Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The History of Hammond Castle

Hammond castle
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.

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.

John Hays Hammond Jr and Sr
John Hays Hammond Jr and Sr in 1922
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.

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.

Hammond Castle
The back of Hammond Castle
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 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 back of Hammond Castle
The Great Hall of Hammond Castle
The inner courtyard and swimming pool


The skull believed to belong to one of Columbus' crew members
The dining room located off of the Great Hall
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

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