The car headlights probe the deep darkness of the winding drive. The road curves, and suddenly the view ahead is almost fantastic. It seems like a hundred candles in as many windows light up the gloom of December.
The moonlight reflected from the chilling snow gleams on the rhinestone-studded shows of the lavishly dressed women as they walk up the meandering stairway. Every articulate granite step leads you one step closer to the excitement within.
The aura of magic leaks through the open doorway which leads to these fashionable people and adventures that lie inside. The passage through the doorway marks the entrance from the stairway to heaven.
People masquerade around the richly made rugs, the immaculate golden Buddhas and finely textured polar bear wall hangings. Famous actors and locals all he same dance gaily and graze on only the finest cuisine that the 1930's could offer- caviar and cheeses from the continent.
All eyes fix themselves on the extravagantly dressed lady wrapped in furs and draped with pearls. When eye contact is made, the animated woman approaches you with arms wide open. "Bebe! Welcome, so glad you made it!"
Then the night falls into a daydreamer's world, but when you pinch yourself, you realize it is always a reality at Madam Sherri's castle in West Chesterfield New Hampshire.
Chesterfield had never had anyone quite like Madam Sherri. She was an extraordinary woman who was born in Paris in 1878. In the early 1920's she moved to New York to become a costume designer in the theaters located there.
It was around 1930 that she bought land on the back side of Rattlesnake Mountain on Gulf Road. When Madam Sherri settled in Chesterfield, rumors flew around about her. Supposedly she owned and operated a brothel and had wild and crazy nights with local men. The reality was that occasionally she had prostitutes in from New York to "rest" themselves.
She refused to have any part of common or inferior material goods and that word spread quickly to the town. In 1931, her impressive castle was built across the road from her farmhouse. Her castle is the only one the Chesterfield has ever known.
Madam Sherri's story has taken on the aspect of legend or tale. Hard facts are difficult to come by. Some say she came to the U.S. after marrying Andre Macaluso, a French actor. For some reason they changed their last name not once but twice. Finally they settled on the name of Sherri. The marriage was of very short duration and poor Andre met an unpleasant end in a Bridgehampton N.Y sanitarium.
What about the money? For her castle? For her outlandish parties? The story goes that during their brief marriage, the couple became foster parents to Charles Le Maire. How this all came about has been lost along the way but it is Mr. Le Maire who is alleged to have been Madam Sherri's "sugar son" if there is such a term.
The stone structure designed by Madam Sherri herself reflected the incredible amount of time and money that was put into her estate. The castle was built next to an old maple tree and the staircase that led to the house went around the tree.
Windows framed the outside of the house and gave it a magical glow that attracted so many people. The two story house had 15 spacious rooms. One room was known as the "throne room" because she actually had her own throne that she sat upon. She would never settle for anything less than the best, and that explained the exquisite fabrics, rich paintings and French décor that lined the inside of this dwelling.
She often entertained many people at her table, which was built to accommodate 40 people. Outside the house was a pool graced with a statue of the Greek goddess Aphrodite.
All this opulence was very short lived. She lived profligately. Eventually she drained all of our resources. She had a very hard time living without the money that she was used to having. She went into semi seclusion and her mental state deteriorated.
Just the thought of subdued living was too much for her. Ironically as David Proper points out in his County History column, she died as a "state charge in 1965". The queen on her throne was reduced to total dependence on government charity. In 1965, at age 84, Madam Sherri passed on after spending her last years in a nursing home and a mental hospital.
It was noted that at her funeral only three people were present. Her estate was left to her foster son Charles Le Maire and in 1962 the castle fell to ashes. It was a tragic ending for a beautiful castle.
What a difference seventy years makes. As I survey what once was a marvelous castle I realize now it is a simple stone foundation overgrown by underbrush and littered with beer cans from partying teenagers.
When I arrived at Madam Sherri's I was greeted by a little clearing where I parked my car a gate and a swampy area enclosed by a stone wall.
This is concluded to be the remains of the swimming pool. It's hard now to imagine people splashing around in water that is about two feet deep and so disgusting I can hardly believe that wildlife can reside there.
I then walked about 300 feet up the path to the ruins of Madam Sherri's castle. The view was spectacular. Because there isn't much left to the castle it leaves much to the imagination.
The first object that struck me is what she termed "the stairway to heaven". The stairway consists of 29 chipped and cracked but perfectly laid steps. It sits on top of three most amazing arches which give the stairway the mysterious magnetism.
When gazing from the top of the stairway , one sees the foundation of the house the fireplace which is still soot stained and a few pillars, which have survived both fires and vandalism. The stonework of the house is absolutely incredible. It was perfectly set, Not even one rock was protrudes from the frame.
The cellar's dimensions are approximately 10 by 30 feet and is the probably sight for late night parties, judging by the excessive amounts of beer cans and the graffiti on the walls. The maple tree that stood by the house is now gone , but its stump remains. The stump is located next to one of the three remaining entrances to the house.
As I leave Madam Sherri's I feel the sudden urge to go back, as if I missed something that could have been important. I was instantly reminded, with a quick look back, that there isn't much there to miss. Madam Sherri's castle is fading away is all. This vanishing act goes against one's grain somehow. A lifetime dream erased in shorter time than we mortals like to admit.