Category Archives: Weekend Update!

Castle

Gillette’s Castle

Long before Benedict Cumberbatch, Actor William Gillette made famous the world of Sherlock Holmes through his theatrical depictions. Quite a bit different from King Camp Gillette, creator of the face shaving razor of fame, William Gillette built a weird-sauce castle in CT made of fieldstone and eccentricity.

Castle For years the external appearance of the castle turned me off. Frankly, it’s ugly. The fieldstone is quirky beyond my comfort level. Still, it’s considered a major CT tourist spot so I’ve had it on my list as something to see.

IT WAS AMAZING.

Honestly, the fieldstone facade was a major distraction from the real awesomeness: the beautifully carved wooden mechanisms that filled the house and the picturesque landscape spooning the Connecticut river.

All of the light switches, doors, door handles, etc were designed by Gillette and carved by his master woodworkers. No mechanism was duplicated, every one was unique and filled the house with a playful atmosphere. The tour guides were more than willing to demonstrate the operation of the mechanisms and the engineer in me loved it. Each new room had me on a scavenger hunt searching for clever mechanisms.

Unlike the external face of the castle most of the interior was wood, accented with stone set in colored grout. The attention to detail was obvious. Each component of the house had purpose from the uneven stonework of the chimney column (for planters) to the hanging decorative edging of the table designed as a playtoy for Gillette’s cats.

Main Hall

The Castle sits on a huge plot of land full of hiking trails. Gillette had a affinity for railroads so he built his own mini-railroad. The rails are mostly gone off the property but the retired rail passes make for wonderful trails including a train tunnel.

Tunnel

I strongly recommend checking out the castle if you’re in the area.

Storm King!

At the recommendation of Dr. Scott, Jen and I took Saturday to head east to New Windsor, NY to visit the sculpture garden Storm King. In addition to a ridiculously awesome estate name, this 550 acre garden located about an hour North of Manhattan sports over a hundred sculptures and stunningly beautiful vistas.

Menashe Kadishman, Suspended 1977

Menashe Kadishman, Suspended
1977

Jen and I got there around 11:30, had a small picnic at their picnic tables and then got to walking. Within the last three years or so the park started renting bicycles to make travel easier, but they are absurdly priced at $40/rental. The park will not allow you to bring your own bikes. I’m sure that this rule is to make sure that no one mars their lawns with thin tires – but to me it mostly seemed overprotective.

Mark Di Suvero  Mon Pere, 1973-75 Beethoven's Quartet, 2003 Pyramidian, 1987-98

Mark Di Suvero
Mon Pere, 1973-75
Beethoven’s Quartet, 2003
Pyramidian, 1987-98

While the large pieces were sprinkled across the landscape, most of the smaller sculptures were clustered around the centerpoint of the park: a beautiful little museum that housed a focal exhibit. The museum, being atop a hill, also provided what may have been the best views of the estate.

Columns

Perhaps the most exciting sculpture was Andy Goldsworthy’s Storm King Wall (1997-98). It was a five or so foot tall wall that wound its way in, out and around a row of trees then through a lake and up a hill.

StormkingWall

To me, the artfulness of the piece was its embrace of surplus. The effort required to build this piece makes my brain hurt.

Winding Wall

It took us about three hours to walk the landscape. The grounds were hardly flat, as I think you can tell from the pictures, so we were admittedly pretty tired after tromping around the landscape. They have a tram that anyone can hop on and hop off anytime, but we chose to walk since it was the perfect late summer day.

Mark Di Suvero - Jambalaya 2002-06

Mark Di Suvero – Jambalaya
2002-06

Alexander Calder - The Arch 1975

Alexander Calder – The Arch
1975

From central CT, its about 1h45m to Storm king – and well worth the trek. I would imagine that it would be particularly spectacular once the leaves start to change color. Try to get out there, it’s mega-fun. Thanks for the recommendation Dr. Scott!

Mansion the Fifth

Jen and my last stop on our Newport mansion tour was the Breakers. This was the summer home of Cornelius Vanderbilt and is the quintessential gilded age mansion. The house is INSANE. Pretty much every surface is gold, silver, or platinum.

The Breakers

One thing Jen and I enjoyed about all the houses were their kitchens. The breakers was designed to be fire proof since the first version of the home burned down. The kitchen is testimony to that with its cooktop that has no exposed fire. The parties were so huge at these places that the broth pots couldn’t be moved once they were filled – they were far too heavy. So instead they had spigots on the bottom of the pot. Awesome!

It helped that all the pots and pans were beautiful copper. Although I’d hate to have to be the staff person to have to polish those up every night.

