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Madame Sherri Forest: A Story In Photos
What do blackmail, the Zeigfeld Follies, and a forest in New Hampshire have in common?
Madame Antoinette Sherri, a somewhat eccentric, completely fabulous costumer and hostess-extraordinaire from the 1920s. She took a rural village in New England by storm, lured her New York stage friends north for lavish parties, and raced her cream-colored packard through town while wearing furs and little else.
This is lady herself and her legendary “castle.”
Dave and I headed south yesterday—to West Chesterfield, New Hampshire—for a hike in the forest that bears her name. We learned her story, we saw the ruins of her once infamous castle, and we enjoyed a chilly, leafy wander in the woods.
I encourage you to read this whole story about Madame Sherri, but here’s a tasty excerpt to set the scene:
The house looked like a cross between a Roman ruin and a French chalet. In the cellar, there was a cozy little bistro, with half a dozen tables, draped with red cloths. The main floor was a huge bar, which one entered between two huge trees, growing through the roof. The third floor held Sherri’s private quarters, accessible by a huge stone staircase that ran up the side of the house.
This was where Sherri held her parties. Although she still lived in the tiny farmhouse across the road, the castle was always available for huge shindigs, as her New York friends drove into town, and celebrated the night away. Sherri was always in the middle of it, holding court in her massive cobra-backed chair. She was constantly chain-smoking, but only lit one match a day; each succeeding cigarette was ignited off its predecessor.
The scandals didn’t stop there. Sherri had purchased a 1927 cream-colored Packard from the State Department, which she used to tool about town — usually in the company of several beautiful young people — attired in a large fur coat, with not a stitch on underneath. On these trips, she was also invariably accompanied by a small monkey on a leash.
Madame Sherri paid for pretty much everything with cash, which she would pull either from her cleavage, or a garter belt strapped to her thigh. As a matter of fact, she seemed to take a perverse delight in shocking as many of the local merchants as possible.
Once upon a time…
We set off on our adventure under bright blue skies to the Madame Sherri Forest. On our way, we listened to the wonderful You Must Remember This podcast, which I 100% recommend.
A short walk from the trailhead, we got our first glimpse of the ruins of Madame Sherri’s castle. It was looted in the ’50s, then burned to the ground in the ’60s, so the stone foundation is all that’s left. Those stairs once lead to Madame Sherri’s private quarters on the third floor. I like to think of her swanning down the staircase in a fabulous, feathery hat.
We walked around the ruins, peeking into chimneys and peering down shafts to the basement which once housed café tables and a bar.
A little sad about Madame Sherr’s decline, a little spooked about the potential for cocktail party specters, we finished poking around the stones and headed out on the trail. I have to share the really awesome selfie we took. We are so bad at trying to be cool in 2015.
For our hike, we chose the Ann Stokes Loop, a 2-mile trail that winds uphill to Indian Pond, then climbs a bit higher up a steep, fairly rocky path that winds among the trees, before gently sloping back down to the start. That cute mailbox is a handy way to leave/pick up trail maps so you don’t get lost in the forest with the ghosts of flappers.
There were a few of these spontaneous rock sculptures along the way. I like to pretend they were made by gnomes or hobbits or some such.
After Indian Pond—which was not photogenic enough to warrant even a crappy iPhone snap—we scrabbled our way up to the top of the trail. I suspect this view was stunning a few weeks ago, before the November wind blew away all of our orange and red leaf-confetti. But even bare: not bad. Plus, that handsome fella!
Disclaimer: I am a giant baby about climbing down hills. I have no problem hauling myself up, using roots, rocks, hands, and a lot of pluck to ascend—but the descent is a whole other thing. Luckily, this trail is a tiny bit challenging on the way up and easy-peasy on the way down (if you take the loop in the counter-clockwise direction like we did). When this photo was taken, I was desperately hoping for an easy climb back down to the ruins. (And, truth be told, I was also thinking about how much I like the sweater I got in Iceland last spring and my tights from Bombsheller. You can’t tell from the photo, but the legs of my tights say, “Doing it!” and when I wear them, I randomly shout, “Doing it!” very loudly. To myself. And Smudge. And the trees along the trail.)
We shuffled, slid, hopped, and meandered our way back down the trail, then feasted on burgers (on gluten-free buns… yay!) at Whetstone Station in Brattleboro before heading home to watch the nail-biter of a game between the Patriots and the NY Giants. Whew.