Banner photo of Larry Eugene Meredith, Patrick Flynn and Ronald Tipton, 2016.

The good times are memories
In the drinking of elder men...

-- Larry E.
Time II

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Mystery of the Tingling Hands: A Frank March Adventure

The mansion lay directly ahead. Frank hadn't wanted to be here. Sometimes circumstances cause a change in destinations.

The wind howled through the portico as he neared.

His hands began to tingle. This was odd.

Why?

He was use to these things by now, it wasn't like him to get shaky hands.

Frank walked about the building.

The old William duPont mansion, long abandoned by the family, was supposed to be haunted, ghosts up on the second and third floor who played pranks like flicking off light switches. Maybe it was bad vibrations from the spooks causing his hands to tingle and sending a chill down his back, maybe. That was the mystery.

No one had any idea who the ghosts were when living people. Some thought old servants of the duPonts, but this place had an older history. It was one of irony for Frank.

Not long ago he was trying to solve the Mystery of the Stone Tower and was searching the hill several miles west of here for a castle. Now one lay just steps away, hidden in the facade mimicking something else.

The duPonts had not been the original owners of this land. It had passed through the hands of two others before William duPont Sr. obtained it in 1893. It had first been in the hands of a wool merchant named Hanson Robinson and then by the shipping magnate C. R. Griggs. In 1855, Robinson built a Gothic Revival Castle on the site and called it Woolton Hall. (pictured right) He was a wool merchant, remember.

Gothic must have been having quite a Revival in those years. Where had Frank seen another Gothic Revival structure? Ah, yes, the Rockwood home of Joseph Shipley built in 1854.

William duPont Sr. added many buildings to the estate during his tenure, but apparently liked the castle. At least he left it alone, but his son, William Jr. spend a great deal of time and money revising the castle exterior into something resembling Montpelier in Virginia. Yeah, that Montpelier, the home of President James Madison and his ice cream loving wife, Dolley. (A photo of Montpelier is on the left.)

And if you are wondering why, well, the duPont's once owned Montpelier, too. William Jr.'s sister Marion had inherited it and he evidently spend much of his own childhood there. Perhaps he made the changes to Woolton Hall when the castle came into his hands in 1928 because it gave him nightmares sleeping in a Frankenstine style tower.

Frank pulled his hood up over his head. This was something he just didn't do because he found it restricted his vision. Man, he was really feeling the cold this morning and that surprised him almost as much as the disrepair to the large barn just past the mansion.

The structure looked sad in this winter chill, its paint peeling off the side, its windows shuttered up. When William Jr. owned the place he had added stables, race tracks and a steeple chase. He was very much into horse racing and trained thoroughbreds here at Bellevue.

Although those days are gone, reminders remain. In the center of the park is a mile and quarter oval used now by hikers and joggers, but probably once shook to the clobber of horses' hooves. There were riding stables over to one side.

Frank watched a groom bring out the steeds, all covered in dark green blankets. Some reluctantly pulling back against stepping across the white and frozen tundra.

The place had a past of opulence and splendor.

During the years of World War II, William Jr. opened the tennis courts on his estate to the professional women's tennis circuit for their tournaments. He had quite a complex by then, outdoor and indoor tennis courts and a swimming pool. In the period just after the war he married Margaret Osborne, his second marriage. Ms Osborne trained on his estate.

She was quite the tennis player, winner of 37 various Grand Slam titles and named to the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1967. She is still alive, the same age as Frank's father, 92; and presumedly still living with Margaret Varner Bloss, her life partner after divorcing duPont.

Despite all its history and acquisitions, when William Jr. shucked off his human coil in 1965 no one in the family cared a whit for the place. It went dark for almost a decade and then the state bought the property and another state park was born.

Oh there was plenty of past here to leave some ghosts behind.

Still, Frank was a realist. He had had his share of adventures with the supposed supernatural and found there was always some other explanation. He didn't believe in ghosts. It was a cold, winter morning so why wouldn't one have tingling hands and chills down the back?

The only mystery was why was Frank having these things.

He went hiking about in sub-freezing temperatures with little regard for the chill. It wasn't even sub-freezing today. The morning temperature was 33 degrees. When Frank saw this he checked it twice, thrice, but his gauge did say 33 and AccuWeather was showing 34. The sun was even shining bright. It seemed a good morning to walk.

Yet here he was with gloves on, which he seldom ever did, his hood up, which he almost never did, and his coat zipped up to his neck, which he absolutely never did. And he was still cold.

He hadn't set out to be at bellevue. Nice looking morning and he was considering one of the further parks, but a nearly empty gas tank and a nearly empty wallet changed his mind. Stopping for gas first, he was careful to get just enough to keep him running until his next income comes. Even that nearly wiped out his bank account. Given gas had reached just over $3.15 a gallon and Bellevue was just down the road and closest to home, he chose to go there to save fuel.

And here Frank was wondering about the mystery of his tingling hands and chilly spine.

He had a theory, as Frank always has a theory.

There was a stiff wind. This wasn't unusual either. The wind chill was 19. He had been out in lower. However, somethings were different.

The ground had been frozen for a month. The snow had covered it for almost as long. Even the Bellevue Lake had been ice-coated for weeks. But more importantly, Bellevue was different that the other parks he visited. It was fairly flat and less sparsely covered by forest. With all the trees now stripped of their leaves one could look far across the plains of this place.

With the wind in a steady blow, which it was this day, these elements added up to an old fashioned air conditioner, air blown across ice. All this had come together to make it more arctic here than the cozy wood lined paths of the other trails. Those trails may not have been plowed off and walking in the accumulated snow was rough and sometimes tiring, but the trees acted as windbreaks and held the total wrath of the long, frozen winter at bay.

Frank was satisfied he had solved the mystery of the tingling hands.

It didn't make him feel any warmer.



Photo of Woolton Hall Castle from the "History of Bellevue Hall", Delaware State Parks.
Photo of Montpelier from "Don's PhotoJaunt 2003: James Madison's Montpelier"
All other photos by the author, 2011

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