History of Hammond Castle

Hammond Castle is a Medieval-style castle located in the fishing village of Gloucester. The castle was built between 1926 and 1929 by an eccentric American inventor named John Hays Hammond Jr.

Hammond, who was a protege of Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Edison, is known as the “Father of Radio Control” because of his groundbreaking work with radio waves. Hammond was the son of the wealthy mining engineer, John Hays Hammond Sr.

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Hammond Castle

Hammond built the castle, which resides on the edge of a cliff overlooking Gloucester harbor, to house his large collection of Roman, Medieval and Renaissance artifacts as well as his laboratory where he conducted many experiments. One of his prized possessions still on display in the castle is a human skull rumored to be from one of Christopher Columbus’ crew members.

Although the exterior of the castle is built from granite mined from the nearby hillsides, the windows, doorways and much of the interior of the structure are actual pieces of European castles, churches and buildings Hammond bought and shipped to the United States. The castle includes a drawbridge, several towers, a great hall, a library, laboratory and an inner and outer courtyard. Hammond also added some unique features to the structure such as an indoor pool that can be drained with a flip of a switch and filled with sea water, rooms with hidden doors, secret passageways, a library with a whispering ceiling and an inner courtyard that was once outfitted with special overhead pipes and wiring to simulate rain or twinkling stars. Another feature of the castle is Hammond’s large pipe organ that his friend, famed organist Virgil Fox, used to play during visits. Fox held many recording sessions at the castle in the 40s and 50s.

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John Hays Hammond Jr and Sr in 1922

From the grounds of the castle, Hammond used to maneuver radio-controlled boats through Gloucester harbor, terrorizing the local fishermen who thought the unmanned boats were ghost ships. It is also rumored that Hammond, who had a fascination with the occult, held many seances at the castle and filled his library with books about the occult.

According to an article in the Gloucester Times, Hammond was an animal lover with a number of pet Siamese cats. Whenever one of his beloved cats passed away, he would place the cat in a jar of formaldehyde and drive from his castle all throughout Gloucester in a one-car funeral procession, tying up traffic along the way.

Hammond died in 1965 and left the castle to the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston. The enormous maintenance costs of the building proved to be too much for the church, who decided to sell it in 1975 to Virgil Fox for the price of $68,000. Fox held annual concerts at the castle to pay for the maintenance of the building but eventually sold it when the concerts failed to generate enough money.

Several live-in caretakers of the property have claimed that the building is haunted, possibly by Hammond and his wife Irene, who died in 1959. Hammond was buried on the property, with three of his Siamese cats, still preserved in jars, in a mausoleum on a nearby section of land but his body was removed in 2008 and reburied in the outdoor courtyard of the castle after several vandals broke into the mausoleum in the 1980s and stole the cats. The section of land where the mausoleum was located was later sold to raise money for the castle’s maintenance costs.

The castle is now a museum that is open to the public from spring until autumn. The museum also hosts annual Halloween events as well as private weddings and functions.

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The back of Hammond Castle

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Back of Hammond Castle

The Great Hall at Hammond Castle

The inner courtyard and swimming pool

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The skull believed to belong to one of Columbus’ crew members

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The dining room at Hammond Castle

Sources:

Schenectady Gazette; Medieval Hammond Castle Offers Change of Pace, Many Surprises; Jim Cassin; Sept 23 1988: http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1917&dat=19880923&id=LWItAAAAIBAJ&sjid=gogFAAAAIBAJ&pg=3614,6260704

Gloucester Times; ‘Father of Radio Control’ Reintered; Gail McCarthy; November 24; 2008: http://www.gloucestertimes.com/local/x645314848/Father-of-radio-control-reintered

NPR: When a Man’s Home is Really His Castle: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=111365770

Organ Arts: The Hammond Castle Recordings: http://www.organarts.com/legacy02/history.html

New York Times; Castle is Inventor’s Vision of the Past; Annie Driscoll; October 1988: http://www.nytimes.com/1988/10/09/us/castle-is-inventor-s-vision-of-the-past.html

