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Where Connecticut kept her ham

gillette castle

Field trip! This here’s Gillette Castle in East Haddam, Connecticut. I toured it yesterday. It is, I feel sure, the tackiest private home I have ever seen — which, when you recall that I grew up in Nashville, is impressive.

William Gillette (1853-1937) was an American stage actor. He wasn’t the first Sherlock Holmes but he was far and away the most famous of his day. He must have been tolerable good at it, or the American public tolerable easy-going, because the guide told us he cleared $200,000 in an era without income taxes, which would be something along the lines of a squillion dollars in 2007. I didn’t know stage actors made that kind of scratch. Hence this expensive, lumpen folly of 1919.

This isn’t a stone building. It’s made of iron girders and wooden members with stones stuck all over the outside of it. With cement. Stone doesn’t so much provide a structural element as an unstable crust. The ones on the ceiling of the entryway looked especially eager to break free and smite me.

gillette castle door

It looks less like a castle than the set of a dinner theater production of Bride of Frankenstein. ‘Bout right; Gillette had stage paraphernalia like curtain pulls and moving screens all over the place, and strategic mirrors so he could see people moving around and make dramatic entrances at them. This point was hammered home by a senile old coot in a deerstalker hat and briar pipe, who leapt out periodically and exclaimed, “huzzah! I’m a senile old coot playing William Gillette playing Sherlock Holmes!”

Gillette designed a lot of this himself. Like, his desk chair and the dining room table, which are on rails and slide back and forth, absurdly. And the ‘stained glass’ windows and light fixtures, which are often not made of stained glass at all, but hunks of regular glass painted bright colors and glued to stuff. Every once in a while, a chunk cuts loose and beans somebody. And check out the door locks, at right. He designed them. No two are alike; they’re hewn out of blocks of wood by a master carpenter using an adze. I’m not being rude — they really used an adze. See the adze marks?

He was a huge train buff, too. He had three miles of narrow-gauge railroad tracks snaking around the estate, with tunnels and bridges and stations. Albert Einstein was once a passenger. So was Calvin Coolidge. Ahhhh…picture that with me. The tracks are long gone now, alas.

Now, I enjoy a joke as much as the next mustelid. This place is pretty neat, in a glommy, make-believe way. If it had been built in the spirit of good fun — a sort of architectural costume jewelry — I wouldn’t be so snarky about it. But I have a bad feeling Gillette thought hisself some kind of Einsteinian sooper geeenius renaissance man and this, his stately country home. In his will, he declares how unhappy he will be if he returns from the dead to find his house has been sold to “some blithering saphead who had no conception of where he is or with what surrounded.”

As it turned out, he lost that bet. No other blithering saphead could be found who wanted the place, so the government bought it in 1943.





Comment from TattooedIntellectual
Time: September 3, 2007, 6:15 pm

Maybe he just a got a leeetle too far into the Sherlock character.

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: September 3, 2007, 6:20 pm

Heh. Catching up on my blogreading (when not visiting the spacious homes of ham actors, I’ve been doing housey things all weekend). The Dick List found some pages of the Ebonics manual for Cops that Houston police officer is in so much hot water over.

Yet more at TSG.

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: September 4, 2007, 7:59 am

Oh, dear lord. Faced with mounting juvenile delinquincy — basically, teenagers wilding in the streets — what does Britain do? Institutes parental fines and

Meanwhile, the Government also announced today that all secondary school children will have lessons in “happiness” and emotional wellbeing to help improve discipline in the classroom.

Mr Balls unveiled a £7 million-a-year initiative to expand lessons to older pupils following a successful pilot in primary schools.

The aptly named Mr Balls. (“Balls” being a Britticism for “bullshit”).

Comment from Gnus
Time: September 4, 2007, 11:01 am

Heh. Raised my BS meter for an instant there – the Children’s Secretary is named Ed Balls. How unfortunate.

Comment from Dawn
Time: September 4, 2007, 11:20 am

I am going to tell you about my strange dream. I know how annoying this is because my teenager subjects me to this kind of torture regularly. So stop reading right now if you are just going to roll your eyes – k.
My hubby had to wake up butt early this morning which always wakes me even though he tries to be quiet. I had one of those Alice in Wonderland dreams where you are half awake-half asleep.
Hillary Clinton built a ginormous (I know that’s not a real word) house on some shore line and the rock foundation was being eroded because the sand underneath was being washed away. She was desperately trying to save her house by backfilling it with concrete. The contractor let me sneak in the front door. I wanted to see what the inside of her house looked like. The front room looked like an upscale department store, multi level with a grand staircase but the bedrooms were tiny. Her bed was unmade? I got caught trying to find a place to hide in her room. (I didn’t want to hide in her closet, whatever that means.) As Mrs. Clinton was escorting me out I apologized and said I was just curious. She asked me why people hated her. I told her that I am a Republican and she murmered “I am a Republican” in a semi smarmy tone. I told her we aren’t so bad and that she just needed to stop hating us. I gave her the advice that she just needed to flirt a little bit? On my way out the back door I saw her sitting on a small couch with a UPS driver chatting. I mouthed “perfect” and she giggled.
Weird dream.

Comment from Muslihoon
Time: September 4, 2007, 12:14 pm

Dawn, you shall be the bane of humanity henceforth forever more, as Clinton starts hitting on anything with flowing blood.

O, how we shall remember the days when we could walk outside without fearing a smiling and flirting Clinton. For shame. (Well, all but her supposed husband, but I’m sure he would not like being cuckolded.)

Otherwise, interesting dream. What sort of sheets and towels and carpeting (as in, on the floors of her house) did she have?

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: September 4, 2007, 12:57 pm

Sometimes it’s obvious what causes dreams — I have certain kinds of dreams I tend to have when certain kinds of real life situations present themselves (sadly, they’re almost never insightful or helpful in any way). But mostly I think dreams are just random neurons firing.

What makes them powerful is that some of those neurons are emotional. So dreams are mashing together images and emotions in random ways.

Comment from porknbean
Time: September 4, 2007, 1:43 pm

Well, Dawn, you didn’t want to go into her ‘closet’ for obvious reasons. And the reference to sand could mean how you perceive her to be the shapeshifter that she is.

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