George Daynor and the Palace of Depression

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“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.

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“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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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Photos found on amusementparknostalgia.com, thanks.

20 Responses to “George Daynor and the Palace of Depression”

  1. Apokalypi Says:

    i lived in new jersey for 24 years and i don’t remember ever hearing about that. now i am depressed.

  2. Mark Says:

    This is not only a fantastically inspirational tale – looking at it in context, it’s also hilariously depressing in its tell-tale depiction of the yawning chasm between ye goode olde days and now.

    1930s: buy 3 acres of land for £2 (!); build A CASTLE out of, essentially, discarded shit (take that, tokenistic recycling martyrs ;P); allow the public access to it without any local council intervention, despite there presumably being a pretty decent chance that the DIY tyres-and-brick-dust tunnels could cave in on someone’s head at any given moment.

    2000s: buy a miniscule plot of land, with a human filing cabinet already half-heartedly erected on it, for a kings ransom and then some; apply to any number of breathtakingly pointless bodies and councils for the right to make minor aesthetic tweaks to said cabinet, despite the fact that you now own it (or, more pessimistically, it now owns you); make sure to reel in the garden hose promptly every time you use it for fear that ne’er-do-wells may trip during their loot-impeded flight across your lawn and subsequently sue your face off.

    *sigh*…some things were just better before. ;)

    Heh, seriously, though – Christ on a bike, £2 for 3 acres of land! I can’t get over that. It’d cost me significantly more than that to park outside my own ‘castle’ for an hour. Um, if I was silly enough to own a car.

    This post really makes me want to build things. But also kick them.

  3. thekamisama Says:

    It’s like the Enchanted Forrest, the House on the Rock, and/or Coral Castle had a bastard love child and hid it in Jersey.

  4. nicky peacock Says:

    this article is wonderful.
    it made me happy and sad in equal measures.

  5. rubyredshoes Says:

    thats amazing! He defently took recylcing to the next level. The whole thing that gets me is that he had an impossible vision and with any seen technical know how, achieved it, even if he had to eat frogs!

    I defently hope that they re-bulid it so I can one day vist it.

  6. Jerem Morrow Says:

    Poor man’s Disney Land! I’ll take it over ze other.

  7. Mer Says:

    Thekamisama, have you ever been to any of those places? I am dying to go to each of them, as well as the Luray Caverns,

  8. Jessica Says:

    Superb! I didn’t know of the palace yet…thank you ever so much.

    House on the Rock is soooo amazing! (whatever may you think it is, that’s only the tip of the iceberg!) Really, you MUST go there sometime Mer…and stay at the Don Q hotel. They have a WW2 plane full of ghosts parked on the front lawn and a dozen antique barber chairs in the lobby…not to mention THEME rooms! Wisconsin weirdness at it’s finest. heehee.

  9. Mer Says:

    Oooo. Ghost planes and theme rooms?! I’m sold! I gotta figure out a way to get out there ASAP.

  10. sphenga Says:

    I find it inspirational that he would put so much into acheiving his eccentric goal of constructing a building to symbolize originality, resourcefulness, and willpower, only to have it’s meaning go unrecognized by society and even torn down by the government. Why does that seem so expected? It reminds me of that Rudyard Kipling poem I liked as a kid – something about where only when you take your stand against the world do you become a man (or in my case, woman).

  11. Sarah Says:

    I live in Vineland New Jersey.
    Our school is doing a play on it!
    IF YOU HAVE ANY QUESTIONS ABOUT THE PALACE ASK ME!
    EMAIL ME AT:
    timerssarah@yahoo.com
    for more info!

  12. Jeffrey Tirante Says:

    Hi I’m working with Kevin Kirchner on the “Palace Project” our new site is at “www.ourhero.biz” whatever you need to know about George, his wife and the Palace, I will be obliged to share! come out to see our progress! PAX, J.Tirante, OHinc.

  13. joni Says:

    Nobody has said anything about how they made a recreation of it for the movie Eddie and the Cruisers

  14. Gregory Scott Says:

    This is extremely cool. I wonder, why do they call it “Palace of Depression” when all the original material & photos call it the “Palace Depression”?

    Those names are *really* different.

  15. Eyerish Heather Collins Says:

    I grew up in Vineland, NJ. My house was in walking distance to The Palace. I have been there since they began restoration. There was so much swampy mermaid energy there.

  16. Architectural Antipsychotics | Microkhan by Brendan I. Koerner Says:

    [...] But it sounds as if I would have been an even greater sucker for New Jersey’s aptly named Palace of Depression, built during the Great Depression by George Daynor, a man who could charitably be described as [...]

  17. Tracey Blascak Says:

    I actually have a signes 1st edition “Classic Comic” by Mr. Daynor. It’s not in the best of shape, but any idea,s on what to do with this comic? Thank You

  18. Mental Detours « PattJackson.com Says:

    [...] http://coilhouse.net/2008/02/george-daynor-and-the-palace-of-depression/ [...]

  19. Gail Harris McCollum Says:

    I grew up in Vineland in the 50′s. I remember stopping by on the way home from church on Sundays when it was free and fun. When it was shut down and started falling apart. the kids in the neighborhood would sneak in (despite the caution signs and high fences) and ofcourse get totally spooked out just by daring each other to go inside, no one ever did. I do have some souvenier battle scars from falling off the fence though. When I left Vineland in 1979 it was still there. I went to HighSchool with Kevin (Hi Kevin). I was so pleased to find out that he begin this project. I hope I get a chance to get back to the old homestead and see it when it’s done. Thanks to all who are volunteering.

  20. pattu Says:

    My grandparents lived in Vineland and everytime I stayed with them, we went, It was my Disneyland! Early 50′s.