Sunday, March 4, 2012

Scotty's Castle

We spent Thursday night at the Stovepipe Wells Resort in Death Valley National Park. This village was founded in1926 as Death Valley's first tourist resort. A hand-dug well near the resort had its presence marked by an old piece of stovepipe sticking up beside it. Our room was a basic motel room; no frills and no television. We paid about double what we would have paid for a similar room outside of the park. Food is also expensive in the park, it is best to bring your own.  Maybe the expense of everything is not all that unusual, considering the location of the park in a remote desert. Which brings me to Scotty's Castle.
We toured this home on our second day in Death Valley. The vacation mansion was built in the 1920s by a wealthy Chicagoan. It is an amazing sight, to see such a beautiful home sitting in the middle of a desolate region. The castle is decorated as an old Spanish home. Ornate iron work, beautiful tiles and hand carved beams all  lend a very warm feeling to the home. There are carved Spanish phrases on the beams in several of the rooms as well as on the dinnerware. Two music rooms can be found in the house.The upper music room has a theater pipe organ.The room had been "dedicated to the Lord". Religious rites were held here as well as long sermons. The lady of the house, Bessie Johnson, was a preacher. We were given a tour of the castle by a park range dressed as a prospector from the turn of the century.
Scotty was a prospector back in those times, but probably more of con man than a miner. And therein lies a very fascinating story. The man who built the castle, Mr Albert Johnson, was an educated man in the field of mining from Cornell University. He, at first, was duped by Scotty's stories of the rich mines out west. However, it did not take him very long before he had Scotty figured out and then even went along with some of his shenanigans. Scotty bragged often about the castle which he claimed he ordered built and Johnson never corrected him. Mr Johnson also enjoyed fooling people by showing them the room where Scotty slept in the castle ( after all, Scotty was not only supposedly a rich miner, but at one time performed in Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West Show). Scotty never lived in the castle, he lived in a small cabin near the castle. There is a lot more to the lifelong relationship between the two men who became close friends. Our tour guide kept us quite entertained with their stories during our tour of the castle. Unfortunately we did not have time to also take the tour of the castle's basement and tunnels. That tour focuses on the technology used to build and live in the mansion. Solar water-heating panels were installed in the house. Outside near the castle is a power house where Mr. Johnson provided his own electricity. Towering above the powerhouse is a chime tower with a carillon. And Mr.Johnson knew what he was doing when he built the house in a desert, as he constructed it near abundant springs.In the 1930s the Johnsons fell on hard times and it was necessary to take advantage of the tourist trade which was starting to come into the valley.They charged for tours of their castle. By 1965 the home became part of the National Park Service.

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