"America's Imaginary Medieval Period"
August 1, 2009 6:00 AM   Subscribe

A few miles off of I-44, in an area which mostly shrubs, grasses, and a handful of trees, you can find an abandoned, just barely unfinished castle.

Outside the castle is a draw-well with a bucket. The well has a charming housing to it, with little fairy doors. The castle itself has small towers, of course, it wouldn't feel like a castle without them. The interior was never completed, so you could still see where they would insert beams for the second floor. Instead, it's this large, open space that the pigeons haven't quite exploited yet. The glassless openings for windows are a marvel. The greenhouse is more of a partially-enclosed courtyard, but it has old, dead trees inside of it, dry thick branches all jumbled up with one another. It's rather modest, as castles go, and would be a nightmare to keep warm on Missouri winter nights, but it is pleasant to think about during the spring.

Supposedly, a man had it built for his wife, a dancer, but they divorced before it had quite finished. I wonder how many castles go that way.
posted by adipocere at 7:01 AM on August 1, 2009

i heard this story yesterday also. It was fun, but they didn't mention any of the castles in austin, like pembroke castle, which was the "house" in "Blank Check" and out by longhorn caverns some guy made a castle for his wife called Falkenstien castle.
posted by djduckie at 7:14 AM on August 1, 2009

Can someone help me complete this simile: Radio about architecture is like dancing about _______
posted by Horace Rumpole at 7:20 AM on August 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

It seems to me that if you're setting out to build a castle in the U.S., you're building something with the ulterior motive of letting it fall into ruin. Why bother, otherwise?
posted by sonic meat machine at 7:20 AM on August 1, 2009

I think the analogy is constructed more correctly like this...
(sensory-restricted technology A) about (sensually-specific art B) is like (sensory-restricted technology C) about (sensually-specific art D).

So something like...
Radio about architecture is like IMing about dance.

posted by Hypnotic Chick at 7:43 AM on August 1, 2009

I remember hearing an interview with a guy who had built two or three castles. It might have been on This American Life.
posted by reenum at 7:46 AM on August 1, 2009

They left out Chateau Laroche on the banks of the Little Miami just outside of Cincinnati.
posted by Mick at 8:00 AM on August 1, 2009

Colorado lays home to Glen Eyrie (built by Colorado Springs founder, General William Palmer, for his English wife), and Bishop's Castle (a fascinating monstrosity that avoids building codes by calling it a "work of art").
posted by litterateur at 8:39 AM on August 1, 2009

It's really only a single tower, but the poet Robinson Jeffers built it with his own hands: Tor House in California. We will see it one day!
posted by amtho at 8:55 AM on August 1, 2009

I looked to see if this was in there. We used to play in it as a kid, since it was basically abandoned as far as I could tell.

I remember my parents asking me where I had been and telling them we were at the castle. They kind of looked at each other and said "Yeah sure. OK." This went on for weeks. Finally they said "OK, well show us." so I did. They were flabbergasted.
posted by lordrunningclam at 9:16 AM on August 1, 2009 [2 favorites]

Chuck Palahniuk wrote one of the few pieces I've ever read about American Castles. I can't find it online, but it's in this collection and worth a read.
posted by rhymer at 9:52 AM on August 1, 2009

rhymer, that's the piece I was referring to as well. Fascinating stuff.
posted by reenum at 10:10 AM on August 1, 2009

Put simply, castles are defensive structures.

These aren't castles. I don't know what they are - ugly vanity projects? - but the word castle doesn't apply.
posted by fire&wings at 10:36 AM on August 1, 2009

I think 'castle' definitely applies to these projects - as well as ugly vanity projects, of course. Walls and turrets are defensive structures. After the invention of the cannon and muskets and such, these defensive structures became obsolete- yet castles continued to be built and used long after that.
posted by Think_Long at 10:50 AM on August 1, 2009

I took the train from the Bay Area to LA for the '96 World Science Fiction Convention. I ran into a couple of British fans who were doing the same. As we were going through San Simeon, the conductor made an announcement about passing the Hearst Castle.

"I thought there were no castles in America," she said.

