“They will haunt you no matter where you run to. It will never let you go. They will never let you.”
M.T. Maliha’s Waverly Estate series continues on October 23 with the release of Waverly Estate: The Murmur. The first book in the series, Waverly Estate: Ghost Dance will be $0.99 for a limited time leading up to the new release – making now the perfect time to catch up with the series!
M.T. Maliha goes back to the true origins of the series and reflects on the crumbling, abandoned mansion on the Hudson River that inspired her.
Wyndclyffe by M.T. Maliha
They tell me she’s worthless, nothing more than a magnet for the curious who scale barbed wire or crawl beneath rusty gates to get a better look at her decaying bones. I wonder how many of the inquisitive, drawn to her austere spine and crumbling spires, can identify a single myth related to her infamously inglorious past, or decipher two centuries of regurgitated fact from fiction.
I don’t know if the heart of her was ever any good. Yes, I believe all houses have one. Yet, her slow death has given something she neither offered nor denied. She gave me words. Hundreds of words destined for the pages of the Waverly Estate trilogy.
It is left to those of us who benefited from her to tell the story of her life. We must not glorify the wickedness of deeds committed beneath her arches, or make spectacle of untimely deaths. Whether tales told are facts meant to inform or fabrications intended to titillate, we shouldn’t understate her mysterious ways that brought gloom to so many sheltered within.
But neither should we who loved her and love her still, disregard her contributions to The Hudson River, to legend, and these Catskill Mountains. Forgetting her would result in an absolute death, her demise, unfathomably sad, if the forgetting obliterates her thoroughly, more than any bulldozer could. It would be as though she never existed at all, and with her loss years of her occupants’ lives would be surrendered to oblivion.
Perhaps my articulation regarding Wyndclyffe, now spelled, Wyndcliffe, reads like an overwrought romanticization of a rotted corpse. So be it. There is, after all, beauty in decay; in the great pine tree that thrusts upward from where the heart of the mansion once existed; the mellowing of wood within the remains; the now windowless great arches that filter soft river light. And I should not neglect to mention this: The old piano bent in its middle where once gleaming white keys knew the touch of a mistress’ fingers, struck me as simultaneously beautiful and sad. In that moment Waverly Estate: Ghost Dance took its first breath. If the piano could no longer play within Wyndclyffe, it would play again within the pages of Waverly Estate.
Wyndclyffe Mansion was fully constructed by 1853. Its owner, Elizabeth Schermerhorn Jones, had commissioned an architect, George Veitch, to build the gothic mansion along The Hudson River in New York State. It possessed twenty-four rooms and an enormous steeple that rose so high atop its severe roof lines that it could be seen for miles across the river. Perhaps the enormous grief Veitch experienced when his daughters, Nannie, 9, and Katie, just 15 months, succumbed to diphtheria, translated into his architectural plans for Wyndclyffe, because what might have been a lovely reprieve from the constant bustle of New York City, had, under Mr. Veitch’s watch, become a grim edifice tucked deeply into the thickly wooded area at the river’s banks.
Elizabeth Schermerhorn Jones was a cousin to the Astors. She was aunt to the poet Edith Wharton, who wrote in less than glowing terms about Wyndclyffe in her novels, “A Backward Glance” and “Hudson River Bracketed”. In referencing Wyndclyffe, Edith Wharton wrote,
My aunt’s house… became a vivid picture in the gallery of my little girlhood; but among those earliest impressions only one is connected with it; that of a night when, as I was ready to affirm, there was a Wolf under my bed…’
And further, she wrote,
‘The effect of terror produced….was no doubt due to what seemed to me its intolerable ugliness. My visual sensibility must always have been too keen for middling pleasure; my photographic memory of rooms and houses – even those seen but briefly, or at long intervals – was from my earliest years a source of inarticulate misery, for I was always vaguely frightened by ugliness. I can still remember hating everything [there] which, as I saw, on rediscovering it some years later, was an expensive but dour specimen of Hudson River Gothic; and from the first I was obscurely conscious of a queer resemblance between the granite exterior of Aunt Elizabeth and her grimly comfortable home, between her battlemented caps and the turrets …”
Despite prevailing opinion that the mansion was ugly and bore an air of depressiveness save for some flourishes of wood and stair, Elizabeth Schermerhorn Jones, who had never married, was praised for the structure’s uniqueness. Many New York City relations and those within her social circle followed her to the area where they, too, built mansions they intended to be grander than hers. And so, it is said, this is how the phrase, ‘keeping up the Jones’’ came to be.
