Built by architect Harrie Lindeberg, before the conclusion of WWI, its landscaping by Frederic Law Olmstead, I marvel at its columns. There are eight if them holding up its roof of a precious Italian blue slate. Mr. Lambert drops by one day to discourse on his life and times, and the decisions he made to build this fine estate. Each column has an element of trompe l'oeil, somewhat greater circumference at its waist than at its ends. Lambert had them raised and razed, and approved in their final. perfection on the third attempt. Likewise, the blue slate, from an Italian quarry long spent, were hand sawn, with the same exacting trompe l'oeil as well, smaller toward the top, and graduating larger down toward the eaves, to bring dramatic perspective to the entirety. Lambert made a fortune many times over, with Lambert Pharmaceuticals. He'd made a dent in the American psyche about halitosis, in advertising Listerine mouthwash. British surgeon and pioneer Sir Joseph Lister actually discovered the first oral antiseptic, but it was Lambert who packaged the idea. Gerard B. Lambert (1887-1967) sold all his stocks in early October, 1929, just a near miss from Black Thursday on October 24th with the stock market crash that was to plunge the USA into its Great Depression. Having been there and done that business, Lambert spent from '28-the dawn of WWII immersed in competitive sailing. He captained his schooner America across the Atlantic and repeatedly trounced the British yachting community with various yachts he owned and operated. Like everything he did, Lambert was hands-on.***************
In the foyer to Albemarle sits a nine foot Steinway grand. It's fit with a Welte Vorstzer electro-mechanical reproduction device. That piano's harp had been signed and dated by Sergei Rachmaninoff. It's the week before Christmas, 1951. It will be my first and last Christmas from home, without my parents, until my escape from Carnegie Tech in 1961. After I gamely hang up the pay-phone in my weekly collect call home, I fully realize I'm not home and alone. The school is entirely flushed of its student body and faculty. Only the distant laughter from Choir director Donald Bryant's upstairs family quarters offers signs of cohabitation. I go to the closet where the piano rolls are arranged in order. I find consoling company of Sergei's handiwork on a Schubert Impromptu. As the pneumatics play through the piano roll vents, I study chase the key action of this man, who had sat once at this very keyboard. The frost is on the pumkin, and here on the broad esplanade, hedged by a redolent boxwood which then dips down the terraced rose garden to a marbled barrier at the wood's edge. I can see deer gathering there in the gloaming at the salt lick. The Schubert plays out and I thread in another roll. What would lift the heart any more than a Sacher torte of Willie Miskovski's 'Malagueña'? It goes on. My heart dances with me as I circle the floor, spinning along the French doors that line the foyer, dressed in Belgian lace. I tidy up and snake up past the foreboding 40,000 square feet leading through the darkened corridors to my garret. There, as I steel myself for the imminent honor of going to New York to play the title roll in Menotti's 'Amahl', I find myself alone in evelated revelations. Somehow, Menotti's opera reduces the issue of rich and poor to a most comprehensible redux. It speaks of entitlement and the Oblivion of the superannated fat cats that Christ rebelled against. I go to sleep, carrying the poor with me in my dreams, safely within the sequestered walled gardens provided this boarding school by the genial, charitable Gerard Lambert. I'm equipped, I figure.***************
January brings a waist high snow, and exploratory routes through the woods. By Springtime, me and my pal Roger find life erupting in the swimming pool, with a new batch of polywogs up surfacing up from last Autumn's deciduous detritus on the pool's floor. Roger is a Seminole indian. He has bigger aims. We pass the salt lick and dissolve into the woods, Magritte style, blending in the late evening striated light play, to cut off a tap root of sassafrass. Roger has a machete. At age 13, he's developed a surgical skill with it. Darkness descends under a shy moon, welcoming the ghosts within the trees. We finally reach the crick. When there, we holster our gigs and flashlights, and pack our provisions into the USS Cement Mixer. God only knows how it got there in the bowels of that 400 acre tract, but there it sits, on the bank. We slide it in the water quietly. Roger isn't verbal, but tacitly adroit in a command position. He sits forward with a flashlight and gig as I pole us into position. Two red eyes sparkle by a somewhat submerged log and in a trice Roger's tri-pronged gig is thrust into the bull frog's head. Soon a thwack of the blade severs the legs from the frog's body. We say a prayer and move on to another kill. Mr. Bryant's wife is gonna love these legs when we get back up to Thr Big House, and pan fry 'em in garlic butter with parsley. And, the Bryants are wild about sassafrass tea. So Roger and I often repeat this pattern on Thursday nights before study hall. Bryant pays well for rgse delectations, and it provides us the winnings ample for a weekend trip into Princeton, for a movie with all the fixins.
On one occasion in 1953, I go to join "townie" Tyler Gatchell to take in 'House of Wax', in 3D, with Vincent Price. But first, dinner at the Gatchell home. I get the impression that the Gatchells are reduced to "silver poor", although Tyler is directly descended from both Presidents Taylor and Tyler. I have my first artichoke at their table, prepared by his grandmother. She cautions me gently not to drink the finger bowl. I'm moved by this intimate insight into an American ruling class family by now on the skids. The father, abseent at the dinner table, still at the liquor store, plying his stock and trade. Tyler and I bus the table and walk to the movie theater. At one point in the film, we hear an explosive laugh behind us. We look back, and directly behind us is Dr. Einstein, in 3D glasses, enjoying this sensational film as much as we are.
It occured to me at the time: nobody's gonna believe this. Yet, I had a corroborative witness in my beloved friend Tyler. I did, until July '93, when he had a fatal heart attack in a limo, en route to Kennedy International airport. Can I get a witness? Not on that one, I regret to say I really do.