Census records from 1895 show that around 10 percent of the population in Newport was domestic servants. Tschirch said staff would have ‘‘kitchen ratchets,’’ parties in the kitchens of the different mansions, with food galore.
‘‘That’s where all the gossip was,’’ he said. ‘‘You think of a social summer resort, the stories the servants could tell about each other, the people in town, the fashion.’’
Much of the information has come from servants’ relatives who heard the Preservation Society wanted to hear from anyone who had lived or visited there, not just the owners. Tschirch said all kinds of family lore has surfaced, including a story about the cook, Mrs. Birch, whose finger was clawed by a lobster and had to be removed.
They’re still looking for more, he said.
‘‘The descendants,’’ Tschirch said, ‘‘are beginning to feel that these houses are part of their family histories, too.’’
If You Go...
THE ELMS SERVANT LIFE TOUR: Newport, R.I.; http://www.newportmansions.org/plan-your-visit/servant-life-tour . Tour schedule varies by season. Adults, $15; ages 6-17, $5.