The Writings on the Walls
When you hear the word “graffiti”, what comes to mind? Is it destruction, gangs, slums, ugliness? If you drive through any part of New York City or Philadelphia, you are bound to see graffiti. Words and drawings that most don’t understand or cannot relate to. Symbols that gang members know and use as a secret communication. Sometimes graffiti is an opinion. A dislike towards a specific group or about something going on in the world leads to words and phrases painted on the side of a bridge. Other times, it’s an expression of love for someone or something. Graffiti, to some, is an artwork. To others, it’s a sign of change and deterioration. And sometimes, it can be a connection to the past.
In the Summer of 2018, I visited Boldt Castle, which is located in the Thousand Islands in Upstate New York. Let me begin by saying that Boldt Castle is filled with history and love. At the turn of the century, George C. Boldt, a millionaire and owner of the Waldorf Astoria Segar Company, had a mission. His mission was to build an enormous castle on Heart Island in Alexandria Bay (yes, the island is in the shape of a heart!). The reason behind building this castle was to show his strong love for his wife, Louise. Construction began in 1900, with 300 men working tirelessly to build this castle. Construction continued until January 1904 when Louise Boldt died suddenly. Construction stopped and George Bolt never returned to the island again. He couldn’t bare to live in the castle without his beloved wife. For the next 73 years, the castle was dormant—an abandoned building on the middle of an island. In 1977, the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority was given control of the property. Millions of dollars were put into renovating the castle so that it could become a tourist site. Each year, a new part of the castle is opened to tourists who come from all over the world to visit this beautiful castle.
By now, you are probably wondering how I went from graffiti to explaining the history behind Boldt Castle. Let me continue. From 1904 to 1977, the castle was abandoned. Since, it was only accessible by boat and the castle was located in a fairly remote region, one can only imagine what workers saw when they first entered the castle in 1977. Besides a dilapidated, unfinished structure with years of weather damage, there was also a large amount of graffiti that dates back to the 1910s. Yes, people were graffitiing structures even before the hairdryer was invented. The graffiti is still there today in parts of the castle that have yet to be renovated and in some parts of the adjacent Dove Cote. For me, I found this graffiti fascinating. Unlike the “tags” of the cities, this graffiti is clean. It is simply names of people, where they came from, and the year they were there. Some have little smile faces or hearts added. When you look at these writings, it’s like you are looking at a moment in history. You can’t help but think about why these people were there, what prompted them to travel to an abandoned castle, and what they got out of being there. For me, I thought about where these people are now or what their legacy is. Where these people teenagers when they “wrote on the walls”? Were they affluent people or were they troublemakers? Some of the graffiti I saw dates back to the late 1910s and continues even until the 2010s—one hundred years! If you think about it, it’s quite incredible.
I was able to capture some of the writings I saw. As the castle continues to be renovated, more of the graffiti will be removed. We will never know these people. Nor will we ever know the meaning behind these writings. All we know is that these people left behind a mark. They allowed people of their future to be transported back to the past. Just like a photograph, these writings are a frozen moment in time. They are telling someone today that in 1928, a husband and wife from Brooklyn, NY traveled to an abandoned castle in the Thousand Islands Region and left their mark that has now become part of history.
Thanks for reading.