The Real Witchwood Manor

She’s not a stripper. She’s an ecdysiast.

The lady in the fantastic hat (and precious little else) is Gypsy Rose Lee. She was a vaudeville performer, burlesque dancer, and her mother’s second favorite child (of two). Gypsy put the tease in striptease with an act so unique, so elegant and refined that American journalist H.L. Mencken made up a word to describe it. He called her an ecdysiast, which essentially means “one who molts,” because of her slow, one-feather-at-a-time way of taking off her clothes.

In addition to her career as a stripper – no, wait – as an ecdysiast, she was also an actress, a playwright and a novelist. (I believe the phrase you’re looking for is renaissance woman.)

By now you’re probably wondering what any of this has to do with me or my book. That’s a valid question. Here’s what: Gypsy Rose Lee once owned a house in a small town in the lower Hudson Valley region of New York state, which also happens to be my home town. It’s on a main road but it’s set back so far that you can’t see the house when you drive by. All you can see is the sign that spells out the name of Gypsy’s house: Witchwood Manor.

It’s just an ordinary sign, nothing remarkable about it, except that name. It’s so evocative. So mysterious. I remember being a little kid, driving by on the way to the grocery store with my mom, and wondering what it meant. Were there witches in the woods there? Magic? Was there a girl, maybe one like me, who lived there? Was she good or bad or maybe both?

Witchwood Manor has been sitting in my imagination, just waiting for me to figure out the story I wanted to tell about it for a long time. When I started writing Tab Bennett and the Inbetween, I took the name for Pop’s house without a second thought. Then I filled the house with magic and elves instead of witches and added the girl (only she’s a woman now) who would have to figure out if she was good or bad or both before the story could end.

I like to think Gypsy would be OK with that. At least I hope she would. I have a sense that she was exactly the kind of artist I’d like to be: bold, multi-faceted, visionary, and confident enough to take her clothes off in a room full of people and be able to make intelligent conversation while doing so. She’s kind of become my idol and I’d like for her to like what I’ve done with the place.

I’m telling you all this because I want the Witchwood Manor sign. Badly. I’ve wanted it for years. In high school I had a friend who offered to steal it for me. I declined. Last week someone offered to paint a copy for me. I thanked her, but that’s not exactly what I want either. I want that one from out on the road. The only question is, how do I get it – without resorting to petty larceny?

I’m going to work on that.

In the meantime, do any of you know (or are you) the actor Victor Garber? To the best of my knowledge, he’s the current owner of the real Witchwood Manor so I’d imagine he’s the man I need to see.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

18 thoughts on “The Real Witchwood Manor

  1. Wow! I learned something new about my home town. I never knew that was there. Also I did not know that Victor Garber lived there now. I bet he would totally give you the sign. He seems like a nice guy! I love your blog updates almost as much as I love your book! Can’t wait for the next one to come out.

    • She bought the house for her mother, Rose Thompson Hovick (who was played by the brilliant Patti Lupone in the Broadway musical, Gypsy). Rose lived there with a woman who may or may not have been her lover. Later, Rose shot and killed the woman at a party at the house (allegedly) for making a pass at Gypsy.

  2. Wow! I lived in Witchwood Manor in the early 1970’s… lots of memories. The basement had a stage, and legend has it that a showgirl drowned in the basement bathtub. My parent’s bedroom carpet had a large section missing, apparently from when Rose, Gypsy’s Mom, shot her lover, and left blood stains on the carpet. The memories and feelings in that house are too much too write! A substantial part of the house burned down a few years ago, Victor Garber rebuilt- the house is very different from my childhood memories now. I have photos of the house if you are interested!

    • Devon, I would love to see pictures of the house before the fire. I’ve been fascinated by the place for years – long before I knew any of its history.

  3. I am going to have to do some search and scan! In one of the rooms there were spoon stipple accents made by Gypsy and her Mom. Gypsy was always there in that house—

  4. I am going to have to do some search and scan! In one of the rooms there were spoon stipple accents made by Gypsy and her Mom. Gypsy was always present in that house— we all felt it!

  5. Please do! I would love to see them. If you’re interested in talking about, I’d love to hear your recollections of the house. That last sentence makes me think you’ve got stories just waiting to be told. You can contact me at jes (at) jesyoung.com.

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    • Hi Carolyn, Sadly, no. I never did get the sign. I still have to drive by it, staring longingly. It’s very, very sad.

      I’m completely fascinated by Gypsy and her very complicated relationship with her mother. I’ll have to look for your book.

      • The book is on Amazon with a great discount at the moment. Have you thought of writing to the current owner of the property and asking to purchase the sign? I think you’re the best person to have it. 🙂

        • I haven’t written to him. I should. I would really, really like to have it. It was Victor Garber (the actor) for a while… I wonder if he still owns it.

  7. post pictures before it burned
    i spent a lot of time there in the 80’s i was with the owners son at the time ….really felt a ghost was there in the then garage or stage area .. and the ballroom ….something when it snowed also …creepy at times …

    • I’ve had others tell me the same sort of stories. When it snowed, huh? Last winter must have been terrifying for the folks who live there now.

      • Funny, I went there only once. A friend from Highland Mills drove into the driveway, just to get a quick look at the place. I had read so much about it while researching Rose Hovick, and I’d seen photographs, but…I NEVER expected the intensely creepy feeling that came over me the minute I was on that property! It was like a bad-vibes wave. I couldn’t get away from there fast enough. Again, that’s the LAST thing I thought I would feel upon seeing it. Something there is WRONG!

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