A postcard gives a sense of the site and its outbuildings.
ONLINE ONLY PHOTO: The living room fireplace featured a stone engraving
courtesy Ann Gill
O turn thy rudder hither-ward awhile,
Here may thy storme-bett vessel safely ryde;
This is the port of rest from troublous toyle,
The world's sweet inn, from pain & wearisome turmoyle.
–lost carving above the fireplace at Stonewall Lodge
Shortly after last week's Hook was going to press, with its tale of a roadside attraction-destroying inferno, we received a folder containing images showing how the demolished Haunted Monster Museum appeared during much of the 20th Century when it was a gracious mansion and lodge.
The pictures sent by Ann Gill recall a stunning structure, a Queen Anne Victorian built of gray rusticated limestone and nestled mere footsteps from another dazzling work of stone, Natural Bridge, one of the so-called Seven Wonders of the Natural World.
Gill, the granddaughter of the last individual owner, says that her late grandmother told her that the building was originally a residence, a wedding present from a man to his bride around the turn of the 20th Century. Gill says her grandparents operated it during their ownership, which lasted from the mid-'30s to the mid-'50s, as an inn called the Stonewall Lodge.
Besides an unusually modern wall of glass facing a backyard forest, the old house featured a unique feature in the form of a stanza from an old poem inscribed in marble and set into the fireplace mantel. Despite the inscription's promise that this would be a "port of rest," the owners of Natural Bridge let the place decay. The lawn became a scrub forest, and the mansion fell prey to decades of disuse and vandalism.
The era of neglect ended in 2002 when a plucky Barnum of the Blue Ridge, a fiberglass artist of wacky roadside attractions, turned it into a haunted house. As reported last week, Mark Cline– or "Professor Cline," as he's known in the roadside world– parlayed the house's crumbling grandeur into a weird world of horrors. But Cline's decade of mirthful terror came to a sickening halt in the early evening of April 16 when a fire of unknown origin consumed the structure, taking with it countless fiberglass figures from the playfully twisted mind of Cline.
To Gill, who lives in Kilmarnock, the destruction came as a shock.
"It just made us all so ill to hear about that fire," says Gill. "My sister says her childhood was squished."
Now 64, Gill recalls several visits to see her grandparents there as a little girl in the 1950s, and she still keeps the 1948 letter that answered one of the mysteries of the mansion. On stationery from New York's upscale University Club, the correspondent informs Gill's grandmother the source of the quotation over the fireplace.
The passage comes form "The Faerie Queene," an epic poem written in the 16th Century by Edmund Spenser. In the days before a few internet keystrokes could render the answer, the letter's author reveals "a great deal of pleasure" in providing the information. Unfortunately, at some point during the years before Professor Cline haunted the place, the inscribed stone was removed from the building.
Gill crossed the state a few years ago to see the old place for what turned out to be the last time. She says she found the Haunted Monster Museum too terrifying and had to flee through the "chicken door." Afterwards, however, she introduced herself, and Cline allowed her to stroll through the house where she'd played as a child– with the lights on.
Those who toured Cline's Haunted Monster Museum, enveloped by trees which hid an array of dinosaurs and other human-gobbling figures, might be surprised to learn that the front forest was once a rolling lawn. Several small cottages and a low stone retaining wall– the latter of which may have inspired the name her grandparents bestowed– were once part of the complex but all long gone before the fire. These features are visible in the photos from Gill's archive, along with the dramatic interior staircase and the expansive verandas that gave a view toward the mountains beyond the natural wonder.
"Believe me," says Gill, "It was an awesome place."