September 18th, 2002


Bull Run Castle, Outside

Off a two-lane highway near Bull Run, Virginia is Bull Run Castle. Set back from the road, but a gargoyle atop a pillar of bricks guards the entrance, with a green sign that reads in elaborate white printing Bull Run Castle and + Tours + Antiques +.
velvetknife and I went there today. The proprietor, John, is 73 years old and built the castle by himself ("This used to be a cornfield," he is fond of saying, but honestly, I am less city-slickerish than I look, and the grounds are far too hilly to grow corn.) one brick at a time. Some of the towers and walls are deep red brick, some of them a brownish brick, some flat gray concrete blocks, some curved blocks, so that the effect is like a huge lego castle, with different drum towers built of pieces from different sets, and the outthrust barbican not matching any walls, nor any walls eachother. There are gargoyles upon the crenels, and potted plants whose vines spill green and lush from the merlons. Some of the windows are stained-glass, some barbed, some open and curtained in white linen, some thin arrow-slits. (No bastions, though, amusing as that might have been. :p) Kudzu and telephone wires on the walls, unfinished gaping basement opening (wine cellar? dungeon?). It was great; I really have to take Bastian to see the Winchester House in recompense, I think.

Bull Run Castle, Inside

I don't usually find antiques of much interest. So much overpriced sentimental junk, broken and dusty and haunted by ghosts that flit at the edges of my thoughts. Perhaps, then, I liked these because they were sold inside a castle. Ghosts, perhaps, in the spill of cold sunlight over pottery, suits of armor, statuary, military relics.
Music I found aplenty. The hammered copper pot, every scalloped dent edged in wan sunlight, made me think of a steel drum, made me measure the circumference of each dent with my fingertips, and contemplate the unique pitch each must sing struck by a spoon. Old metal signs advertising coca-cola, cars, rooms $5 a night that would ring like gongs if I hit them. Civil-war bullets, round and tarnished yellowgray. An "armory" full of swords, curved knives more show than balance, civil war sabers. What song then, notes and rhythm and long ghost-drowsy fermata, put these nicks in the blades, flattened these bullets to pancakes?
My favorite thing there was a dressmaker's mannequin, ancient. Wood covered in faded blue cloth upon adjustable metal ribs, rusted here and there. The cloth loose, unevenly faded and torn, given breath by the dusty wind and depth by the soft clear wan sunlight. It was beautiful, in the way that makes awareness of something, of another time, of fingertips who once fashioned folds and ribbons and silk upon. Every time I attempted to line up a photograph, the proprieter's footsteps came around the corner, creaky on the wooden castle floor, and I lowered my camera, unable or unwilling to explain why I found the mannequin so compelling, to stretch words over distant ghosts and their music.