“The only real depression is a depression of individual ingenuity.” -George Daynor
The exploits of George Daynor read like the synopsis of a Coen Brothers flick. As the story goes, Daynor was a former gold prospector who’d lost his fortune in the Wall Street crash of 1929. Hitchhiking through Alaska, he was visited by an angel who told him to make his way to New Jersey without further delay. Divine providence had dictated that Daynor was to wait out the Great Depression there, building a castle with his bare hands.
Daynor had only four dollars in his pocket when he arrived in Vineland, NJ. He used the money to buy three swampy acres of land that had once been a car junkyard. For years he slept in an abandoned car on the mosquito-infested property, living off a steady diet of frogs, fish and squirrels while he built his elaborate eighteen-spired, pastel-hued Palace of Depression out of auto parts and mud. His primary objective? To encourage his downtrodden countrymen to hold onto their hope and stay resourceful, no matter what. Daynor opened his homemade castle to the public on Christmas Day, 1932, free of charge (he started charging an entrance fee after someone made fun of his beard), and proved an enthusiastic, albeit eccentric tour guide.
“The Palace Depression stands as a proof that education by thought can lift all the depressed peoples out of any depression, calamity or catastrophe; if mankind would use it. The proof stands before you my friends. Seeing is believing.”
Daynor held back his wild red hair with bobby pins, wore lipstick and rouge, and enjoyed dressing alternately as a prospector or a Victorian dandy. Legend has it he kept his common-law wife, Florence Daynor, locked up in one of the Palace’s subterranean chambers during visiting hours. He offered his “living brain” to the Smithsonian for experiments (they declined). His Palace of Depression, a.k.a The Strangest House In the World, quickly became a popular tourist destination for folks on their way to Atlantic City.
From Weird NJ:
The Palace was a hodge podge of materials, including old car chassis for floor beams, and gables fashioned from old car fenders. Concrete walls were constructed from odd pieces of cement and rocks, and bed frames were made into swinging doors. To paint the house, Daynor pulverized old red bricks and mixed them with crankcase motor oil. The dome on top of the house was an large kettle turned upside down. Old wagon wheels formed the bases for cone shaped towers and revolving doors. The dining table was made of a huge cypress log with knee holes cut into it, and stumps were used as seats.
There were many darkened rooms and corners where Mr. Daynor would delight in regaling visitors with tales of hidden rivers and his vision of happiness and security. He would show people the “Wishing Well” and “Knockout Room,” where a heavy boulder was suspended above a chair. If you wanted to forget about your troubles, you could sit on the chair under the boulder and get a bonk on the head. Reportedly no one ever took him up on this offer.
Daynor even constructed an underground “Jersey Devil’s Den,” which one could crawl through. The castle itself had no windows, but shards of glass that created a colorful sunrise and sunset mosaic. The property was neatly laid out with ponds and gardens that Daynor would guide tourists around, all for 25¢ a head.
Although Daynor made grandiose claims that his creation would last 100 years, the castle has fallen into disrepair by the late 40s, and its aging king was getting weirder by the minute. In the 50s, the 81 year old Daynor claimed that kidnappers had contacted him and asked to hide the child in one of the spires of his Palace. It was a tasteless publicity scheme and Daynor was thrown in jail for a year for fraud. During his incarceration, vandals tore the Palace apart and burned a lot of it down. Daynor’s health deteriorated in prison and he never fully recovered after his release, suffering from chronic malnutrition. He died in 1964. It was his wish to be buried at the Palace, but the city had plans to raze it to make way for a public park, so Daynor was buried at a nearby cemetery in a pauper’s grave instead.
Although few remnants of the once grand castle are still standing, The Palace of Depression Restoration Association is currently trying to bring the castle back to its former glory. Volunteers are invited to help recreate Daynor’s castle as an arts and learning center, and folks with the time and skills to pursue grants and donations are also encouraged to join the effort. Best of luck, guys!
- The Palace of Depression (then and now)
- Weird NJ article
- Daynor at Roadside America
- an article at Metropolis Mag
- on wikipedia
- if you liked the Palace of Depression you’ll LOVE The Coral Castle (post imminent!)
Photos found on amusementparknostalgia.com, thanks.