Last year, Corey and I were going to tour this place about an hour south of Pittsburgh called Nemacolin Castle, but they were closed for Christmas decorating on the weekend we wanted to visit (so we went to Narcisi Winery instead! Whaddup Broad and Roberto!). A few weeks ago, I remembered that this place existed and Corey was like fuck yes, let’s do this. Janna expressed interest too so we reluctantly let her come with us. (Ha-ha, j/k Janna.)
We made Janna drive.
The simple act of signing the guest book, which was displayed on the porch, had Corey and I giggling like idiots, just as the front door swung open by a young woman dressed in period attire (no, like a pioneer dress, not a maxi pad suit of armor) I thought to myself, “I’m going to make a complete ass of myself in this place, motherfuck.”
“Are you here for a tour?” she asked beneath her bonnet, and we all nodded. Janna was completely normal, but Corey and I were basically giving each other psychic pep talks. IF WE DON’T MAKE EYE CONTACT, WE CAN GET THROUGH THIS.
But then the girl began the tour with a brief history of the Bowman Family, who moved to Brownsville from Maryland, and one of the sons name was NELSON, I almost lost it because the night before at work, stupid Jeannie decided to have an ironic Nelson concert in her office and it was so annoying and then we had to teach TBD Amber about Nelson because she’s too young to know, ugh. So yeah, in my head, I blurted out, “NELSON BAHAHAHA” and had to dig my fingernails into my palms to keep from laughing outright.
The gist of her information was that the mansion started as just the tiny room we were standing in. It was a trading post, and then the Bowman’s came in and made a shit ton of money and just kept building off it. Nelson was the one who added the opulence and the tower. Of course it was Nelson.
The Bowmans were wildly prominent in their day, and were big ballers in the banking industry. Right before the last surviving member of the family died in the 1950s, she asked that the house be turned into a museum, and so the doors have been opened to the public since the 60s. Thank god!
When the intro was finished, we were handed off to an older woman, also in pioneer garb, who led us up a narrow, uneven staircase to the second floor. There were two other people in our group: a girl in her 20s and a 6-year-old boy who was way more well-behaved than my 8-year-old would have been up in that piece. I hope Santa brings that kid lots of presents this year.
The first room we saw was the maid’s quarters. It was really tiny and our guide, whose name I found out later was Bonnie (Corey knew this because he apparently had been obsessing over her the entire time) kept making really strong eye contact with me, like I was the only other person in the room and we had known each other forever, like perhaps she was mom, even. It wasn’t stern at all, like, “I know you’re just some asshole from the Big City coming here to mock my small town.” No, it was actually really friendly, and kind of comforting. But it was here that I accidentally looked at Corey and then I had to turn around swiftly and pretend to be overly-interested in the wavy glass window.
All of my mature, adult friends and Henry will be happy to know that this was the one and only time that Corey and I almost laughed. Because something magical happened after we left the maid’s room: We realized that this was actually a super interesting house!
This bitch was modeling more period clothing.
All of the rooms were decorated for Christmas and, this is saying a lot coming from me, it was really beautiful. Like, every single room took our breath away. I was so into being interested in trundle beds and chimney closets, that I found I didn’t even have time to mock Janna! Not once!
We learned that Brownsville, back in the day, was considered to be the gateway to the west. When Pittsburgh started to become settled, everyone laughed and said that Pittsburgh would NEVER amount to much in terms of big city standards, being so close to the thriving and popular Brownsville and all.
Sorry Brownsville. You lose.
This room was used for wakes! Dead people have laid in this bed!
The story about this bed is that Nelson was in New Orleans visiting someone but I forget who because my attention span is………………………………….
Anyway, whoever it was had this beautiful bed and Nelson, being totally Nelson-ish, was determined to have one of his own. So he hired some bed-maker person and said, “Make me a bed to match this one in terms of stateliness and splendor” (I mean, I imagine he probably said something very similar to that, right?) And because Nelson was a rich sumbitch, he got his damn bed and then put it in a spare bedroom that was reserved only for the Bishop. Nelson, you’re a fucking idiot.
Of course, Nemacolin Castle—named after the area’s Indian chief at the time—is haunted. They offer ghost tours in October. The little boy on our tour kept whispering, “This isn’t scary. When will it get scary?” and his mom or whoever she was kept saying things like, “They had to piss in pots, isn’t that scary enough?”
She didn’t really say that. But I wish she did.
