History of Hammond Castle

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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. Born in 1888 in San Francisco, Hammond was also the son of the wealthy mining engineer, John Hays Hammond Sr.

Hammond Castle, Gloucester, Mass

Hammond Castle, Gloucester, Mass

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.

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.

Skull believed to belong to one of Columbus' crew members, Hammond Castle, circa 2007. Photo Credit: Rebecca Brooks

Skull believed to belong to one of Columbus’ crew members, Hammond Castle, circa 2007. Photo Credit: Rebecca Brooks

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, known as Cape Ann granite, 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.”

Inner Courtyard and swimming pool, Hammond Castle, Gloucester, Mass. Photo Credit: Rebecca Brooks

Inner Courtyard and swimming pool, Hammond Castle, Gloucester, Mass. Photo Credit: Rebecca Brooks

According to the book, Massachusetts: A Guide to Unique Place, the patio courtyard facades actually date back to the 14th century and the church facade displays Roman artifacts:

“The walls surrounding the courtyard and pool are made of half-timbered shop facades from a fourteenth-century French village: a bakeshop,wine merchant, and butcher, complete with symbols for the illiterate. A church front holds Hammond’s collection of Roman tombstones set into the wall. There’s also a Renaissance dining room, along with Gothic and early American bedrooms.”

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.

Hammond also conducted many experiments at the castle, including telepathic experiments with a well-known psychic at the time, Eileen Garrett.

From 1951-1952, Hammond and Garrett worked together on a project about ESP, which was funded by the Parapsychology Foundation.

During the experiments, Hammond reportedly placed Garrett inside a Faraday cage, a cage designed to keep out electromagnetic waves, in the middle of the Great Hall of his castle in an attempt to determine whether ESP used electromagnetic frequencies as a carrier wave, according to the book Color Healing: Chromotherapy:

“Science was represented by a team of top-drawer electronics physicists, headed up by John Hays Hammond. Parapsychology’s representative was Eileen J. Garrett, president of the foundation. The scientists undertook to devise assemblies of electro-magnetic instruments under conditions that would rule out any possibility of ether-waved telepathic or emotionally-conveyed contact between Mrs. Garrett, as the clairvoyant, and the science team. She was placed in a series of three Faraday cages, one inside the other…A scientist was stationed inside the cages with her. A tape recorder was placed in the inner cage, another was set up outside. A quarter mile away, a random switch to turn on and off an electrical current was placed in a hidden location.”

At the conclusion of the experiments, Hammond determined that since Garrett could still communicate with the science team telepathically while still in the cage, via a series of ESP tests, it proved that ESP was not transmitted on electromagnetic frequencies.

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.

Great Hall, Hammond Castle, Gloucester, Mass. Photo Credit: Rebecca Brooks

Great Hall, Hammond Castle, Gloucester, Mass. Photo Credit: Rebecca Brooks

Some sources also state that Nikola Tesla, who was a close friend of Hammond’s after they met when Hammond was attending the Sheffield Scientific School of Yale University, reportedly lived at the castle when he began experiencing financial difficulties.

This appears to be just a rumor though, since the two scientists had a falling out before the castle was even built.

Hammond’s father, who was Tesla’s benefactor while he was the U.S. Ambassador to the Court of St. James in England, was the person who introduced his son and Tesla.

The meeting reportedly changed the young Hammond’s life and inspired him to follow in Tesla’s footsteps.

Although Tesla may have never visited the castle, Hammond and his wife did entertain many other celebrities at the castle, such as John D. Rockefeller, Cole Porter and Ethel and Lionel Barrymore, who staged readings of Shakespeare in the castle’s Great Hall.

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.

In 1970, a few scenes of the hit show Bewitched were filmed at Hammond Castle, and at the Fisherman Statue on Stacy Boulevard, for the episode titled “Darrin on a pedestal,” in which magically Darrin switches places with the famous statue.

In 1975, the Archdiocese of Boston decided to sell Hammond Castle, due to the enormous maintenance costs of the building, and organist Virgil Fox bought it 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.

If you want to learn about more castles in the area, check out the following article on castles in Massachusetts.

Hammond Castle:
Website: www.hammondcastle.org
Address: 80 Hesperus Ave, Gloucester, Mass
Hours: Spring (date varies) – September, Saturdays & Sundays from 10am-4pm
Special Events: The museum also holds a haunted house tour in October each year.

