July 14, 2013

Hammond Castle: Psychics, Skulls, and Ghosts

Every July I get together with my friend Lori up on the North Shore. Sometimes we go to the beach, sometimes we explore some odd location. Last year we visited the Danvers State Hospital cemetery. This year the weather wasn't conducive for a beach trip, so instead we went to Hammond Castle in Gloucester.

Like all dramatic homes, Hammond Castle actually has a formal name: Abbadia Mare, which is Latin for Abbey by the Sea. The seaside castle was built in the late 1920s by the wealthy and eccentric inventor John Hammond as a wedding present for his wife Irene.

Hammond had over 800 patents in his name, and at one point held the second most patents of anyone in the United States after Thomas Edison. (I think he's now slid into third place.) Hammond invented radio remote control, earning him the title of "The Father of Remote Control", and at one point built a remote control yacht that traveled 120 miles with no crew.

Although he was very much a man of science, Hammond also had a strong fascination with the past. After visiting Europe, he decided to build the castle for his wife and also as a home for his collection of Medieval, Renaissance, and Classical art.

Hammond's wealth allowed him to not only indulge his taste in art, but also some of his other eccentricities. For example, pictured below is the castle's indoor pool, which Hammond enjoyed diving naked into from a second floor balcony. There's nothing wrong with skinny-dipping, but I do think it's a little strange that the pool is surrounded not only by Medieval storefronts he brought from Europe, but also a Roman sarcophagus (in the foreground) and some other Roman funeral monuments.

In keeping with his taste for Classical art, Hammond commissioned a nude statue of himself in the style of Greek sculpture (see below), and gave it to his wife as a gift. She hated it. After adding a fig leaf to it, she placed it outside on the front lawn overlooking the ocean. Apparently during parties guests would remove the fig leaf, much to Mrs. Hammond's annoyance. There's no word on how anatomically accurate the statue is.

Hammond's parties were probably a lot of fun, but I wouldn't want to be his overnight guest. The doors in one guest room are covered with wallpaper to blend seamlessly with the walls, and Hammond could shut them remotely from another room. He had a good laugh when his guests panicked at not being able to find their way out of the room, but let's just be happy there wasn't a fire.

Hammond's taste for the macabre and creepy didn't stop at funerary art and hidden doors. He also owned the skull of one of Christopher Columbus's crew men, and kept it in a Buddhist manuscript container. If you visit the castle and want to see the skull, it's in the Great Hall tucked in an alcove near the piano.

Even though he was a scientist, Hammond had a strong curiosity about life beyond the grave. He and his wife loved cats, and would have elaborate funerals for each of their pet cats when it died. He frequently said he wanted to be reincarnated as a cat. After his death in 1965 a large black cat appeared in the house and would often sit in his favorite chair. Perhaps it was the spirit of John Hammond?

While they were alive the Hammonds also experimented with Spiritualism and tried to contact spirits of the dead. Hammond even built a Faraday Cage to block electric currents and asked psychic mediums to contact the dead from inside the cage. The intention was to limit interference from the living world and enable them to more more purely contact the spirits. The floor of the castle's Great Hall has a permanent bleached spot from the cage's electromagnetic current.

A photo of the Faraday Cage.

A psychic named Mrs. Garrett and the Faraday Cage.

Needless to say, Hammond Castle is rumored to be haunted. Some people claim to have seen Irene Hammond looking out its windows, strange voices are sometimes heard, and a mysterious red-haired woman has been known to appear at weddings that occur there. No ordinary wedding crasher, she disappears as quickly as she appears.

I got the information for this post from the Hammond Castle website, Joseph Citro and Diane Fould's Curious New England, and Dark Destinations.


Dr Christopher J Smith said...

Nice post! I grew up in Marblehead MA and visits to Hammond Castle were frequent and much-treasured weekend expeditions when I was a child.

Peter Muise said...

Thanks Christopher! I hadn't been there since I was a very small child myself, and it was interesting to revisit as an adult. As a kid I didn't appreciate how eccentric John Hammond really was, but someone less eccentric wouldn't have left us such an interesting home to explore.

Wade Tarzia said...

Nice. I grew up in Haverhill some tens of miles away, and as a teenager cruising for girls and Lovecraft's New England, my friend and I passed through Cape Ann often. Hammond castle was part of my teenage castlemania (fueled by readings lots of Robert E. Howard sword & sorcery novels).

Peter Muise said...

Thanks for the comment Wade! Winnekinni and Hammond were the two castles I experienced as a child. An old friend of mine (David Goudsward) is publishing a book called Lovecraft in the Merrimack Valley. I think it's being released around the NecroNomicon in August.

Wade Tarzia said...

Say hi to David for me -- I knew him from Mystery Hill ca 1983 (along with David Stewart the stone mason who helped restore and dig some areas, and Elmer Hinton the site enthusiast, and Jay Pendergast who dug there a little -- an interesting crowd even if my views were more mainstream than their's). I remember David was working on an essay about Lovecraft possibly visiting Mystery Hill at the time.

Lisa Edgett said...

Went there today and caught cat's meow and woman's voice on a quick evp I ran. The cat I heard audibly and didn't even know the stories about his cats or wanting to return as one. I don't know if they play that through a speaker or something though..the woman's voice is right next to my phones microphone though and is separate from background noise..as if she was following my command to speak directly to my phone. All I can make out is a "pa" sound though 'pill?' something with a p beginning.. Great experience..would love to tour at night.

Peter Muise said...

Hi Lisa! Thanks for the comment. That sounds like a very cool experience!