As you may know, there’s an Edward Gorey-style mansion near my house, featuring a wonderful Victorian/Bavarian/Miyazaki stone-and-cast-iron cuckoo clock of a water tower. I’ve breathlessly written about it before, going as far as buying a domain name with the intention of donating it to the group that runs the park.
Tonight, my friend Jim Haigney and I went to a meeting of the Friends of Oakbourne in order to:
- Meet the folks that take care of the park and give the domain name to them,
- See about possibly having a Guerilla Drive-In showing next year, and especially
- Maybe get to see inside the water tower.
We pulled into an empty parking lot and walked into the mansion, to find one gray-haired man sitting halfway back in a room full of empty folding chairs. He turned to greet us, revealing a jaunty curled Salvador Dali mustache and a pair of wide rainbow suspenders.
“Hello!” he said. “Are you here for the meeting?” We replied that we were.
“I don’t think there’s going to be one tonight”, he said. “I’ve been here for half an hour, and it hasn’t started.”
We checked our flyers. The meeting was indeed supposed to be tonight, according to the papers we held — but then Jim spotted a stack of minutes from the last meeting, which indicated that tonight’s meeting would actually be held a week from now, on the fifteenth.
“Oh!” said the man. “Well, the secretary of the association wrote that, and he should know.” He stuck out his hand. “Hi, I’m Walt. I’m the secretary of the association.”
The evening only got more awesome from there. I am absolutely not being sarcastic about the awesomeness. If you called Central Casting and asked for an English colonel to come charging down the mansion’s stairs in the middle of the night with a Webley revolver on a lanyard and a leopard-print bathrobe, Walt is the man they would send you.
Walt showed us the inside of the mansion: Giant carved bear-head newel posts! Marble fireplaces! Oak paneling! He told us all about how big, rambling house had been used as a convalescent home for sick episcopal women confirming my suspicion that the house must be packed with ghosts in frilly white victorian gowns.
But the best part was still to come:
“Walt, do you think you could show us inside the water tower? I’ve been dying to see it.”
“Oh, the water tower… no, I don’t think anybody has been inside the water tower for many years!”
ARE YOU KIDDING ME? The most eccentric piece of mysterious steampunk architecture in Chester County, and the slatted castle door has been BARRED FOR YEARS?
Obviously, this amazing architectural relic is packed to the steeply-peaked rafters with magical sarcophagi. Or brass monkey hands. Or jewel-topped staffs brought from the furthest reaches of the Kalahari, their evil gemstones throbbing with an eldritch light.
Walt seemed amused at my theories, and suggested that I get in touch with Westtown township’s roadmaster, who is likely to have the keys. “You know, the tanks don’t hold water any more!” he warned me.
Of course they don’t hold water. Because, I’m quite sure, the water tanks are now full of imported, sun-bleached Egyptian sand, beneath which the withered form of ancient prince Amonhotep slumbers… until his rest is disturbed.
I snapped the picture of the floodlit tower on my iPhone before we left.
Driving back across route 202, we saw a stream of water arching high, high up into the night air, over the treetops. Investigating, it turned out they were doing night exercises at the West Chester Fire Safety Training center — the concrete building was shuttered and smoking, and fellows were bustling around with radios crackling. Wow, all in all an adventurous and entirely successful trip. Thanks, Jim!
5 responses to “The Oakbourne Water Tower Just Gets More Amazing”
I drive around West Chester all the time at night. Nothing crazy or amazing ever happens…..mild traffic, the occasional red light, college kids quietly going about their business of crawling from bar to bar…..literally, they crawl……I’ve seen them…
But as soon as you get in my truck, all sorts of wacky things happen. Thanks for a memorable evening. So you think Walt was lying about the ‘caretaker’ on the second floor? Maybe that was a ghostly nun.
Why do I have the thought that wandering the grounds of this place is a google-y eyed Marty Feldman as Egor, or “iGor”(note clever 21st century spelling) wondering why everyone keeps mentioning his hump…
I am so jealous. You really get out there don’t you John? I tell you, if you weren’t around Chester Country would be a much more boring affair. Well I guess it is, since I didn’t get to see inside this mansion that I drive by quite often, but knowing it doesn’t disappoint makes my commute every morning a bit less boring.
what a cool story, of a cool place I didn’t even know existed. Hooray for unexpected adventure especially so close to home!
That is strange, because Walt has been dead for over twenty years.