Overall, I strongly recommend you go check out the mansions of Newport. Of those that we saw, the only one I think I’d pass on next time around was the Chateau sur Meh. The other four are must-sees.

Also, all this talk of mansions has me thinking of new house names. I know that my final house shall be called “The Keep”. But if I end up owning an intermediate home – it’ll need a name. Any recommendations?

Mansion the Fourth

The Elms, the next stop on our mansion tour, includes a conservatory. Soo cool. Ever since my trip to Baltimore I have wanted a palm house or a conservatory. I was extremely stoked to find that The Elms had one. It was decorated with classic white tile and ornamented with superfluous fountains and cherubs (aside: cherubs are a lot weirder if you refer to them as stone babies). Ferns and Palms cascade out of elaborate stone flower pots. The room looks like it would be the perfect escape from New England winters.

The Elms

The Elms also had a drawing room. And I learned that the name Drawing room actually comes from the word ‘Withdrawing’ – like relaxing. Stupid me always thought that people liked making sketches in drawing rooms.

The more you know!

Mansion the Third

Rosecliff was the third mansion on our list, and the only of the bunch that can still be used for functions.

This one features a massive ballroom and is far less of a house as much as a support structure for that single ballroom. In fact that main attraction has been featured in a number of movies for its abundant grandeur.

Rosecliff

The coolest part of the building in my eyes was the painting of the coffered ballroom ceiling. It was painted to imitate a Roman or Grecian courtyard. The center painting panel was a blue sky, and all around the edges of the room smaller paintings showed flower filled sconces at a perspective that would hint at them decorating the pillars of an ancient Athenian courtyard. It was a cool effect.

Unfortunately, outside of a staircase that would make a king feel at home, the rest of the home was pretty blah. Think Motel 6, except from the gilded age.

Mansion the Second

The second mansion that Jen and I visited on our recent trip to Newport was the Marble House. I think this one might have been my favorite.

MarbleHouse

The House was owned by Alva Vanderbilt, who sounds like she was a fiery feminist with an aggressive willingness to upturn the table of tradition. The house was amazing. The highlights included an extremely cozy ‘small’ library, his and her sitting rooms, an imposing dining room complete with 75lb chairs, and a bedroom covered in purple marble that looked like a truck filled with precious metals had crashed into a cotton candy factory.

Again, no pictures allowed inside – but if you’re going to Newport make sure to keep Marble House on your list.

Newport Mansions!

As celebration for the conclusion of my Ohio duties, Jen and I headed to Newport, RI this week for tours through some of the Newport Mansions. We bought passes for five of the mansions and visited them over the course of three days.

I’ll post a few pictures of the exteriors – unfortunately inside pictures are not allowed.

We started with the Chateau sur Mer, which was the largest of the mansions in the early history of Newport. As time went on, the owners of Chateau sur Mer sold property to persons who would ultimately build the mega-glorious mansions of Newport.

Chateau

After visiting the other mansions, Jen and I jokingly referred to this one Chateau sur Meh. Not nearly as large or impressive. But this one did come with a personal tour which was a bit more interactive than the audio tours of the other mansions.

To anyone visiting the mansions for the first time, I would strongly recommend seeing this one first.

Harriet Beecher Stowe House

Last weekend Jen and I visited the Harriet Beecher Stowe House on Farmington ave in Hartford. This neighborhood was the place to be in the 1880s – Mark Twain lived next door and the Hepburns (of the Katherine variety) were just down the street. Hartford at the time was the wealthiest city in America! (it has since fallen to one of the poorest cities in America – but let’s stay focused).

Stowe and her book, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, were a pretty big deal in the world of communicating racial equality. Stowe was represented at the museum as having a deep impact on American culture in the civil war years. I had not yet read her book, but this visit inspired me to snag it on my kindle.

So far so AMAZING.

The book is wonderful! Jen casually made a comment that compared Uncle Tom’s Cabin to Tom Sawyer, and I think I’d instinctively bundle them into the same group as well. However, while they are contemporary to one another and have a few similar themes, I think Uncle Tom’s Cabin soars above Finn and Sawyer. Then again, I read Huck and Tom when I was in middle school – an age when life tastes a bit like sour milk. Perhaps a reread is in order.

Stowe’s writing is so beautiful and refined! She has an incredible knack at switching between the raw conversation of the uneducated slaves and the rich deep descriptions of these characters’ actions and emotions. Her vocabulary is vast. My favorite three new words so far are:

portentous: bad things looming
impudent: disrespectful to someone
obstreperous: noisy, tough to control

One of my coworkers, a civil war buff, recommended I try Team of Rivals next which describes how Lincoln’s cabinet was originally chosen and how then ended up being part of Lincoln’s legacy.

Are you reading anything inspiring right now?