Living History Tour spotlights personal stories from Jekyll history

Feb. 1—The former superintendent of the Jekyll Island Club sat in a sunlit room inside Mistletoe Cottage waiting for his next audience.

After the trolley parked outside and tour participants gathered in the billiards room on the cottage's first floor, Ernest Grob cleared his throat and shared his story.

"I was just responding to a letter from the gentleman here regarding the rooms he's requested for his stay," said Grob, who lived from 1861 to 1947 and who was portrayed Saturday afternoon by Mark Horner, an interpreter for the Mosaic museum on Jekyll Island.

Grob is the first of several figures from Jekyll's Gilded Age period who will be highlighted during the new Living History Tour offered by the Mosaic.

The tour features a new figure monthly from Jekyll history. Interpreters at the Mosaic chose which people they wished to highlight and portray.

Emily Robertson, lead interpreter at the Mosaic, will portray one of the club's female members, Jean Struthers, in March in celebration of Women's History Month.

"She's a really cool figure in the club's history," Robertson said. "The club had some special privileges for women that were not commonplace in other clubs in this time. Women could hold their own membership separate from a husband or father, and they could participate in all the same activities."

Struthers took full advantage, Robertson said.

"She had an interesting perspective to share," she said.

The Living History Tour in February features Grob, the club superintendent for 42 years. He retired in 1930.

Tours start at the Mosaic, 100 Stable Road on Jekyll, and take participants on a trolley ride through the historic district with a stop at one of the 34 historic structures that make up the former Jekyll Island Club.

A tour guide shares the history of the club era during the ride, offering context and describing a world of opulence that existed on Jekyll in the early 20th century.

"In 1886, the first 53 members of the Jekyll Island Club bought the entire island for $125,000," Robertson said. "That's about $3.3 million today. These members represented the richest echelons of society of their time."

Some of the world's wealthiest spent their winter season on the island. Many resided in the 60 rooms of the Jekyll Island Club Hotel and others built cottages in which their families resided during their stay for the season.

Club members considered this an opportunity for a more "rustic" experience, Robertson said, but they still expected their lives to maintain a level of lavishness. A small army of club employees made that possible, and the hundreds on staff were overseen by Grob.

"Behind the scenes, these employees provided a Gilded Age resort experience for families with high expectations," Robertson said.

These were the maids, cooks, boat captains, chauffeurs and more.

The tour stopped Saturday at Mistletoe Cottage, where Grob waited to share his portion of the story.

"You will find me here at Mistletoe this afternoon because the owners of this house, Mr. and Mrs. Porter, are thinking about renting it out again this season," he said before walking the tour through several rooms in the cottage.

He shared some of the daily aspects of his job along with stories from the club's history, including history-making moments that Grob had a front row seat to.

"This is a special place," he said. "A unique place and time in history. I'm honored to do my part."

Tom Alexander, director of historic resources for the Jekyll Island Authority, said he and his staff hope to illustrate different facets of Jekyll's history and tell the stories of all types of people who lived on the island during this period. Grob represents members of the serving class.

The Living History Tour offers a new way to pull Jekyll visitors into the story, Alexander said.

"To some people, history can be boring," he said. "We think our story is important enough to tell, and we have to imagine new ways of getting it out to people to make it engaging."

Living History Tours will be offered Feb. 4, Feb. 18, March 11 and March 25. Tours will resume in August.

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