So, as I mentioned today I visited Hammond Castle, created by a man named John Hammond. The Wikipedia tells me that Mr. Hammond was the inventor of the remote control and that he got his first fortune the old fashioned way — he inherited it. Well, Mr. Hammond also turned out to be a pretty decent inventor. Without him, I’d have to walk six feet right now and turn the Roku box back on and then sit back down and keep writing this entry. For that, I thank you Mr. Hammond.
Now, let’s talk about his home and laboratory at Hammond Castle, where the aforementioned Renaissance Faire I attended was held today. I love visiting old houses and America is full of these half European concoctions created by wealthy Gilded Age millionaires. I once visited a home called Lyndhurst in Westchester that was full of just rooms ripped out of the homes of European aristocrats for dimes and put into the house, created by another insanely rich man named Jay Gould, a railroad scoundrel robber baron from the Gilded Age.
Hammond Castle kind of reminded me of Lyndhurt, but it was much, much, much weirder. I was expecting this stately home with all of these giant rooms, in the same style as Breakers or Marble House in Newport, but Hammond Castle wasn’t like that at all. You walked into something that looked like a chapel, that was then attached to a Venetian palazzo like courtyard where it was that it was said Mr. Hammond had once made it rain. That courtyard on one side had a Gothic entry and on the other side (no joke) a life sized nude statue of Mr. Hammond portrayed as a Roman (or Greek) god.
No, no, no, we are so not done yet. There were several staircases that were narrow enough to fit one human that lead you around to all sorts of tiny rooms. One room was circular library full of false doors and another was a red bedroom with an authentic, gothic mattress filled with horse hair (or something) that when you touched was as a hard as a rock. Oh and that room (according to our EXTREMELY COLORFUL) tour guide was a place where 12 ghosts had been found by a ghost hunting show.
God love you John Hammond. God love you and your weird house:
One thought on “Ah, To Be Young and Rich and Completely Insane”
Great photos, thank you! (And of course there’s one of a visitor sitting on roped off the “do not sit here” bed. Your father? 🙂
Hammond may have “ripped out” parts of the interiors of aristocratic houses in Europe, but the owners of those buildings were usually complicit in the “ripping”. In England, for example, many stately aristocratic country houses were demolished by the owners (who lived elsewhere) to avoid the taxes on them. Beautiful homes were likewise torn down in the US 100 years ago (in one case, a 300 year old New England house, because a state decided to run a highway through it) and major museums in purchased room interiors, thereby preserving them. Some of the purchases though have histories that suggest fraud. For example, William Randolph Hearst bought (among other things) an entire medieval Spanish monastery (without approval of the Spanish government), which was dismantled and snuck out of Spain (go figure). He grafted it onto one of his homes, and the monastic chapel became the room that housed his swimming pool. Many American “robber barons” snapped up medieval ruins in Europe illegally right after WW1 in the same way. I have no idea if Hammond did this too, but can find nothing to suggest that his purchases of room interiors and building facades weren’t legitimate.
I love Hammond Castle precisely because of its quirkiness – a small room here connected by a twisting stair that leads to a gothic hall, etc. As it was built to be a home, not a museum, it reflects the passion that he and his wife had for European antiques and architecture. Its eccentricities are charming. On my last visit years ago, when the Archdiocese of Boston still owned the place, I was disappointed by a demonstration of the pipe organ (over 8,000 pipes and one of the largest in the world) where – instead of playing something from the middle ages or the renaissance – the organist played a snappy show tune. gag. Mr. Hammond invented certain parts for pipe organs but had no connection to the Hammond Organ Co. In one room, centuries old leather chairs were covered with scratches left by Hammond’s siamese cats. He tolerated it, another Hammond eccentricity.
Have you been to Beauport House in Gloucester? It isn’t as grand as the castle but can also be a lot of fun to visit. The builder, a Mr. Sleeper, decorated each room in a different period style.