Last weekend, Chris and I took a day trip out to a castle on Long Island. Yes, I said a castle. On Long Island. Oheka Castle–one of many extravagant mansions built in the early 1900s by the wealthy elite on what is known as Long Island’s Gold Coast.
We first learned about the Gold Coast mansions on a fun show called Off Limits, where the host takes you to places that are otherwise, well, off limits. See, most of these mansions have been long abandoned and fallen into severe disrepair (or, as the guide said repeatedly during our tour of Oheka, “despair”) and are not accessible to the public. After Oheka’s days as a privately-owned luxury retreat, a stint as a retirement home for sanitation workers, and a couple decades as a military academy, it too fell into disrepair. Fortunately the 115,000 square foot castle (the second largest private residence in the U.S.) was bought up in the 80’s and has been in the process of being restored ever since; it’s presently about 70% complete.
And it’s pretty freakin’ cool.
It was raining when we arrived. What an entrance!
We hustled in from the car, managing to keep mostly dry. As we waited in the castle’s entryway for our tour to begin, a man casually strolled down the staircase and right past us with a squirrel clinging to his shoulder. I couldn’t resist. I walked over and asked if I could take his picture. He proceeded to tell me about his squirrel (who has no name, he just is who he is) and how he nursed him back to health after finding him in pretty bad shape. I asked to pet his squirrel, and, as I did, the man told me how gentle squirrels are and how more people should consider keeping them as pets. And how they love chocolate soy milk. Good things to know.
Later during our tour, the man came up in conversation. Someone said he was pretty sure that the guy was someone famous. Names were stumbled over and finally one clicked. It was Bernie Goetz. The Subway Vigilante. Who shot a group of men attempting to mug him back in the 80’s. More good things to know.
Oheka, understandably, is a hotspot for weddings. The place is gorgeous and perfect, I imagine, for anyone looking for that sort of fairy tale/princess vibe. They were setting up for one later that day, we presumed–later confirmed as we almost bumped into the bride on our way out.
It turns out that, when you get married at Oheka, the bridal suite is part of the package. I wouldn’t be surprised if this seals the deal for many couples. The suite includes two sitting rooms, one and a half bathrooms, and a bedroom. There are also two balconies: one overlooking the entry courtyard, and the second with, literally, the best view in the house.
Beautiful, even if the gray day and the bare, cut trees gave everything outside an eerie vibe.
My favorite stop on our tour was the library. As a child–okay, and still to this day–I always felt so moved and a little jealous when the beast gifted Belle with his towering library in Beauty and the Beast. Walking into this library reminded me of that a bit, of how incredible it would be to have an entire room dedicated to books.
Fun fact: the walls aren’t wood. They’re made of plaster and painted to look like wood. For fire-safety.
The portrait above the library fireplace is of financier Otto Hermann Kahn, the original owner and the man for whom the castle is named. Oheka. Otto HErmann KAhn.
Does he look familiar at all? He didn’t to me at first, but it turns out that Rich Uncle Pennybags (aka Mr. Monopoly) was crafted after Otto Kahn. Fun little factoid for game night right there.
By the time the tour was finished, it had stopped raining. Chris and I snuck away and popped outside to explore the garden.
It’s sort of crazy how places like this can exist just outside of where you spend your everyday–and how, if you take the time to explore them, you might just get to meet a semi-famous vigilante and his squirrel.