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Melania Trump takes Japan's first lady to Henry Flagler's Whitehall mansion on Palm Beach

Posted at 7:26 AM, Apr 18, 2018

PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — First lady Melania Trump might be one of the few not overly awed by a marble-bedecked and gold-plated Gilded Age mansion that she and her Japanese counterpart toured Wednesday.

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While President Donald Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe golfed at the president's nearby country club, their wives visited Whitehall, the 75-room, 100,000-square-foot (9,290-square meter) waterside retreat that oil and railroad tycoon Henry Flager built as a wedding present for his third wife, Mary Lily Kenan Flagler. The Flaglers wintered there beginning in 1902, and it is now the centerpiece of the Flagler Museum.

Arriving in a motorcade from Mar-a-Lago, the president's own gold-plated mansion 3 miles away, Melania Trump and Akie Abe were greeted by Flagler's great-grandson William Matthews, and museum Executive Director Erin Manning, who led them through a tour of the home, which historians say cost $4 million ($110 million today) to build.

Unlike their husbands, who have a jovial, golf buddy relationship, the first ladies smiled politely, quietly asked Manning questions and walked formally during the parts of their tour visible to the U.S. and Japanese press. Trump wore an emerald green dress and designer heels, while Abe wore a dark dress with a floral print. During the Abes' visit to Florida last year, the first ladies visited a Japanese garden. They did not address reporters Wednesday.

Manning showed the first ladies the private railroad car Henry Flagler used to travel his Florida East Coast Railway, the line that opened up South Florida as it stretched from Jacksonville to Key West. They were also shown the bicycle-powered white wicker carriages the Flaglers' guests used to traverse the grounds. Flagler also founded Standard Oil with John D. Rockefeller.

In the mansion's music room, they viewed a portrait of Mary Flagler wearing a long-pearl necklace that Manning says remains the most-expensive piece Tiffany has ever created. Standing beneath a domed ceiling decorated with a reproduction of Guido Reni's "Aurora" and statues of cherubs, Trump and Abe listened as a pipe organist performed Verdi.

Both first ladies have been closely watched in recent months. Melania Trump is dealing with reports that her husband may have cheated on her shortly after their 2005 marriage and the 2006 birth of their son, Barron. Japanese newspapers alleged last month that Akie Abe helped a political ally purchase land for a private school at a steep discount. The Akes have denied involvement.