"It was a folly," he replied.
posted by Zed at 11:30 AM on August 1, 2009

I listened to this yesterday. They neglected to note that David Macaulay's castle (of Castle) doesn't actually exist. Also, while the other expert noted that castles usually have multiple rings of defense, the program kept talking about these buildings as castles even though they're frequently more properly described as keeps. (And, as others have noted, a lot of them aren't really even fortifications.)

The bit with the guy who was pretty clearly waiting for the apocalypse was pretty interesting, though.
posted by jiawen at 11:52 AM on August 1, 2009

Yeah, but if you say "keep" to people, they either reach for a well-worn set of orange dice or they think of a nearly forgotten Michael Mann flick. Both of which are close to my heart.

Now I want to go see that "castle" again and take some photos. I know they're spectacular wastes of money, but they're neat to look at, and part of the American fascination can be partially attributed to both our lack of long, long history and our cookie-cutter homes.
posted by adipocere at 12:17 PM on August 1, 2009

I was dissapointed in not seeing Boldt Castle here, which has a much more obviously "castle" look to it than some of those villa masions did. Plus, it's got the cool, tragic history of the owner stopping the construction when his wife died.
posted by saffry at 12:40 PM on August 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

I was always fascinated with Bannerman Castle/Arsenal when I'd take Metro-North past it. A freakin ruined castle in the middle of the Hudson river!
posted by Dr.Enormous at 2:01 PM on August 1, 2009

It may not be fortified but Nemours is surrounded by a big wall with broken glass on top. There are many local stories about why the wall has broken glass on it (most involving crazy duPonts), but I finally realized the truth when I was reading a book that mentioned WWII paratroopers landing in France having to beware of walls with broken glass. Nemours is modeled after a French country estate and French country estates had walls with broken glass on top.
posted by interplanetjanet at 2:07 PM on August 1, 2009

They forgot this one outside Lexington (it's technically in Versailles). It was abandoned for a long time, then renovated and opened as a hotel.
posted by dilettante at 2:16 PM on August 1, 2009

Huh, the Moldenke Castle link suggests that someone thought it was moved to Lake Havasu. They may have been thinking of this one, built 22 years later.

Googling about Moldenke also turned up this bit of WWI-era anti-German sentiment.
posted by dhartung at 2:29 PM on August 1, 2009

In my neck of the woods there's funky Wing's Castle, made entirely of salvaged materials. More on Flickr.
posted by swift at 4:26 PM on August 1, 2009

Thanks for the link, lordrunningclam. I burned way too much daylight running down info on the Royal Orchard castle nearby. It played a part in screwing with the Skyline Drive/Blue Ridge Parkway...
posted by maggieb at 5:11 PM on August 1, 2009

interplanetjanet, I suspect that the wall with glass on top is actually just a prosaically practical defense, akin to stringing barbed wire along the top of a cyclone fence. A burglar or trespasser will have to put a bit more effort into the climb if there are glass shards at the top.
posted by sonic meat machine at 8:06 PM on August 1, 2009

Ah, Boldt Castle! Thank you, Saffry--I knew there was a castle in the Thousand Islands, I just couldn't remember what it was called. As I recall, we visited there and the Kellogg mansion (of Kellogg cereal fame) on our 'USA/Canada 1000 Islands tour.'

I remember being really unimpressed with Boldt Castle because the exterior was beautiful and stunning and well-maintained, but the non-profit foundation that eventually took it over hadn't done anything with the interior, which was uber-boring for a teenager (especially compared to the beauty of the outside and the islands around it).

On the NPR list I was bummed to discover that there was a real live castle in the city where I went to college, and as I didn't know about it, I never visited. It seems like a lot of the castles in California were built in towns that once served as second home, vacation areas for the rich. A confluence of questionable taste and too much money leaves California with an interesting architectural legacy (at least, in the areas that deigned to keep them).
posted by librarylis at 8:18 PM on August 1, 2009

From the pictures, most seem like fancy houses that happen to have some marble pillars in the front. A few local castles. More recently Nichols Hall has installed metal covers with cables that add to the whole castle apperence.

There used to be a house in town that people called the castle house, but I can't find any reference to it on the net -- it might have been demolished. There's also this castle home, which I've never seen.
posted by pwnguin at 1:31 AM on August 2, 2009

I don't understand the fascination. There were lots of castles around where I grew up.
Sorry...I couldn't resist. It's a pretty cool topic, actually.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:47 AM on August 2, 2009

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