American stage actor William Gillette (1853-1937) is undoubtedly best known for his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes. But visitors to his home at Gillette Castle State Park know him for a variety of other pursuits as well.
He was an accomplished engineer, having designed many of the interior spaces of the Castle, such as doors without doorknobs, wooden light switches, his own desk, a spirits bar with a trick lock, hidden mirrors to keep an eye on guests, etc. He enjoyed riding his motorcycle around the Connecticut countryside. And of course, he loved his trains.
When he died without issue, his will stated:
I would consider it more than unfortunate for me – should I find myself doomed, after death, to a continued consciousness of the behavior of mankind on this planet – to discover that the stone walls and towers and fireplaces of my home – founded at every point on the solid rock of Connecticut; – that my railway line with its bridges, trestles, tunnels through solid rock, and stone culverts and underpasses, all built in every particular for permanence (so far as there is such a thing); – that my locomotives and cars, constructed on the safest and most efficient mechanical principles; – that these, and many other things of a like nature, should reveal themselves to me as in the possession of some blithering saphead who had no conception of where he is or with what surrounded.Fortunately, there were no "blithering sapheads" to be had in 1944 (the government was busy with the war), so Lake Compounce amusement park took over the trains and ran them until 1997. Since then, there has been a major effort under way to bring them back to Gillette Castle in full working order.
That effort is about to be realized as the Friends of Gillette Castle are hosting an event on October 6 (click for full details and how to register) to celebrate the restoration of one of the locomotives. The event will feature a fully restored locomotive that Gillette used to run (see the article Electric Locomotive On Track for Return to Gillette Castle from the Hartford Courant). I thought I'd point out a couple of interesting coincidences for your consideration:
- The restorer, Ted Tine, is also a motorcycle enthusiast & designer
- In 1931, Gillette asked E.N. Priest to build a locomotive for him - Priest's shop was the very shop where Tine now does business
If you go to this event, drop us a line and let us know how it was - and if you take photos, email them to us so we can share them.