Tuesday, May 25, 2004

The Whalehead Club
The reason I managed to count all the way up to 30 horses at the beach is because we actually did drive all the way up to Duck, which is about an hour away. We had been debating which lighthouse to go see, since Hatteras is also a long drive and my aunt and uncle had already been there before we got there. We decided on Duck because there is both Currituck Lighthouse and the Whalehead Club to see.

The Whalehead Club was really the main draw for me. I have a weakness for historically restored buildings. This one is an impressive mansion from the 1920s, built by a wealthy couple, the Knights, as their winter home. The whole house is done in Art Nouveau style, which was quite unusual in the United States. All of the light fixtures were Tiffany glass, and it must have been a truly gorgeous sight. It's been through a lot since then, though, from a boys' summer school, to Coast Guard post, to rocket fuel testing site, until Currituck County bought it in 1992 and had it added to the National Register of Historic Places.

A few years ago when we were at the beach, we drove up and looked at it in the middle of restoration. They had just replaced the copper roof tiles, and the inside was pretty much torn apart in the massive cleaning and restoration efforts. They had managed to discover the original layer of paint in all the rooms and were repainting the master suites. Our tour guide was one of the paint crew, and she gave us a very colorful tour, with stories about how eccentric everyone had thought Mrs. Knight for never wearing skirts and carrying a flask of whisky everywhere with her, and the speculation about exactly why Mr. Knight's personal phsyician lodged in the Lilac Room with a direct connecting door to Mr. Knight's suite.

This time, the tour was far more tame, as if the restoration has now reached a point where there is enough paint on the walls to cover up the more gossip-worthy parts of the Knights' lives. Alas. What we did get to see this time, though, was all of the cork flooring restored, the grand piano refurbished, the cook Miss Rose's extremely pink kitchen (think Pepto Bismal glazed tiles), and all of the bedrooms completely painted. Mrs. Knight's bathroom had running hot and cold fresh and salt water. She was truly ahead of her time. Some of the Tiffany light fixtures had miraculously been saved and recovered, and when those are put up, they will be extraordinary. Most of the furniture, though, is having to be reproduced, and the organizers refuse to include anything that they cannot confirm was actually in the house while the Knights lived there.

I figure I'll give it another 5 years at least before I go back, to give them a chance to really restore it even further before I see it again, but for anyone who hasn't seen it yet, you should.

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