PLAINFIELD, NJ - Amid the white leather gloves and sparkling crystals, Hillsborough author Rikki Lyn Hauss was signing copies of her book, "The Duchess of South Somerville" for visitors to Saturday's Tri-County History Fair at the Plainfield Public Library.
The glittery Art Deco-inspired display kicked off her new initiative, Operation ORCHID (Organized Reform Coalition to Honor the Intent of Doris) by welcoming the public's interest in the history of the Duke's properties in Hillsborough along Route 206 south.
As the youngest member of DORIS (Demolition of Residence is Senseless), Hauss has been heavily involved in the recent chapters of the Dukes' history as it has unfolded in New Jersey. James Buchanan 'Buck' Duke built his estate in Hillsborough more than 100 years ago as a place to call home in the countryside and as a sanctuary in nature to raise his only daughter Doris.
Back then, the estate featured a carefully-tended manipulated landscape, swans, white deer, and thousands of imported and meticulously-selected flora to paint the landscape into a biodiverse paradise, according to Hauss.
Doris grew up in her father's likeness and never grew tired of the property in New Jersey. She spent countless hours tending orchids and keeping an elaborate display of indoor gardens in her father's honor, which were all displayed for public guests and high-profile visitors like Imelda Marcos, Malcolm Forbes, Jacqueline Kennedy and others.
After the death of Doris Duke in 1993 following her life of riches and maintaining her father's businesses and assets, Duke's legacies of philanthropy, horticulture, arts, and more were left to the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, according to the author, a resident of Hillsborough.
The same foundation chose to demolish Duke's main residence at Duke Farms, but not before Hauss and her colleagues rose to the occasion.
Despite losing a 7-month long battle, the grass roots DORIS - Destruction of Residence is Senseless - left a permanent mark on the young author.
"Despite losing the house, there's not the sense of closure I expected. So I decided public relations would be best to find support and to encourage others to realize that neglect is just as dangerous to historic sites as imminent demolition. It's a trend that needs responding to," Hauss said.
Hauss was elated to share stories with fellow history buffs at the fair, offering glimpses into the past, anecdotes about the of the Dukes' and how they lived, how the estate has changed over the years, and how the community has reacted.
"This is what Operation ORCHID is all about. No matter what my guests talked about with me, the bigger picture was always obvious. They all wanted to know what was next and how to stay informed, Hauss explained. "ORCHID is all about staying engaged with the history as it is made and spreading the word about what can be done to save the remaining components of the estate.
The acronym Operation ORCHID was chosen to honor the Intentions of Doris, she added. Several alliances have already been formed with other like-minded individuals and organizations, including members of the Duke family and area residents who worked and lived on the 2,700-acre estate.
Hauss discussed the Trumbauer Abele greenhouses which are included on the list of theTop 10 Endangered Structures of the Year as designated by Preservation New Jersey and the conditions of the landscape design and other edifices across the grounds.
"It's all like a time capsule from eras bygone. That's how Doris wanted it, complete with her deer, exotic plants, and original artifacts," Hauss said. "If we can encourage incorporating those elements into an eco-friendly design, then we're on the right track."
In her classic style, Hauss explained that there are more chapters to this story.
She will be attending the Somerville History Walk on Oct. 14th and will also be hosting an Evening with the Author at Hillsborough Library on Dec. 11th, with other dates pending.
Books are available to purchase on-site and online at https://sites.google.com/site/theduchessbookstore/home.