Loveland Castle -- also known as "Chateau Laroche" -- is a small, unfinished folly castle tucked away on a quiet shaded riverbank in Loveland, Ohio, just outside of Cincinnati. A World War I veteran and lifelong bachelor named Harry Andrews began construction of the castle in 1929, and took up permanent residence there in 1955 until his death in 1981. In the heroic myths about the man that he did much to propagate himself, Andrews is credited with roughly 98 to 99% of the labor that produced the structure, which included carrying up over 55,000 five-gallon buckets of stones from the Little Miami River, as well as shaping the remaining bricks out of concrete and assorted rejectamenta poured painstakingly into paper milk cartons. Today, the castle remains a local curiosity and an inexpensive tourist destination, and is also available for rent to host weddings and receptions; overnights for church and Scouting groups; formal photo shoots; and ghost hunts or "paranormal investigations." In the fall, the castle regularly transforms itself into a haunted house, and has also hosted other events resembling small-scale Renaissance festivals.
I grew up about 30 miles from Loveland Castle, and last year I revisited the castle for the first time as an adult -- and, more importantly, now as a practicing medievalist. Accordingly, the following post will examine this fascinating but in some ways troubling example of 20th-century medievalism from the critical perspective of a medievalist who was nevertheless enchanted with the castle as a young child. In fact, as I began to compose this piece, I realized that Loveland Castle may even be partly to credit for setting me on the path to becoming a professional medievalist. If I recall correctly, the first time I visited the castle was on an elementary school field trip with the local gifted program Project ASCENT; in retrospect, that program seems to have profoundly influenced my later intellectual development, with a series of special units that first sparked my interest in, among other things, classical mythology, ancient Egypt, Shakespeare, and of course the European Middle Ages.
We could begin with questions of "authenticity," questions that are clearly on the minds of many visitors to the castle as well as its current caretakers. For instance, on the official homepage of the Loveland Castle, we find this curious exchange topping the list of frequently asked questions: "Question: Is it a real castle? Answer: Yes, a thousand years ago when the Roman Empire occupied Britain they built hundreds of keeps just like Harry's. It is full scale, except for the Ballroom which is a 1/5 replica of the ballroom Harry used as a field hospital in WWI." This post isn't concerned with nitpicking historical details -- I like to think I'm not that kind of medievalist -- but obviously Rome withdrew from Britannia far longer than a mere millennium ago, and Andrews's castle looks nothing like a provincial Roman fortification except for perhaps the crudity of its makeshift stonework. Elsewhere on the website, we learn instead that "Harry featured three distinctive styles of architecture [--] German, French and English," which seems closer to the mark: as with many examples of neo-medievalism, architectural and otherwise, the castle is a mishmash of styles combined in the way that appeared most pleasingly medieval to an amateur medievalist. Interestingly, media outlets reporting on the castle variously describe it as everything from a 10th-century Norman-style castle to a 1/5 scale replica of an "actual" 16th-century medieval castle. What's more, as far as I can tell, Andrews at least named his castle after a 16th-century French castle (i.e., already a post-medieval construction), which had since been remodeled into a 19th-century neoclassical château, and then converted into the field hospital where he was stationed during the war. In short, those looking to Loveland Castle for a faithful representation of a real medieval castle, or as bearer of any genuine truth about medieval history, will be severely disappointed.
And, speaking of history selling, I'll confess right here that, on my honeymoon in Great Britain, we made a pilgrimage even to the Canterbury Tales visitor attraction in modern Canterbury, in the spirit of critical inquiry and good fun: there's even an illicit photo of me standing next to Chaunticleer. It's not the best picture, because we had to be quick about sneaking it -- I think we were almost sealed in the Nun's Priest's room as the automatic doors closed on us. But in the interests of sharing knowledge, I'll show it here -- I just hope I won't be banned from the attraction in the future, because perhaps I'll want to write a post on it someday. (For brief commentaries on the visitor attraction, you can see David Wallace's already canonical reflection on Chaucerian medievalism "New Chaucer Topographies," or Kathleen Forni's comprehensive new monograph on Chaucer's Afterlife.)