North Shore Life Magazine; A Mona’s Home is His Castle; Volume 1, No. 1; Bonnie Hurd Smith: http://northshore.lifemagsonline.com/articles/2010/mans-home-his-castle/

Gloucester Times; Essex County Chronicles: Region Boasts Some of the Strangest, As Well As Oldest,; Jim McAllister; August 20 2007: http://www.gloucestertimes.com/opinion/x645283792/Essex-County-Chronicles-Region-boasts-some-of-the-strangest-as-well-as-oldest-residences/print

Hammond Castle: http://www.hammondcastle.org/common/index.php?com=HAMM&div=AA&nav=AA&page=A91

“Weird Massachusetts: Your Travel Guide to Massachusetts’s Local Legends and Best Kept Secrets”; Jeff Belanger, Mark Moran, Mark Sceurman; 2008

When King Louis Philippe I Lived Above the Union Oyster House

Louis Philippe I was the King of France from 1830 to 1845, but spent over 20 years as an exiled prince after the outbreak of the French Revolution. In the fall of 1797, he briefly lived above what would later become the Union Oyster House restaurant in Boston.

Philippe’s exile began during the Reign of Terror in 1793, a time of chaotic violence during which many aristocrats were guillotined. Prince Philippe, who was serving as a colonel in the French army at the time, fled France in April of that year and traveled around the world extensively looking for work. His desertion and connection to General Charles Francois Dumouriez, who was suspected of treason, led to the arrest of the prince’s father, Louis Philippe II, Duke of Orleans, and his two brothers. While working as a teacher at a boarding school in Germany in November of that year, Philippe learned that his father had been guillotined. The prince’s brothers remained in prison but were later exiled to Philadelphia in the United States in 1796.

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Portrait of King Louis Philippe I

Philippe continued to travel around Europe, living in countries such as Switzerland and Finland before traveling to the United States in 1797 to join his brothers in Philadelphia. From Philadelphia they traveled to New York before making their way to Boston. The arrival of the princes in New England was announced in the Boston-based newspaper, The Columbian Centinel, on October 21st, 1797. On the day of the announcement, the princes attended the second launch of the U.S.S. Constitution and visited the future site of the Bunker Hill Monument to view a monument dedicated to to Dr. Joseph Warren, the patriot leader killed during the Battle of Bunker Hill in 1775.

Since they were supporters of the French revolution and the execution of their father was widely published in Boston, the princes were welcomed into Boston’s high society with open arms. During their time in Boston, Prince Philippe lived in a room above Capen’s Silks and Dry Goods Store, which is now the Union Oyster House restaurant, and taught French to the young ladies of Boston’s high society. It is not clear if his brothers lived with him or if they stayed elsewhere. The room is now called the Louis-Philippe room. During their stay, the princes also spent many evenings visiting notable members of Boston society such as H.G. Otis, General Henry Knox and Colonel Pickering.

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Union Oyster House in 1920

During their time in Boston, they also traveled to Maine. En route to Maine, traveling by covered wagon, the princes spent a few days in Newburyport and then journeyed on to Haverhill, traveling alongside the Merrimack river which Philippe praised as beautiful and declared “Earth has not anything to show more fair.” While on their trip to Maine, the princes stayed for a week at the Martin Farm, near Portsmouth, NH.

After staying in Boston for just a few months, the princes eventually returned to New York and continued to travel around the United States. They did not return to France until the abdication of Napoleon in 1815. Prince Philippe eventually became King of France in 1830 after King Charles X was overthrown. According to the book, “The Rise and Fall of Louis Philippe,” shortly after Philippe assumed the throne, flowers were sent to the Tuileries Palace in Paris from the garden at Martin Farm, which Prince Philippe replied to with an autographed letter.

Sources:

The Lonely Planet: Travel Book Author Finds France in Boston: http://www.lonelyplanet.com/travelblogs/523/18981/Travel+Book+Author+Finds+France+in+Boston?destId=362022

“The Rise and Fall of Louis Philippe” Benjamin Perley Poore; 1848

Boston Guide: French Culture in Boston http://www.bostonguide.com/articles/french%20culture%20in%20boston.aspx