food.
Aldrich grew up in a 43-room crumbling mansion called Rokeby in the Hudson Valley. Behind the walls, a Bohemian lifestyle filled with poverty, alcoholism and delusion.
“The history was overwhelming, the family’s main mission to me seemed to have been to preserve the history because if they lost it in some way it would impinge on their identities as descendants of the Astors,” Aldrich said.
“I was part of the poorer branch of the family, we indeed were very poor when I was a child so I was stuck between being this child of an aristocratic family on the one hand with very high standards, highly cultured, everyone around me was highly educated.
“On the other hand, we hardly had food in the house, we had no heat, I wore thrift shop clothing. So I was confused about who I was, very confused about who I was, I had memories of clear memories in my childhood but I could not see a big picture.
“I could not put it together and when I wrote the story, I was forced to find the narrative there to find what my childhood was about, what my life was growing up here. It took a really long time to figure that out.”
And the reason you wrote this book?
“In 2005, I was going through a divorce and for personal reasons I needed to return to Rokeby indefinitely. I was a single mother and I avoided returning to Rokeby.
“This was something I did not want to do because you felt trapped there as a kid and I was afraid it would absorb me the way it had adsorbed the adults in my life growing up. It’s all consuming.”
There are still nine owners of the estate and many different family members still live there.