Saturday, December 6, 2014

HGB Podcast 14 - Hyde Hall

Moment in Oddity - Missing Brains

Could the University of Texas, Austin have suffered some kind of Zombie Apocalypse?  As any fan of the zombie genre will tell you, zombies love to eat brains and apparently 100 of them have gone missing from the University.  The school uses the brains in scientific research and as teaching tools.  The brains were stored in jars of formaldehyde - I'm having visions of Frankenstein here.  The answer for solving the mystery of the missing brains may be in the fact that the university was initially given 200 brains thirty years ago, but only had room for 100, so the other hundred were stored in the basement.  Imagine rumors flying around the campus that there are brains in the basement.  We imagine some ended up as peculiar decorations for dorm rooms.  Of the brains missing, Charles Whitman's is one of them.  He is the man who climbed the clocktower at the University of Texas and shot and killed 16 people in 1966.  While keeping brains in a jar at a university for teaching may be considered normal, swiping a brain in a jar seems rather odd.

This Day in History - Pride's Purge

On this date, December 6th, in 1648, the most significant event of the Second English Civil War takes place.  Pride's Purge is considered the only coup d'etat in English history and was lead by Colonel Thomas Pride.  The Grandees of the New Model Army planned the purge, which targeted anyone who did not support them.  King Charles I had been imprisoned during the first civil war and negotiated a treaty with the New Model Army and others to end the war.  The King stalled negotiations and escaped impisonment causing the second civil war.  King Charles I was recaptured in November 1648 and offered some answers to demands that were unacceptable, but the House of Commons passed the King's offers anyway.  Pride's Regiment of Foot took up guard on the steps of the House of Commons and arrested anyone whose name appeared on a list he carried.  Forty-five people were arrested with twenty-five being released later before Christmas.  There was now a majority that could form a Republic.  The King was charged with treason and beheaded on January 30, 1649.  The monarchy was abolished, but all this was reversed in 1660 when a new Parliament restored the monarchy and declared Charles II to be king.

Hyde Hall

Located in Glimmerglass State Park, Hyde Hall is a limestone regency era mansion that reminds visitors of a bygone era.  The park is just outside Cooperstown, New York, the birthplace of baseball and home to the Baseball Hall of Fame.  Hyde Hall overlooks Otsego Lake, which gives the park its name.  James Fenimore Cooper dubbed Otsego "Glimmerglass" in his novel "The Deerslayer."  In the novel, he describes the lake as such, "On a level with the point lay a broad sheet of water, so placid and limpid, that it resembled a bed of the pure mountain atmosphere, compressed into a setting of hilts and woods.... Of course its margin was irregular, being indented with bays, and broken by many projecting, low points. At its northern or nearest end, it was bounded by an isolated mountain, lower land falling off, east and west, gracefully relieving the sweep of the outline...But the most striking peculiarities of this scene, were its solemn solitude and sweet repose. On all sides, wherever the eye turned, nothing met it, but the mirror-like surface of the lake, the placid void of heaven, and the dense setting of wood...As if vegetation were not satisfied with a triumph so complete, the trees overhung the lake, itself, shooting out towards the light, and there were miles {75} along its eastern shore, where a boat might have pulled beneath the branches, of dark, Rembrandt-looking hemlocks, "quivering aspens," and melancholy pines. In a word, the hand of man had never defaced, or deformed any part of this native scene, which lay bathed in sunlight, a glorious picture of affluent forest grandeur, softened by the balminess of June, and relieved by the beautiful variety afforded by the presence of so broad an expanse of watervel."

George Clarke was born in 1768 to a family that was prominent, rich and honorable.  Well, at least his great grandfather was honorable.  George's dad was considered a villain who racked up debts he would not pay and left his wife with two young sons to run off to Jamaica with a mistress.  George's great grandfather had lived in the New York colony, serving as both Secretary and Lieutenant Governor, and bought nearly 120,000 acres in the Hudson and Mohawk Valley.  He returned to his native England where he died and was honored with a monument.  George inherited his great grandfather's land and decided to move to Albany from England in 1806.  James Fenimore Cooper was the author of "The Last of the Mohicans" and his brother Richard Cooper owned land nearly adjacent to Clarke's property, so Richard had been hired to oversee the Clarke property.  He died, leaving his widow Ann Lowe Cary Cooper to look after things and she and George became friendly with each other, marrying in 1813.  A few years after that, George bought several more acres of land that ended up joining his wife's family property to the Clarke property.