Possessors of the mansion were many. None spoke fondly of it. Each owner reported experiencing a terrible melancholic gloom while residing there. After Elizabeth Schermerhorn Jones’ death, the mansion was sold to Andrew Finck, a New York City brewer. After his death, the mansion was possessed by his grandson and then to another of Andrew’s grandsons, Theodore Finck. Theodore died in the mansion in 1923, and his daughter Anna became the owner. The mansion and 31.8 acres passed to Nissan S. Hanoka, Rebecca Hanoka, and then a Mrs. Victori Hazen in 1927 for $100 plus a $5,000 mortgage. In 1934, the property was awarded back to Anna Wolf Rice for $1,117.94 at a foreclosure auction and then passed to subsequent owners from 1936 onward. Death, despair, The Great Depression, all lent to Wyndclyffe’s ultimate abandonment in 1950. In 2003 the mansion was sold yet again. Plans to restore it never came to fruition. In September 2016 the house was sold for $120,000 at auction.
The new buyer filed an application to demolish the remaining structure. While murder does not factor into a part of its history, there are tales regarding mysterious illnesses that no medical person could explain. Owners could not abide the wind along the river, some believing the sound did not originate from the typical Catskill blustery weather, but rather the soft cries of those who expired within the walls.
Even now when I stand beside the mansion and my gaze passes along severe lines of unrelenting gloom some call brick, I hear a forlorn sigh emanating from its aged pith. There’s something lingering beneath the rubble and debris. Is it a plea to be resurrected, or an appeal, at long last, to be put down? Or, maybe, just maybe, the architect’s children, imprisoned by grief in each stone and plank, languish within the broken walls and history of the perpetually forsaken Wyndclyffe mansion.
About the Series
More than one hundred years after The Revolutionary War, Waverly Estate continues to whisper of battles won and lost; of death and vacuous halls and hearts, and of treacherous deeds committed. Its residents are not troubled by the dead alone. Far more ghastly are the living. It is the year 1858 and Garson, the pitiless master of Waverly, lies dying. A magnificent dome above him boasts paintings of Rene Bonhomme, a French artist who covets more than Garson’s wicked wife, Hannah. Death hides in the beauty of both his wife and art, and trickery awaits his last breath. Ancestors compose a chain of errors when they fail to consider Amelia, the long dead daughter of butler James. When crossed, she unleashes ghastly reminders that she is ever present.
Centuries after the death of Martin Waverly the vacuous halls and abandoned rooms have become devoid of purpose and love. A terrible blight has further marred the name of Waverly to its very pith. Caleb Jensen, a newly discovered relation, embarks on the daunting task of restoring the mansion to its once glorious state. Awakened by his sudden appearance he must fight malevolent spirits while struggling to stifle personal demons that whisper lies about heaven, and hell and death, if he is to survive the fetid core of Waverly Estate.
Maureen Maliha is a writer, photographer and musician. She is a recovering family Therapist and Mediator. She spends her time wandering the Catskill Mountain landscape with her dog Micah, when she isn’t working on her next photographic project, book, or artistic endeavor.
*Contains Amazon affiliate links
Reblogged this on Writer's Zen Blog.
What a beautifully written essay. What deft use of prose. I guess that’s scholar in me speaking-or writing. Still, what a moving and melancholy piece. I love abandoned mansions and would love to see this edifice, or what’s left of it. The Hudson River Valley is not so far from me in Mass., and my husband and I often meander through the area. This season seems like a wonderful time for paying a visit.