Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Madam Sherri's Castle: Where Hathor Came From

This is a repost of a blog from last September. Now that Depraved Heart has been nominated for TWO eFestival of Words Awards--Best Mystery / Suspense Novel and The Harvey Award--I thought readers might enjoy learning more about it.

People who have read my novel Depraved Heart often tell me that they loved the island of Hephzibah Regrets, and the crumbling estate on it called Hathor, so much that they look for it on maps. Both the island and Hathor are products of my imagination but they have their origins in reality. Tucked away in the woods of Chesterfield, New Hampshire, are the remains of a fabulous estate that is known as Madam Sherri's Castle.

Madame Antoinette Sherri was a costume designer who designed for the Zigfield Follies back in the 1920s. Like Lisette Ravenscroft in my story, she was French and quite outrageous. She gave lavish parties like Lisette did and she built her extravagant estate on 488 acres in the New Hampshire woods. Madame Sherri had a reputation for being quite scandalous and was said to drive around wearing nothing but her mink coats.

Of course that era of opulence that was ushered in by the Gilded Age and ended by the Depression is an era of endless fascination to me. I've long collected images of fabulous old ruins and many of them were built t that time. When I thought up Hathor and all its gardens and follies, especially the mysterious Sanctuary of Love that Lisette built for Wyatt and that Tempest is determined to find, I thought of places like Madam Sherri's Castle. I think a lot of us are drawn to such images because they let us dream.

I remember some years ago I was in the Dominican Republic on the north coast and a friend took me for a drive to see something interesting. Deep in the jungle-like forests were a number of lavish houses,small mansions actually, that had been built several decades earlier but wealthy people who came to the island with more money than good sense. They built these extravagant homes but, for one reason or another, abandoned them and the jungle had reclaimed them. Parts of walls were fallen down, doors and windows were broken or missing, the vines and flowers grew all through the houses. But you could see gorgeous staircases, huge fireplaces, bits of beautiful furniture, now all rotted and overgrown.

Madame Sherri enjoyed her Castle but then, like the people in the Dominican Republic, she lost interest in it and quit going there. It too fell into a state of neglect and was vandalized. In 1964 the house was destroyed by fire. All that remains is the stone foundation, the fireplace and chimneys and the grand stone staircase.

Eventually the estate was donated to the Society for the reservation of New Hampshire Forests. So, though you cannot visit Hathor except in the pages of Depraved Heart, you can visit some of its inspiration. It is especially beautiful to go there in autumn.

Thanks for reading.

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