But back to the historicity of Loveland Castle itself: I ultimately decided against putting the word "historic" in my title in ironizing scare quotes, in spite of the glaringly obvious liberties the castle and its staff take with history. (Those aren't ironic scare quotes in that last sentence, either, but simply quotes indicating a lexical use-mention distinction. Naturally!) Loveland Castle encompasses a great deal of history, but what do its caretakers and promoters mean, exactly, when they advertise it as "historic"? Do they even know what they mean? The history that Historic Loveland Castle encodes seems to me fundamentally overdetermined. To the class of 4th graders who visited it on a field trip during their unit on medieval castles, Loveland Castle was indeed "medieval history" in its purest form: here was a living piece of history, a real castle: this, this is what a castle was like. To the majority of visitors who spend an afternoon at the castle -- over one million and counting, by recent estimates -- it may still represent the only medieval history lesson they've had in some time. To a medievalist, this may be regrettable for obvious reasons, but I don't believe it means we ought to write off Loveland Castle, or even sneer at it too dismissively. From my perspective now as someone who has published here and there on neo-medievalism in contemporary popular culture -- and who also does work on the medievalisms of various intervening centuries -- Loveland Castle means a great deal as a moment in the history of medievalism, specifically, early to mid 20th-century medievalism. What can this site and its hold on the collective Ohio Valley imagination tell us about why we continue to imagine and inhabit the Middle Ages with such enthusiasm six centuries on? Why do we insistently return to the Middle Ages, not only in our historical scholarship, but also with our animatronic roosters and milk carton castles?
I can only begin to answer such questions here, but let's start by probing a little more deeply into the context of the castle's building. Perhaps uniquely for an American castle, the motivations behind the construction of Chateau Laroche can be traced to one man's monomaniacal, lifelong obsession with the idea of the Middle Ages. Sources differ on whether it was his Sunday school class or a Boy Scout troop -- even in the official information distributed by outlets associated with the Castle's current operations -- but Andrews's original motivation in building a castle was to provide a kind of permanent campsite for a group of boys, who came to be organized as the pseudo-chivalric order "The Knights of the Golden Trail," and to whom the castle was bequeathed after Andrews's death. Today the Knights not only keep up the castle, but also keep alive the larger-than-life memory of its builder: in the army he was declared dead of meningitis, but was revived days later and the bacterial cultures from his body saved thousands of others; after his fiancée at home broke off the engagement, he would go on to turn down over fifty marriage proposals later in life; he had an IQ in the 180s and fluency in several languages as well as encyclopedic architectural knowledge; and, finally -- an obviously verifiable falsehood -- he was formally knighted after rescuing a English nobleman during the war. But there was more to the man than the myths: he also had a founding philosophy for the castle and the homegrown chivalric order it housed. In his own words, the construction of the castle represented far, far more than a rearrangement of piles of stones in southern Ohio: "Chateau Laroche was built as an expression and reminder of the simple strength and rugged grandeur of the mighty men who lived when Knighthood was in flower. It was their knightly zeal for honor, valor and manly purity that lifted mankind out of the moral midnight of the dark ages and started it towards the gray dawn of human hope. Present human decadence proves a need for similar action. Already the ancient organization of Knights have been re-activated to save society. Any man of high ideas who wishes to help save civilization is invited to become a member of the Knights of the Golden Trail, whose only vows are the Ten Commandments. Chateau Laroche is the World headquarters of this organization, started in 1927."
My concerns with this statement of purpose, as with my larger concerns about the castle's fidelity to "history," do not finally have much to do with its romantic misprisions and misrepresentations of the nature of, say, chivalry, knighthood, the relative darkness of the Middle Ages. Instead, I'm more intrigued by the larger implications of peddling this peculiar but not uncommon form of medievalism in the 20th and 21st centuries. Thomas A. Michel has already begun to unpack the architectonic rhetoric of the castle itself in a short chapter titled "Harry Andrews and His Castle: A Rhetorical Study," which aims "to argue for a genre of folk architecture based on certain motivational and rhetorical similarities" (112). But Michel is also keen to point out the more uncomfortable dimensions of Andrews's project, which is perhaps not so quaint as it seems as we tour the castle and gaze at old photographs of a genial elderly man carrying buckets of stones from the river. One room in the castle loops television interviews with Andrews from over the years, and his intense anti-feminism -- implicit even in the castle's mission statement, with its emphasis on the power of men and manly virtue to restore a fallen world -- comes across in offhand statements peppered throughout the interviews. Likewise, Michel notes that "women were often made the butt of jokes and puns in his newsletter" (120), and in his writings Andrews warns his boys repeatedly against the temptations presented by loose women seeking to corrupt them. In fact, some of the rhetoric about the decay of the world and the men called to restore its past glory differs very little from the rhetoric of fascism also first brewing in the 1920s. For example, as late as the 1970s, Andrews continued to openly advocate the institutionalization of a national policy of eugenics: "We can, and must encourage the reproduction of the better grade of people, and discourage the reproduction of the lower grades" (The Golden Grail no. 110, Aug. 1975, qtd. in Michel 121).
