Life, Love, Death: The Ballantines at Home in Newark
To help mark the City of Newark’s 350th anniversary, the Newark Museum has launched a new story line into the “House & Home” installation of the Museum’s 1885 National Historic Landmark Ballantine House.
Life, Love, Death: The Ballantines offers, by means of interactive touch screens, a closer look at four aspects of the Ballantine house and its family. The Ballantines were in many ways very much like other wealthy families of America’s Gilded Age (1865–1915), and they experienced their own joys and sorrows as any family does.
In a city like Newark, the source of the wealth that built a house is always important. With the Ballantine House, the source was beer. From the time Peter Ballantine moved his young family to Newark in 1840 to the time his sons built their own houses on Washington Park, beer brewing had become a powerful force in American industry. Millions of factory workers across the nation—many of them German and Irish—drank beer as much for its nourishment as for its alcohol. The Ballantines, with access to plenty of fresh water and an immigrant labor force, became the most powerful brewers in Newark. A touch screen in the Dining Room looks at the beer industry in Newark.
The house that Peter’s son, John, and John’s wife, Jeannette, built was the setting in which their children matured. In 1899 their daughter, Alice, was married in the house to a young Newark lawyer named Henry Young. A touch screen in the Reception Room explores Alice’s wedding and the social setting in which her marriage took place.
But not every story in the Ballantine House was happy. The two restored bedrooms upstairs tells a different kind of tale. Both John and Jeannette died in this house; John in 1895 and Jeannette in 1919. During this era, 82 percent of Americans died at home. Doctors visited the sick in their homes—especially if they were wealthy—and often the body was prepared for burial there. A touch screen in the Master Bedroom looks at death in America in more detail.
The one great tragedy in this house was the suicide of the Ballantines’ second son, Robert, in 1905. News of his death was reported in newspapers all over the United States, but the real reason behind it was never made public. A touch screen placed in Alice’s bedroom discusses Robert’s death and looks at the possibilities of what drove him to take his own life at the age of 35.
— Ulysses Grant Dietz, Chief Curator and Curator of Decorative Arts