Hammond, Jr, John Hays. “Aero Radio Surveying and Mapping.” Popular Science, December 1919, books.google.com/books?id=OikDAAAAMBAJ&pg=PT147&dq=john+hays+hammond+jr&hl=en&sa=X&ei=wOgrVc7rLNOTNsf2gIgO&ved=0CEsQ6AEwCQ#v=onepage&q&f=false
Cassin, Jim. “Medieval Hammond Castle Offers Change of Pace, Many Surprises.” Schenectady Gazette, 29 Sept. 1988, news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1917&dat=19880923&id=LWItAAAAIBAJ&sjid=gogFAAAAIBAJ&pg=3614,6260704
McCarthy, Gail. ‘Father of Radio Control’ Reintered.” Gloucester Times, 24 Nov, 2008, www.johndandola.com/GloucesterDailyTimes2.html
“When a Man’s Home is Really His Castle.” NPR, 31 July. 2009, www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=111365770
“The Hammond Castle Recordings.” Organ Arts, www.organarts.com/legacy02/history.html
Driscoll, Annie. “Castle is Inventor’s Vision of the Past.” New York Times, The New York Times Company, 9 Oct. 1988, www.nytimes.com/1988/10/09/us/castle-is-inventor-s-vision-of-the-past.html
Smith, Bonnie Hurd. “A Man’s Home is His Castle.” North Shore Life Magazine, Volume 1, No. 1, northshore.lifemagsonline.com/articles/2010/mans-home-his-castle/
“Welcome to Hammond Castle.” Hammond Castle Museum, www.hammondcastle.org/common/index.php?com=HAMM&div=AA&nav=AA&page=A91
Belanger, Jeff. Weird Massachusetts: Your Travel Guide to Massachusetts’s Local Legends and Best Kept Secrets. Sterling Publishing Co, 2008
Rogers, Barbara Radcliffe. Massachusetts: A Guide to Unique Places. Globe Pequot Press, 1992
Seifer, Marc J. Wizard: The Life and Times of Nikola Tesla. Citadel Press, 1998
Color Healing: Chromotherapy. Health Research Books, 1996
Seifer, Marc. Transcending the Speed of Light: Consciousness, Quantum Physics, and the Fifth Dimension. Inner Tradition,  2008
Valone, Thomas. Harnessing the Wheelwork of Nature: Tesla’s Science of Energy. Adventures Unlimited Press, 2002

History of Hammond Castle

About Rebecca Beatrice Brooks

Rebecca Beatrice Brooks is the author and publisher of the History of Massachusetts Blog. Rebecca is a freelance journalist and history lover who got her start in journalism working for small-town newspapers in Massachusetts and New Hampshire after she graduated from the University of New Hampshire with a B.A. in journalism. Visit this site's About page to find out more about Rebecca.

5 thoughts on “History of Hammond Castle

  1. Mark Fleischer

    We stayed at a large motel on the water in Gloucester several times and went into town a few times.Regretfully we never heard about the castle but will visit it next time we go.I hope the ghosts will meet us there.

  2. Rebecca Beatrice Brooks

    Hi Mark, you definitely should check out the castle next time you’re in Gloucester. It’s beautiful and is full of so many amazing artifacts and antiques. I’ve been there many times since it opened as a museum in the 90s and I still love going back every chance I get.

  3. Brother dismas

    I am looking at these pictures and wonder if I am looking at Hammond Hall where the Brothers of St. John of God were. It had a secret hall and passageway but there was only a tower and not all the other things that make it like a castle. Am I looking at the right Hammond hall?

    1. Rebecca Beatrice Brooks

      That doesn’t sound familiar. It must be a different place. I don’t think Hammond was a part of St. John of God and the castle was never referred to as Hammond Hall.

  4. Laura Casey

    Visited Hammond Castle Oct. 1st and it was wonderful ! It was a misty, drizzly day but perfect to see the castle. Enjoyed the tour and stories told from our guide, Betsy. What an interesting home, museum and laboratory … not to mention the Hammonds !!!!!! I think I would have loved his fun, quirky style !!!! Well worth taking the time to see this piece of American history !!!! Thank you for preserving this amazing place ….. I enjoyed every moment… ( we stayed 2 1/2 hours and could have stayed longer if they were open !

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