Greetings everyone! Salutations. Hi. It’s me, Noah Barfield, eldest of the Nomad sons; please, hold the applause. I’m kidding, applause is welcome and appreciated. What sagely wisdom and advice have I come to depart upon thee this time, you might ask? The subject for today’s post shall be Gillette Castle! What exactly is Gillette Castle? Well, alright, you know those books by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle? The ones featuring a detective by the name of Sherlock Holmes? Well Gillette Castle is the home of William Gillette, the guy who helped bring the role of Sherlock Holmes to life on stage. You know the phrase, “Elementary, my dear Watson.”? Yeah, he started that.
I personally found William Gillette to be a very interesting person, and his castle reflects that. A sprawling stone structure that, at first, seems unorganized and haphazard. But as with Mr. Holmes, there is a method to the madness. When I say “sprawling”, I don’t mean it covers huge swaths of land as this giant, megalithic structure (though the house is 14,000 sq. ft.), but rather goes out in every which direction in this sort of haphazard, sprawling fashion.
I’m not sure if any of you have seen the 2006 animated children’s movie “Monster House”, but this castle distinctly reminds me of it. Windows and other openings all have overhangs, giving either the resemblance of eyebrows/eyelids or snarly crags of teeth. Ladders drop from the open, observatory-esque roof halfway down, failing to come near any windows or the ground. For all that though, it is actually quite a sight to behold, especially when in the fall, surrounded by the changing leaves, bright scarlet and orange giving stark contrast to the light grey stone of which the castle is built, all of the stone being taken from the surrounding area in Connecticut.
Of course, Gillette’s home, that probably does want to eat you, isn’t the only attraction on the 184-acre piece of property. Located on the southernmost of a chain of hills known as The Seven Sisters, there are walking trails, guided tours, and remnants of Gillette Castle’s own train tracks. Did I just say train tracks? Yes, I did. In addition to a small pavilion entitled “Grand Central Station” (Mr. Gillette was a lovably cheeky fellow, it seems), Gillette Castle had it’s own small train (which you can see, restored, in the museum) and tracks, which William would show off to visitors. Such visitors would be rumored to include presidents, fellow actors and actresses, and even a certain German scientist by the name of Albert Einstein. While the small train did not go very fast, there were many sharp turns and even a small, lightless tunnel, designed to give his guests a bit of a scare. The host of Gillette Castle must have been quite popular.
Speaking of which, I feel I should take a moment to talk a bit about Mr. Gillette. There is a small museum, free to all, that provides information and sheds light on this interesting character. I’ve already mentioned that William Gillette was the man who made Sherlock Holmes famous on stage; he actually played Sherlock 1,300 times over the course of 33 years. During that time, Gillette made the character his own, and left lasting impressions on all who watched his works.
Making many contributions of his own to the iconic mystery character, Gillette added such props as the pipe and iconic double-flapped deerstalker hat. In addition to portraying Sherlock Holmes, Gillette, during his 63-year long career, wrote 27 full length plays and a mystery novel. He pioneered realistic stage settings, lighting and effects, bringing realism to the stage in an era where melodrama (though looked down upon by many other countries) reigned. Conan Doyle thought that Gillette’s demeanor and attitude perfectly reflected that of his character; namely his quiet observance, and borderline rude personality.
However, looking at Gillette Castle, you wouldn’t see any of these traits. Walking the trails down to the beach, or among the forests and rocks on his property, you would be able to get a sense of where he got his quiet stage attitude from, surrounded by such serenity. I believe, however, that Gillette Castle clearly demonstrates the eclectic side of William Gillette; his “Why not?” attitude. Gillette builds a castle and is asked why. “Why not?” He builds his own personal train and tracks, and is questioned upon it. “Why not?” is the answer. When visiting Gillette Castle, you can sense his outside-the-norm attitude, and his spark of creativity can still be felt near the castle. If you’re searching for a reason to visit, channel Mr. Gillette for a moment and tell yourself, “Why not?”