Tuesday, September 27, 2011

William Gillette's Castle - East Haddam, Connecticut

Gillette’s Castle is a most unusual home belonging to, and built by, a most accomplished and unusual man. He was William Gillette, one of the leading actors of American theater in the 19th and early 20th centuries. His most famous portrayal was as Sherlock Holmes, and for a generation, Mr. Gillette was Sherlock to the public.

He also added a few touches to Sherlock that we now associate with the character, but that did not come from the author of the original Sherlock Holmes stories, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

William Gillette, 1895.  Photo in the public domain.

It was William Gillette who gave Sherlock the deerstalker hat after an original Strand illustration. Gillette came up with the meerschaum pipe, changing Sherlock’s originally written straight pipe. He also came up with the exclamation, “Elementary” as in “This is elementary, my dear fellow…” which was changed in the first Sherlock Holmes movie to “Elementary, my dear Watson.”

Gillette’s creativity as a playwright, and actor, director, a producer, a stage manager also led to his inventing some stage special effects, and a few patents for such, and other gadgets like a time stamp.

View from the ferry landing below the Castle.

But his most unusual creation, and his most lasting presence, is to be found here in East Haddam, Connecticut, perched atop a hill overlooking the Connecticut River. Here he built is 184-acre estate. The stone had to be moved up the hill by a tramway he devised. It is a 24-room mansion he designed himself, completed in 1919.

With ultimate stagecraft, he created rooms with built-in couches, secret entrances, and no door exactly the same, but all crafted handsomely in oak and stone. It looks medieval, but is constructed and appointed with amazingly functional simplicity.

Outside on the extensive grounds among handsome walking trails is a narrow gauge railroad he built.

William Gillette was born in Hartford, a descendant of the founder of Hartford, Thomas Hooker. His last performance was at the Bushnell Theater, in Hartford, in 1936. He died in 1937, and the State of Connecticut purchased the property in 1943. Gillette’s wife had died before him, and they had no children.

For more on the Gillette Castle State Park, have a look at this website.

View from the Castle terrace looking westward.  You can see the other ferry landing on the opposite side of the river.

The view from the terrace looking southward down the Connecticut River.

Below are a couple of short clips on William Gillette. (Don’t forget to scroll down to the bottom of the page to pause the music so you can hear the videos.)

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Big E - West Springfield, Massachusetts

For those of you who can't get to West Springfield, Massachusetts for the Eastern States Exposition (the "Big E"), here's a quick trip around the fair.

The Big E, for those of you beyond New England, is a state fair in which all six New England states participate.  An iconic signature of the fair is the Avenue of States, where replicas of the original statehouse buildings of each state are popular attractions.  Inside, information, local food (see lobster, chowder, maple syrup, pies, etc) and manufactured products are on display and for sale. 

Think of it as a kind of Epcot Center for New England, where you can travel all the six states in an hour or two.

There is also Storrowton, of course, another permanent attraction on the fairgrounds with actual 19th century buildings restored and re-created here as a New England village.

The rest of the fair is food and livestock, prize-winning vegetables, handicrafts, artwork, cooking demonstrations, and miracle mops.  Try to get here if you can, the fair runs until October 2nd this year.

For more on the Big E, have a look at this previous post, and at the official website here.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

End of Summer - Wells and Ogunquit, Maine

The surf at Wells Beach, Maine, where only the scarcity of swimmers may indicate this is the end of summer.

King of all he surveys from a height of about nine or ten inches, this seagull may regret the end of summer, if only because he has fewer opportunities to mooch off beach-goers.

Down the road in Ogunquit, this single rosebud on The Marginal Way is more optimistic about plenty of summer left to come.

The Last Rose of Summer by Thomas Moore:

"'TIS the last rose of summer
Left blooming alone;
All her lovely companions
Are faded and gone;
No flower of her kindred,
No rosebud is nigh,
To reflect back her blushes,
To give sigh for sigh.

I'll not leave thee, thou lone one!
To pine on the stem;
Since the lovely are sleeping,
Go, sleep thou with them.
Thus kindly I scatter
Thy leaves o'er the bed,
Where thy mates of the garden
Lie scentless and dead.

So soon may I follow,
When friendships decay,
And from Loves shining circle
The gems drop away.
When true hearts lie withered
And fond ones are flown,
Oh! who would inhabit
This bleak world alone?"

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Summer beaches

The New England shoreline is not so firm or impregnable as these rocks around Westerly, Rhode Island would seem to indicate.  The shoreline is moving thing, that alters with each storm, sometimes a lot and sometimes only a little.

They know about such things over at Chatham, Massachusetts, where the sand bars dance with the ocean and the beach departs without so much as a goodbye.

Still, it seems that summer is eternal, even when it is gradually leaving us.  It will come back next year, and until then be stored in our memory, as will the beach, just as it was when we last saw it.