In 1817, construction on a country villa designed by Albany architect Philip Hooker began.  George picked a plot on a hill he had named Mount Wellington, after a school chum, to be the site for the villa's construction.  What was suppose to be a quaint villa grew into a large country mansion complete with servant quarters and a farm complex.  There are fifty rooms in all.  The home was named "Hyde Hall" after the ancient seat the family had held in England.  The home was not complete until 1834 and George sadly died the following year in 1835.

Several types of architectural design and style are represented at Hyde Hall.  The house was built around a central courtyard with the family area being built in a Palladian style, a second area for servants is larger than the family area in a simple style and the third area is an entertainment area done in a Greek style.  The whole home is considered to be a fine representation of romantic classicism.  The family area is called Stone House and includes Tuscan piers on the front porch with the main area being two stories high and one story wings on either side.  There is a Palladian window with oval arch and five other oval windows.  The interior is a smooth ashlar limestone.  The second part was not officially named and has fieldstone on its exterior.  The entertainment area is called the Great House and has Greek Doric Columns and is very angular in shape.  The rooms include a dining room, a drawing room and a billiard room.  To give an idea of size, Mount Vernon would fit completely inside of the Great House.

In all, five generations of the Clarke family have passed through Hyde Hall.  When George died, Hyde Hall passed onto his son, who apparently took after his villainous grandfather, and that son threw his mother Ann out of the house.  According to legend, she cursed the property, promised to haunt the property forever and proclaimed, "May no other woman be happy in this place."  This thankless son went bankrupt in 1886 and at that time his own son bought the property.  Over time the building fell into disrepair and the state of New York took ownership of the building.  Rumors that Hyde Hall was going to be demolished spurred Clarke family members and other concerned citizens to form an organization called Friends of Hyde Hall.  The building has undergone extensive restoration and great efforts have been made to acquire original furnishings of the home.  Some of that restoration includes the lighting, which consists of vapor light chandeliers that are very rare and original to the house.  It is believed they are the only ones in the world that function the way they did in 1833, making them a treasure.

Rumors of Hyde Hall being haunted inspired television's Ghost Hunters to host their Halloween show in 2013 at the location.  They collected many pieces of evidence and had multiple personal experiences, but one piece of evidence stands above the rest and they describe it as thus, "Analysis reveals the strongest evidence of haunting, however. As Jason and Steve are in a bedroom, recorders pick up a voice saying "head to the baby's quarters." At the exact same time, a bright flash of light illuminates the wall behind the bassinette. There's no source for the light! It's one of the most compelling pieces of evidence ever collected." 

Nothing malevolent seems to be in the house.  An older man fitting the description of George Clarke, the original builder of the mansion, has been seen walking the hallways in his multi-colored robe.  During restoration, tools were moved around in a playful way.  Ann Cary Clarke, whom supposedly cursed the property, is thought to be in the home as well.  Her proclamation about the women of Hyde Hall being left miserable seems to have come true because life at Hyde Hall for women was never good.  One visitor to the home claims that he felt the presence of a women and heard the words, "Get out."  Footsteps are heard many times, particularly in the long hallways.  Swirling grey clouds or mists have been seen and photographed and people claim that they have been pushed.  An old AM radio once stopped playing music and a workman heard static and the words, "May day, may day, may day."  Two members of the Clarke family died during World War II.  They had both been pilots and crashed their planes, one of whom was female.  The piano has been heard playing in the Drawing Room when no one is in there.  There is a family crypt on the property as well and apparently it is quite haunted.

James Fenimore Cooper's grandson tells a story about a stay he had at Hyde Hall.  He was in a room on the second floor in the back of the house and he was awakened by the feeling of someone else in the room.  He heard footsteps coming from a corner of the room and the footsteps grew louder as they approached him.  They stopped at the foot of the bed and then his covers were pulled off of him.  He reported the incident to his hostess and she confessed she knew the room was haunted.  It had been George Clarke's dressing room.

Hyde Hall offers daytime tours May through October and during the Halloween season, candlelight tours are offered.  Admission is $10.  The mansion offers plays, musical performances and lectures throughout the year.  And it is a great location for weddings.  If you got married at Hyde Hall, would you have a couple of unseen, uninvited guests?  Do things go bump in the night at Hyde Hall?  That is for you to decide.

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