Elaborate light fixtures all up in that hizzy. Don’t worry, Henry: I’ve been storing all of these wonderful interior design ideas in my head.
The piano did not start playing on its own, unfortunately.
I think my favorite part of the tour, knowledge-wise, was when Bonnie told us that back in the day, if you didn’t have enough money to have a full-blown portrait painted of yourself, you could go to a place and literally flip through a rack of stock paintings, pick out one with a dress you like, and the artist would then paint your face and hands onto the generic canvas. This rustic ingenuity was strangely exciting to me. Corey hadn’t heard that part of the tour because he was too busy quilting a meticulous Snapchat story, and I was happy to reiterate because hearing myself say the facts out loud was hugely entertaining.
I am so tickled even right now as I type it on my Internet diary!
See? I can appreciate other people’s beautifully-decorated Christmas trees!
Before we left each and every room, Bonnie would ask, “Are there any questions?” and we all just stare at her like drooling dunces. I couldn’t think of a single thing to ask when put on the spot like t hat! I did ask in the beginning if we were allowed to take photos though, because I didn’t feel like undertaking a covert photo shoot on that day. Clearly Bonnie said yes because none of my pictures have parts of my hand or purse in them. I will say that it was hard to get my dumb iPhone to focus in some of the rooms because of the dim lighting and Christmas lights.
We walked into one of the rooms downstairs and I was like, “Oh my word, it smells heavenly in here!” if I spoke like a classy Southerner. Instead, I whispered something akin to, “DAAAANG, it stinks rull good in here!” Turns out, it was the WASSAIL that was waiting for us in the next room that was emanating a pleasing stench all through the air.
“Please, help yourself to wassail and cookies,” Bonnie graciously offered in her patented soft, sweet tone, and her eyes actually smiled along with her mouth. I thought smiling eyes were a myth! But Bonnie had them!
Anyhow, it turns out that I’ve been pronouncing wassail wrong my entire life and that also it’s just mulled cider. I mean, it’s delicious! But let’s just call it cider, you know? The cookies were of a Keebler descent, but even still, I regretted that I only took one and not one of each. I also regretted not finding a way to inconspicuously discard my gum before attempted to eat a chocolate Keebler.
A collection of shit they’ve found around the property.
The tour ended after approximately 45 minutes, when Bonnie deposited us at the entrance of the gift shop. We all stood there awkwardly for literally another 10 minutes because the girl and her kid were blocking the gift shop, which is where the exit was, and Bonnie stood there with her hands clasped in front of her, smiling at us with those crinkly Santa eyes that kept somehow locking with mine so then I feel the need to ask her questions, like, “Is this place haunted?” (I mean, obviously) and make dumb-sounding statements like, “It’s funny that even with all of the additions, the house really….flows” and Bonnie sounded like she agreed with me but then made some comment about how it starts out so primitive on one side and moves on to utter elegance on the other end, which basically was her way of saying, “You’re a fucking moron, there is a clear and harsh distinction from one end of the house to the other.”
I was trying my best, OK?
I’m really glad we decided to give this joint a looksee because it definitely exceeded my expectations. I don’t know what I thought it was going to be, something lame obviously. But it was actually really interesting and absolutely gorgeous—especially with all of those Christmas trees!
They also serve as a venue for weddings, and the girl on the tour with us was like, “ORLY BECAUSE I’M RECENTLY ENGAGED.” Shut your dumb engaged mouth. I was fine with her until that moment. Bitter McGreenEyes.
We finally got to leave and I wanted to take a photo of Corey and Janna holding their wassail but then Janna threw her empty cup away and when I tried to get her to take it back out of the garbage can, she cried, “But it was empty!” Ugh fine Janna. So I made her hold mine instead and then she was like, “But I wasn’t ready!” Yeah, well, either was your empty cup of wassail!
I was so pleased with myself for not making an ass of myself during the tour, but once we outside and away from Bonnie’s smiling eyes, Corey and I acted like idiots and tromped around the property, trying to take pictures of ourselves with the tower in the background, making fun of Brownsville, and willing Janna to slip and fall down the wet hillside, much like she did in Dormont Park on the 4th of July, 2008 when she wound up with mud all over her pants and hand, and Corey and I begged her to reenact it so we could video it.
(She would not oblige.)
While the ghost of Nelson Bowman took this picture of Corey and me, Janna fell to her death in the background.