Tucked away in the Southwest corner of New Hampshire, not far from the Connecticut River, are the ruins of Madame Sherri’s castle. The story of how this elaborate “castle” came to be built deep in the New England woods off of a meandering dirt road is larger than life, much like Madame Sherri herself.
Born in France in 1878, Antoinette Bramare worked as a music-hall singer in Paris as a young woman. She scandalously married a much younger man, a silent film actor named Andre Riela, and moved to New York City in 1911, where she and her new husband changed their names to Andre and Antoinette Sherri. The “House of SherrI” found fame with their innovative and ornate costumes for the Ziegfeld Follies and other Broadway shows of the time before Andre suffered blindness and an untimely death in 1927.
While visiting friends one summer, Madame Sherri fell in love with the quiet town of Chesterfield, New Hampshire. She built her own forest retreat in 1931, only a few years after losing her husband. While not a castle in the literal sense, the theatrical three-story chateau, with its Roman arches built from New Hampshire stone, was once the setting of many lavish parties with many theater friends from the city visiting on a regular basis. The indoor bar area had a tree growing through the roof and the main staircase, cut into the rock ledge, led to a massive, red front door. As Jeffrey Newcomer explains, legend has it that Madame Sherri “greeted her guests from the top of the castle’s spiral staircase or sitting regally upon her ornate throne, dressed magnificently in costumes from her Broadway shows.” Both the house and the Madame herself were eccentric additions to the quiet village of Chesterfield. She reportedly drove around town in a cream, custom-made Packard, with a monkey perched on her shoulder.
According to Newcomer, Madame Sherri was partly supported by her former assistant, Charles Lamaire, an impoverished vaudeville performer who became a renowned, Academy-award winning, Hollywood costume designer, designing clothes for films like All About Eve and Miracle on 34th Street. When the money ran out, the Madame’s glamorous parties came to an end. The infamous “castle” burned down in the fall of 1962, leaving only the foundation, a fireplace, columns, and the striking staircase. Madame Sherri died in poverty in the nearby town of Brattleboro, Vermont, in 1965. She was 84 years old.
The 488 acres that include the ruins of Madame Sherri’s castle, the pond, beaver dam, and trails snaking across Daniels Mountain were purchased by Ann Stokes and generously donated for conservation to the Society for the Preservation of New Hampshire Forests.
I visited on a warm, still, September afternoon. Bees were buzzing, and mushrooms were popping up in the forest amongst the ferns. Some locals say that if you listen closely, you can hear the faint sounds of music and laughter in the ruins. Or, if you are lucky, you might even catch the ghostly sight of Madame Sherri herself at the top of the grand staircase.
(Special thanks to Jeffrey Newcomer of Partridge Brook Reflections for his research and photographs of Madame Sherri. )