A Bit of Old Rome on the Hudson Unearthed at Greystone

by Barrett Seaman 

 Saturninus’s cippus

Saturninus’s cippus at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Saturninus, the freed slave who rose to be a senior tax collector for the Roman Emperor Claudius, would surely have been surprised at the ride his tombstone took after his passing in the mid-first century AD. Commissioned as the receptacle for his ashes by his wife Flavia, the monument—or “cippus”—was impressive enough to eventually earn a spot in the art collection of the fabulously wealthy Borghese family, to be kept in their eponymous Roman villa until 1893. That year, it was purchased by the widow of the fabulously wealthy American Josiah Macy, partner of (the fabulously wealthy) John D. Rockefeller, founder of Standard Oil.

Widow Macy displayed Saturninus’ cippus in “Greystone Castle,” the mansion left to her by her husband on a Hudson River hilltop near the border between Irvington and Tarrytown. Greystone Castle was itself part of a string of many similarly fabulous mansions built during the Gilded Age and known as “Millionaires’ Row.” Among these grand estates was Jay Gould’s Lyndhurst Castle (across Broadway) and the Rockefeller estate, Kykuit up the road in Pocantico Hills.

But then in 1976, Greystone Castle burnt to the ground, leaving only the parts made of stone (including Saturninus’ cippus) as scattered rubble.

There it remained until this past fall, when a construction crew working for developer Andy Todd literally hit upon it with an earthmover. With its bas-relief carving and neat Latin inscription, this was clearly more than a piece of stone masonry. But what exactly?

To find out, Todd did the obvious: he Googled it. One site led to another and eventually to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and its curator of Roman Art, Christopher Lightfoot. Naturally, Lightfoot turned to the CIL, or “Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum,” the bible of Latin antiquity, through which he was able to identify the piece and trace it from Villa Borghese up through its trans-Atlantic trip to Tarrytown.

Todd and his crew, meanwhile, returned to their digging: part of a grand plan to recreate the Gilded Age feeling in 21 homes, built on two-to-five acre sites and selling for $4 million to $15 million each. In an effort to revive the look and feel of the Gilded Age, Todd is calling the complex “Greystone on Hudson.”

A view from the side.

A view from the side.

Three of the 21 have already sold. The house going up on the original site of Greystone Castle, with a current address of Six Carriage Trail, is priced at $12,988,800 (let’s say $13 million with closing costs). When completed later this year, it will feature nine bedrooms, 11 full baths, two kitchens, two laundry rooms and an indoor basketball court—all tucked into 18,359 square feet of finished floor space. “All of the architecture is based on Gilded Age architecture,” said Todd, while also noting modern features, like geothermal temperature control, “smart” home technology and the basketball court.

Saturninus will not be there to bask in all this, however. Todd has loaned the cippus to Christopher Lightfoot’s collection of Roman antiquities at the Metropolitan Museum, where thousands of visitors will get to see it over the next three years.

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