A colorful public life that began on a chandelier

Eaton Brooks, the UNC sophomore whose drunken chandelier-swinging at a 1964 Hamptons house party  earned him a trip to court and attention in the national press, has been a longtime occupant of my  “Whatever happened to…” list.

This 1980 profile in Charlottesville’s Albemarle magazine answers that question in rich detail, at least up to his suicide three years later at age 40.

“Meet Eaton Brooks,” writes Mark MacNamara, “master raconteur and self-acclaimed ‘controversial’ criminal attorney, whose ‘flamboyance’ follows him like a caption after a bi-plane. He is a man whose public image arouses unusually visceral extremes of criticism and praise — even among people who hardly know him.”

Footnote: Hamptons house parties that lurch out of control didn’t end in 1964.


UNC soph gets into swing of Long Island society

” ‘Some Harvard gymnasts had been doing stunts,’ said Sophomore Eaton Brooks of the University of North Carolina, nervously fingering his smartly striped tie. ‘The gentleman from Harvard who was on the other gentleman’s shoulders was swinging the chandelier back and forth. I was up on the mantelpiece, watching people crawl on the rafters. One of the other boys up there swung to the floor on the chandelier, and about ten minutes later I guess I wanted to be a gymnast, too.’  That was when the chandelier collapsed and dumped Tarzan Brooks on the floor.

“Suffolk County [Long Island] Court House was hearing a repeat of one of society’s best late late shows: the house-wrecking escapade of some 65 young bloods after the Southampton coming-out party of Philadelphia Debutante Fernanda Wanamaker Wetherill. Seven veterans of the after-party brawl were charged with causing $6,000 in damage to a beach house Fernanda’s stepfather had rented to put up a bunch of the boys for the weekend.

“All seven were released because of legal technicalities and insufficient evidence — such as lack of proof that the chandelier had been damaged ‘consciously and deliberately with a wrongful intent.’

“Chandelier-swinger Brooks said he was ‘not ashamed of what I did,’ went on to explain. ‘We had been drinking for two straight days, with no sleep…. We weren’t the same people we are today. I agree that someone has a moral obligation about this damage, but I don’t know who is responsible for the atmosphere that caused what happened….’ ”

— From Time magazine, April 24, 1964