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. He was also the son of the wealthy mining engineer, John Hays Hammond Sr.
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 Hammond used the castle to house his artifacts from around the world, he treated the castle as more of a home than a museum, according to a 1988 article in the New York Times:
“Mr. Hammond considered his castle primarily a home to be lived in. His cats scratched the collection of Spanish leather dining room chairs, the salt air has damaged his late Gothic tapestries, and the dankness of the stone castle has taken a toll on his collection of sheet music. ‘It was a living museum,’ Mr. Pettibone [the museum curator] said. ‘He lived here. He sat on the furniture.”’
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, according to an article in the Schenectady Gazette:
“In the move to the patio, Hammond wanted his guests to feel as if they were leaving a church and entering a medieval village square. The doors to the Great Hall are those of a church; the walls of the patio are made from the facades of 13th century French tradesman dwellings. These buildings surround the garden and the pool. The pool, 8 1/2 feet deep, was made to look as though it were only two feet deep by using a special dye developed by Hammond. Guests, thinking the pool to be shallow, would gasp in horror as he dove from the second-floor balcony. There is also a rainmaking system, used to water the plants with a mist or downpour, in this room, where Hammond also kept most of his tombstone collection.”
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.
Hammond collected these artifacts and pieces of buildings while traveling around the world and decided to preserve and recreate them because he felt that walking through historic buildings was the best way to appreciate history, according to an unpublished letter he wrote in 1929 that is now located on the Hammond Castle website:
“For the last three years I motored many miles through Europe. After traveling all day, I would arrive at my destination to see a church, a cathedral, a town hall, a scrap of Roman wall or viaduct, a colosseum or an ancient theatre. It was always a piece of architecture that suddenly dissipated the obscurity of time and brought the living presence back of all ages. It is in the stones and wood that the personal record of man comes down to us. We call it atmosphere, this indescribable something that still haunts old monuments. You can read history, you can visit a hundred museums containing their handiwork, but nothing can reincarnate their spirit except to walk through rooms in which they have lived and through the scenes that were the background of their lives. It is a marvelous thing, this expression of human ideals in walls and windows.”
Hammond not only lived at the castle but also worked there and from the grounds of the castle he would test out his radio-controlled boats in 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.
Hammond was a renowned animal lover with a number of pet Siamese cats. According to an article in the Gloucester Times, whenever one of his beloved cats passed away, he would place the cat in a jar of formaldehyde and drive around Gloucester in a one-car funeral procession:
“‘He drove some people on Cape Ann crazy when he would hold his own funeral processions for his cats,’ he [Hammond biographer John Dandola] said. ‘The cat in a formaldehyde jar would be driven with the headlights on at a funeral pace all around Cape Ann, tying up traffic.'”
When Hammond died in 1965, he 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 in a steel casket in a mausoleum on the property, along with three of his Siamese cats still preserved in jars, but his body was removed in 2008 and reburied in the outdoor courtyard of the castle after several vandals broke into the mausoleum and stole the cats. After his body was moved, the section of land where the mausoleum was located was then 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. The castle receives thousands of visitors a year and has been featured on television shows such as Syfy’s Ghost Hunters and Travel Channel’s Castle Secrets & Legends.
Hammond Castle is located at 80 Hesperus Ave, Gloucester, MA.
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.johndandola.com/GloucesterDailyTimes2.html
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 Man’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