Author Archives: Michael Kleen

Placid Bay Inn

Lake Placid, New York was home to the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympics and sits in the heart of the Adirondack Mountains, so it’s been a tourist destination for decades. Motels like the Placid Bay Inn, at 2187 Saranac Avenue (New York State Route 86), offer affordable accommodations for vacationing families.

Gettysburg National Military Park

The Battle of Gettysburg was fought July 1–3, 1863 in and around Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, between Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia and Union Maj. Gen. George Meade’s Army of the Potomac during the American Civil War. The battle ended in a Union victory and resulted in approximately 48,000 total casualties.

Gettysburg National Military Park preserves 3,965 acres and maintains approximately 1,328 monuments, markers, and memorials. Because the battle was fought in and around the town (home to 7,620 people and Gettysburg College), it would be impossible to preserve the entirety of the battlefield, but extensive efforts have been made to restore preserved land to its 1863 appearance. With 1-2 million visitors per year, Gettysburg is perhaps the most popular Civil War battlefield.

Battlefield tour guides are knowledgeable and well-trained. Applicants actually go through a process of written and oral exams, held every other year, before being licensed by the National Park Service. In 2008, the park built a new, $29.4 million visitor center with 20,000 square feet of exhibit space. It houses a cyclorama, galleries, temporary exhibit spaces, an archive, two theaters, a full-service restaurant, catering kitchen, classrooms, gift shop/bookstore, staff offices, and a conference room, and employs 85-105 full time employees. It’s truly impressive.

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Tinker’s Shadow Coming Soon

My first documentary, Tinker’s Shadow: The Hidden History of Tinker Swiss Cottage, will be released on Amazon Video Direct on March 26! Tinker Swiss Cottage Museum and Gardens in Rockford, Illinois has long been rumored to be haunted, but what do its ghosts teach us about the past? Join host Amelia Cotter as she takes you inside and reveals the hidden history of this beautiful museum. Featuring interviews with museum staff, visitors, volunteers, and researchers.

FOX39 in Rockford did a great interview with Steve Litteral and Samantha Hochmann of Tinker Cottage about the project. Check it out here: Amazon to debut documentary about Tinker Swiss Cottage’s haunted history

Hartford Castle’s Once-Majestic Remains

“Hartford Castle” is the colloquial name for a mansion that formerly stood on a tract of land just outside Hartford, Illinois, across the Mississippi River from St. Louis. Its original owner, a French immigrant named Benjamin Biszant, called it Lakeview. He built the imposing home for his bride, an Englishwoman whose name has apparently been lost to history.

Sparing no expense (which was certainly an impressive dollar amount in 1897), Biszant surrounded Lakeview with sprawling gardens, statuary, romantic gazebos, and, finally, a moat to keep out trespassers. According to Louie Haines, a neighbor who recalled helping to dig the moat with his father, the Frenchman stocked it with goldfish that interbred with local crappie, producing what he described as “unusual looking fish.”

Eventually, Biszant’s wife died and, perhaps, the pain was too much for him to remain at Lakeview. He sold the mansion and moved west. Several owners and tenants occupied the mansion until 1923 when a husband and wife from nearby Wood River purchased the property. They lived there until 1964, when the wife became a widow and decided to move to less lonely surroundings.

During that time, according to Bill Matheus of the Lewis & Clark Journal, local residents treated the property as if it were their own. Visitors frequently roamed the grounds and even invited themselves inside the mansion for tours! The mansion deteriorated during the late 1960s, and in 1971 and 1972 vandals ran wild.

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My Friend Dahmer: Am I Missing the Point?

Based on a graphic novel of the same name by Derf (John) Backderf, My Friend Dahmer (2017) traces infamous Wisconsin serial killer and cannibal Jeffrey Dahmer’s high school years, as chronicled by a former friend. Written and directed by Marc Meyers, this moody and hauntingly subtle film won best picture at Austin Fantastic Fest. Despite competent performances by its cast, My Friend Dahmer fails to leave a lasting impression. It lacked an over-all plot, and the poorly-mixed sound was barely audible.

Jeffrey Dahmer committed his first murder three weeks after graduating high school. As a teen, he coped with his parents’ failing marriage with alcohol abuse and acting out at school, and developed a fascination with death. He went on to kill sixteen people, preying mostly on young gay men in Milwaukee. He dismembered and ate some of his victims. He was finally caught in 1991, and a fellow inmate murdered him three years later.

Out of what I assume is a strict adherence to the source material, the film never goes below the surface or attempts to explain why Dahmer became a monster or what could have been done to stop him. It subtly hints at his aberrant sexuality without confronting it. What remains is a stark depiction of events without drama, tension, or conflict.

Ross Lynch gives an admirable performance as the wannabe serial killer (although the movie doesn’t give him much to do). This is certainly a departure from his other roles in Disney films and TV shows like Austin & Ally (2011-2016). His brooding, deadpan performance couldn’t contrast more with his usual upbeat, teen heartthrob characters. Such a dramatic acting range bodes well for his future career in film, and I’m looking forward to seeing him in more dramatic roles.

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Bri O on the St. Lawrence River

In this series, model Bri O poses along the St. Lawrence River, mostly with Boldt Castle in the distance. We took some pictures at the wooden gazebo at the Thousand Island Marina on Wellesley Island but only a few came out. This is my favorite spot on the St. Lawrence. I love the history and romanticism of Boldt Castle. Bri’s jacket also contrasted nicely with the snow.

Boldt Castle in Winter

Few places in Upstate New York are as romantic as Boldt Castle on the St. Lawrence River. George Boldt, general manager of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City and manager of the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel in Philadelphia, began construction of the 120-room mansion in 1900, but it was never finished.

It was to be a grand tribute to the love of his life, Louise Kehrer Boldt. Tragically, Louise Boldt died suddenly in January 1904. Heartbroken, George Boldt sent workers at the castle a telegram telling them to cease construction immediately.

For the next 73 years, the partially-completed castle sat empty and abandoned, left to the mercy of vandals and the elements. In 1977, the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority bought Heart Island and agreed to commit all proceeds from tours and events toward its restoration. Today, much of the structural damage has been reversed, and the ground floor is beautifully furnished. It looks particularly romantic, like something from a fairy tale, covered with snow and ice.

Fairground Inn Family Restaurant

Sign for Fairground Inn Family Restaurant at 852 Coffeen Street in Watertown, New York. The Fairground Inn, an Italian-American restaurant, was opened by the Coleman family in the 1930s.