Fantastic and forgotten; the mysteries and tragedies of abandoned places

Marion Carll Farmhouse
Commack, New York

Nestled on a sprawling 9-acre plot in the heart of Commack, Long Island, this 1860 farmhouse, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is a veritable treasure trove of historical significance and a "time capsule," according to Cynthia Clark, co-director of Marion Carll Farm Preserve Inc. The parlor is graced by an ornate Calenberg & Vaupel piano, while the kitchen displays an array of Blue Willow china, a pattern immensely popular in 19th and 20th century America. In the master bedroom, a dressmaking dummy is draped in a corseted bodice and rusty cage crinoline, alongside a wooden shelf brimming with colorful spools of thread. The closet contains delicate taffeta and crepe dresses, straw hats adorned with ribbon, silk ballet shoes, and a faded parasol, all meticulously arranged. Throughout the house, empty glass bottles that once held a myriad of intriguing elixirs are scattered, including Pyranzine, a paint-stripping potion, and a container labeled 'Laudanum', a potent and highly addictive opium tincture used for pain relief.

More than just a collection of antiques, the farm stands as a living testament to the life and legacy of Marion Carll (1885–1968), a devoted educator and public servant who, upon her death, gifted the property to the Commack School District. Despite initial programming, the building now lies vacant and deteriorating, its preservation a pressing concern for the community, yearning to keep Marion’s legacy and passion for education alive.


Château de la Chasseigne

Burgundy, France 

This breathtaking castle, abandoned near the village of Saint-Parize-le-Châtel, dates back to the 15th century. The château's most enduring relics are its rotund towers and the arched gallery that unites them, built by nobleman Robert de la Chasseigne. In 1789, when a descendant of Chasseigne married Count Gabriel-Étienne de Montrichard, a senior general in King Louis XVI's army, the estate was transferred to one of the country’s oldest surviving noble bloodlines. Though the specter of the guillotine loomed over the aristocracy during the French Revolution, the count managed to keep both his head and his estate. The château would serve as a family legacy for four generations.

The entrance hall boasts a stunning mosaic floor, solid stone walls, and a regal oak staircase. A grand piano by the illustrious Maison Pleyel graces a wood-paneled room ornamented with silk coverings and gold fleur-de-lis. The chapel's luminous stained glass windows are a testament to the devoutly Catholic Montrichards, who counted esteemed clergy among their ranks. In the 19th-century kitchen, burnished copper and cast iron cookware are displayed alongside an antique oven. The library, replete with vintage sewing machines and decaying books, contains a clandestine space hidden behind a fallen mirror, perhaps once used to hide precious valuables.

Despite its fairytale appearance, the castle is in dire need of restoration—a challenge four impassioned preservationists hope to meet through the Association Friends of La Chasseigne, established in 2020 to rescue this architectural masterpiece.


Lynwood Hall

Montgomery County, Pennsylvania


The tale of Lynnewood Hall, one of the greatest surviving Gilded Age mansions in America, is forever entwined with the disastrous sinking of the Titanic, a tragedy that claimed the lives of the mansion's owner, Peter Widener's, beloved son and grandson. Widener, a visionary industrialist who modernized Philadelphia's public transit system and co-founded U.S. Steel and the American Tobacco Company, commissioned the magnificent estate, never anticipating the heartbreaking loss that would alter its fate forever. 


Designed by the renowned architect Horace Trumbauer and completed in 1900, the 110-room neoclassical mansion was built of Indiana limestone, granite, and brick. The Philadelphia Inquirer described its opulent interior as "dripping with silk, velvet, and gilded moldings, the rooms furnished with chairs from Louis XV's palace, Persian rugs, and Chinese pottery, the halls crammed with art by Raphael, Rembrandt, El Greco, Van Dyck, Donatello." Lynwood Hall was meant to be the Widener family legacy. 


Sadly, in 1912, George Widener, his wife Eleanor, and their son Harry journeyed to Paris to find a new chef for the family-owned Ritz Carlton hotel in Philadelphia. They planned to return home aboard the Titanic, a ship in which George's father, Peter, had invested. Tragically, both George, 50, and Harry, 27, perished when the ship sank on its maiden voyage. The loss marked a devastating blow to Peter.


Just three years after the Titanic tragedy, Peter passed away at the age of 80, with the New York Times attributing his death to "old age and deep sorrow." Without its intended heirs, Lynnewood Hall fell into a slow decline, its once-pristine halls and gardens succumbing to neglect and decay. For over 70 years, this architectural gem languished, until the Lynnewood Hall Preservation Foundation acquired the deed to the property and has since embarked on an ambitious restoration project. 


Villa Trianon

Versailles, France 

Elsie de Wolfe, Lady Mendl, was an American actress who became a prominent interior designer, author, and legendary hostess. Despite her marriage of convenience to a wealthy British ambassador, she enjoyed a lengthy and highly public affair with her great love, Bessie Marbury, a female literary agent and theater producer. Together, they discovered the abandoned Villa Trianon in Versailles in 1906, which had been built by Louis XV as a retreat from the main palace. "How many, many times we peeped through the high iron railing at this enchanted domain, sleeping like the castle in the fairy tale," Elsie reminisced. "Little did we dream that this would one day be our home."


De Wolfe, known for tinting her hair pink or blue to match her outfit, is credited with single-handedly inventing the profession of interior design. She envisioned the home as a medium for self-expression and championed simplicity and comfort. Her crowning achievement was the restoration of the Villa Trianon, where she hosted legendary parties attended by the likes of Coco Chanel, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, and the Rothschilds.


At the age of 81, Elsie threw her last great Parisian party at the Villa Trianon before the occupation of World War II. The controversial guest list included left-wing and right-wing attendees, exiled royals, and Hollywood stars, all dazzled by tightrope walkers, acrobats, and circus ponies. The Rothschild heirs and a number of American expats drank Elsie’s signature "Pink Lady" cocktails until dawn. It was "the last grand gesture of gaiety and frivolity before the storm."


Elsie de Wolfe died at the Villa in 1950, attended only by her maid, in the shelter of her most adored creation. "If I have done anything really fine," she once said, "it is the Villa Trianon. Into it has gone not only the best of my knowledge but the best that I have to give as a hostess whose dearest wish is to make her friends happy and at home."


In the 1980s, its treasures were auctioned off, leaving behind only shredded curtains and a gutted garden where Elsie had created a dog cemetery for her beloved pets. Despite this sad end, Elsie de Wolfe's legacy stands as a "rebel in an ugly world" who transformed interior design.