October 6, 2018, East Haddam, Connecticut
After waking up later than I anticipated (again), I started my day out by googling “places to see in New England”. I scrolled down to one of the more popular results from Two Drifters that stated, “101 Things to Do in New England“. Going through the extended list, I realized I’d seen, or experienced, at least half of the places and events. Not bad.
After my perusal, I went back up to #80 Stop by ‘Sherlock Holmes’ Castle’. Two-hour distance to 67 River Road, Lyme, Connecticut. Although the property is also considered in the city of East Haddam. I’m gonna be honest though, as soon as I read CASTLE, I thought, yep, I’m in. Did not care about the details, but I did check what their hours were.
William Gillette, actor-manager, playwright, and popularly known as the first one-screen Sherlock Holmes, built this personal fortress between 1914 and 1919, with an addition completed in 1924. Initially intending to build a retirement home on Long Island, he came across East Haddam on the river in his houseboat, “Aunt Polly”, and he saw the cliffs. As you can see below with the view from the stone balcony, enough said.
Since the museum was, and currently is, closed for the season and the interior is currently under renovation, I’ll provide the breakdown of the place: 3 stories high with a tower, 24 rooms, 14,000 square feet, and the entire foundation, including the pathways surrounding the Seventh Sister and the woodlands. It’s constructed of wood, cement, and local Connecticut fieldstone, with a steel framework. And that’s just the outside.
It wasn’t until I came home and browsed Wikipedia, in which I found further information about the restricted areas. Apparently, the inside consisted of peculiarities designed by Gillette personally. Here are some of those features: 47 different doors with trick locks which made them more challenging to open, built-in couches, a movable table on tracks (like train tracks, people), a series of mirrors above the great hall so he could view visitors from his bedroom, a grand wooden staircase (naturally), and a secret door to a passageway intersecting the entire castle along with a private room containing a fireplace.
Shit. And the more I dove into the list of features, the more resentful I was that the place isn’t open to the public for the season. I mean look at this place! It was referred to as “Gillette’s Folly,” for God’s sake, noting its presence with comparisons as an “American fairy tale with European flair.” A medieval, Gothic fortress with trinkets and puzzles, thanks to a creative genius with an eye for detail and challenge.
I personally was enthralled by this stone house on a hill, not just because it’s a modern construction of an age-old, foreign practice on New England soil, but rather it is an up-close-and-personal reminder of a period that I’ve greatly researched for my book.
Gillette gave me an encounter to reflect; a depiction of a time when medieval life aspired to principles of war, knowledge, and chivalry. King Arthur was the pinnacle of all those ideals. Even though the real Arthur was a Romano-Briton during the Dark Ages, he was manifested into a pedestal-worthy position since the first conjured castle. And he only went higher as the Middle Ages continued.
For me writing about King Arthur is a challenge itself; especially when your focus lies on the roots of the legend rather than the hub-bub around it. Most people are content to see things at face-value rather than ask questions–spark curiosity–about how it all started. Whatever that “it” may be.
Every nook, cranny, and crevice molded with stone is like a word. With more words, spaces between them, every bracket for a new paragraph, and even a leap to a new chapter create a finished story. A completed stronghold. Yet the comprehension and the imagination–reading each word–is the interior of this castle. The story covered by binding that displays a synopsis of what lies inside.
Nitpick all you want; this was what I saw and you should too. Not only do you get a different perspective, but you also gain an incentive to go see this place for yourself rather than just read this.
Within an hour and a half, I trailed around the massive structure three times. Snapping pictures via iPhone, mostly by maneuvering angles on stone edging and foliage (even some railroad tracks Gillette specifically ingrained on his property), I finished scouring the exterior extensions. Those extensions incorporated many elements of entertainment and relaxation for this artist-architect and his frequent guests.
Additions were of the following I could see: a semi-circular balcony overlooking the river and lake houses; a condensed, dual-arched, foliage-covered station called his little “Grand Central Station” with 3 miles of tracks intersecting through it and the property; an archway made as a gateway to what I assume would have been an outdoor seating area with a fire pit and a little shed; all completely designed with local state stone, white oak, and cement.
The archway was my favorite. Instinctively, I thought this was a great inspiration for a gateway between worlds or time periods. When I called Ma on FaceTime and showed it to her, she said the same thing before I could utter the notion. But right now I have another place in mind for my book that’s used as a portal between time frames. The only hint is that it’s no more than fifty minutes away from the Castillo.
Anyway, after I hung up with Ma, I texted my photographer-slash-brewery coordinator best friend to see when they’d get off work. I had a surprise via video chat on Facebook Messenger to show. I got a gaping expression instantly when I switched the screen from selfie mode. Needless to say envy, mock jealousy, and pride spewed out when I became their eyes to the gravel, stone, and steel. Oh, and when I say pride I mean the photos I took from a novice photographer’s perspective.
It’s now a must-see for the next time they come up to visit.
Speaking of visitors, I found out right after that Sherlock actually had some esteemed guests of the early cinematic and breakthrough science eras such as Chaplin and Einstein. Pretty amazing I’d say. But that’s only one fascinating fact.
Here’s one more before I go: Gillette resided there from 1919 to 1937, then six years later the state of Connecticut took over the property, after purchasing it for a mere $5,000 when its entire construction estimated to a staggering 1.1 million dollars. *insert wide-eyed emoji*
But to be fair, you can’t put a price on history and mind-blowing creativity. You can try but you’ll never really know the substantial value, both monetarily and existentially.