The populists are up in arms today about Wall Street moguls awarding themselves huge bonuses, but a little international economic collapse has never really stopped America’s super-rich from living it up. Take the Great Depression. Things were getting pretty rough for the masses: New York’s Central Park had become a shantytown known as “forgotten man’s gulch” — a haunted place to be, especially in the depths of winter. But the city’s super-rich, their wealth largely insulated from the crisis, valiantly rose above the tide of misery to celebrate ever-more incandescent and insensitive parties.

The keynote Manhattan event was the so-called “Fête Moderne,” a fancy dress ball hosted by the Society of Beaux-Arts Architects on January 26, 1931. As America’s unemployed froze on late-night food… More…