The tragic tale of Jay Gatsby may have been a figment of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s imagination, but New England has its very own, very real version of the larger-than-life character: its local queen of scandal, Madame Sherri.
The glamorous eccentric threw fabulous parties at her “castle” in the middle of the forest, and drove around the town in a custom-made cream Packard car, with a monkey perched on her shoulder. Madame Sherri, born Antoinette Bramare, married actor and dancer Andre Riela in 1911, and the couple moved to New York and changed their name to Sherri. Mystery surrounds the reason for this name change as well as other aspects of their life together.
In New York, Madame Sherri made a name for herself designing elaborate costumes for Broadway productions, most notably the Ziegfeld Follies. After her husband’s death, she decided to build a unique structure in the woods of Chesterfield, New Hampshire, to hold parties for her theater friends.
Madame Sherri lived in a more modest house nearby and used the bigger property to entertain. The quirky “castle,” as it became known locally, had three stories and a massive staircase outside the house. A lot of this was made possible by the generous gifts Madame Sherri received from her former assistant Charles LeMaire, who later went on to become an Academy Award-winning costume designer. When this money ran out, the parties too came to an end, and the castle fell into disuse. Madame Sherri fell on hard times and died in poverty in 1965, as a ward of the state.
The dramatic staircase ending mid-air is all that remains of the castle today. After falling prey to vandals, the castle was destroyed by a fire in 1962, leaving behind only the foundations and a section of the staircase. Locals have reported hearing and seeing strange things in the ruins, which were later taken over by the Chesterfield Conservation Commission, which added trails around the structure and renamed the forest after Madame Sherri.