When we look at Loveland Castle and enjoy its quaint medievalism, behind it we see a harmless eccentric in love with a fantasy of a more noble, more heroic past. But the form of medievalism that inspired Andrews is nevertheless fundamentally reactionary, even regressive, and this most toxic form of medievalism has manifested itself in both Europe and America at various points and in various ways in the 20th century. Andrews's desire to withdraw from modernity into an illusory past is surely somehow related to the personal paranoia in evidence in the castle's "ax-proof" main door and its bona fide murder holes. Andrews would also tell tales of being pestered, even menaced by "young punks" at the castle -- against whom he would attempt to defend himself with a gun rather than any sword. But there are more interesting stories to tell here than I really can do myself without doing further research: maybe someday someone can really dig deeply into the medievalist rhetoric built into each stone of Loveland Castle.
All of this was not to say that we should dismiss the edifice as a symbol of crypto-fascism that should be avoided by the public and ignored by serious medievalists. Let me close instead with a different perspective on this monument of 20th-century medievalism, with a different context for understanding and appreciating Loveland Castle as an instantiation of that phenomenon. As a medic in World War I, Andrews first became enchanted with the Middle Ages and medieval castles during his stays in England and France. His desire to return to a medieval past was surely influenced or even instilled by his experiences in the world's first modern war: one can see how the mass production of death in the trenches of the Great War could give someone a reason to wish we still fought with swords and for causes we could imagine to be noble, even holy. When we speak of an idealizing medievalism conditioned by experiences in World War I, the two greatest influences on 20th-century medievalism should spring immediately to mind: J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis. Both Tolkien and Lewis studied and taught medieval literature at Oxbridge, whereas most of Andrews's medieval education was self-taught, and far from professional. Even so, it may be productive, even vitally necessary, to group Andrews and his pet project with the non-scholarly medievalist projects of Tolkien and Lewis. (Tolkien, we might point out, has himself been called a dangerous reactionary and a fascist for his idolization of the medieval far more often than Harry D. Andrews has.)
Of course, we know that Lewis himself, in spite of the medievalizing fictions he would later produce, was highly critical of what he perceived -- and what many medieval scholars today would perceive -- as cheap, faux medievalism offered up for the consumption of an ignorant public. For this reason, Lewis himself would likely have dismissed Andrews's American castle as he is known to have dismissed other examples of neo-medievalism in his own time. In a letter to his brother dated 7 August 1921, Lewis describes his disgust at discovering an Arthurian tourist industry in Tintagel, which as everyone knows from reading their Geoffrey of Monmouth, was never really associated with King Arthur except in the local imagination: "This has not however deterred some wretch, hated by the muse, from erecting an enormous hotel on the very edge of the cliff, built in toy Gothic, and calling it the King Arthur's Hotel" (153). With lascivious horror Lewis details the hotel's lurid mass-market medievalism, a medievalism of a type familiar to any 21st-century visitor to a Medieval Times attraction or a Renaissance festival; at the end of his lengthy tirade, Lewis insists that he has "not yet exhausted the horrors of the place" (153). In their scholarship, some of which has proven surprisingly resistant in an ever-changing field, Lewis and Tolkien surely present a more accurate view of the Middle Ages than any King Arthur's Hotel or American castle. But we should simply keep in mind that Andrews was born in the same decade as Tolkien and Lewis, and that he fought in the same war, all the while dreaming of the Middle Ages. Andrews, too, began his final preparations to move into the castle permanently in the same year that The Lord of the Rings was published: no matter how quaint-looking and no matter how reactionary in motivation, Loveland Castle remains part of a larger narrative that needs to be told about medievalism in the 20th century. Tolkien constructed the ideal medieval world that he desired to inhabit word by carefully-chosen word, but, in the very same way, Harry D. Andrews pursued his dream of a time reborn stone by river-polished stone. Whereas Tolkien invented languages and built a medieval world around them, like Lewis filling his fantasy novels with castles in the sky, Andrews pulled his own castle out of the Little Miami River, and left it there on the bank as another powerful reminder of the complexity of our eternal desire for the past.
Lewis, C. S. The Letters of C. S. Lewis: Revised and Enlarged Edition. Ed. W. H. Lewis. San Diego: Harcourt Brace, 1993. Print.
Michel, Thomas A. "Harry Andrews and His Castle: A Rhetorical Study." Personal Places: Perspectives on Informal Art Environments. Ed. Daniel Franklin Ward. Bowling Green, OH: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1984. Print.