McWilliams handed the phone to me, the Keeper of the Castle’s impatience buzzing through the earpiece. The handoff came with a warning — “Wing can be really crotchety, especially if you catch him in a mood.” Not being sure of Wing’s current mood, I cleared my throat and grinned affably at the phone’s mouthpiece.
McWilliams, a friend of mine who went to school with Wing’s son, had explained to Wing that I maintained a website about obscure Hudson Valley locales. I greeted Wing and said what great things I had heard about his creation.
“Yeah, well, if you wanna see it today, you better hurry. Supposed to rain…should be about a flat 45 from where you are. You gotta Gizmo in your car?”
“A Gizmo?…like a GPS?”
“A GIZMO! 7-1-7-B-A-N-”
…and he read me the address.
McWilliams, his girlfriend Liz and I pulled into the driveway, the numerous spires of Wing’s Castle jabbing at the darkening sky.
Wing began constructing his castle more than 45 years ago, and is still trying to get it perfect. He has never received any kind of architectural schooling, yet designed and constructed every baroquely-detailed corner of the castle himself, using his wife and children as assistants. The castle’s interior is 3400 square feet, and some of the towers reach up four stories, but this measurement doesn’t take into consideration the multitude of walkways and exterior spaces connecting the numerous buildings. The creation sprawls over more than an acre of land. It is constructed of more than 500,000 stones, some of them as big as refrigerators. But the really impressive thing about Wing’s Castle is the fact that it is constructed from more than 85% found materials.
Wing strode up to us after we exited the car. After shaking hands with McWilliams, he turned to me with his hands on his hips.
“Who’s the liar?”
I was taken aback, frantically wondering what I had lied about.
“You’re a journalist, right?” Wing continued.
Wing was in his 70s. Wisps and flips of white hair framed his leonine head. He was wearing workman’s overalls and a t-shirt. His arms and hands were covered with various wounds from his work, including a particularly nasty-looking slash across one of his forearms.
“So,” he continued, “what’re we exactly doing today?”
“I just wanted to tour around the castle with you, take some photographs, talk about a few things.”
“Y’know, what I wanna talk about is how our Governor, Cuomo, and all the New York State Politicians should be STRUNG UP.”
Wing led us around, describing the origins of all the materials used to build his castle. He had salvaged beams from abandoned barns and dynamited multi-ton stones from shuttered railroad bridges. The dome of one of the towers had been trucked from a nearby town where it had spent the first part of its life as the top of a watertower. The detailing was all salvaged too: the iron fences were constructed from found pipes and trashed tools. The spire to one of the domes was topped by a float ball from a toilet.
“When I was a kid,” Wing reminisced as we walked along, “people said I had ADD or ADHD or something.” He told us how he had once been kicked out of a funeral for laughing, and his grandmother had beat him with her purse in the middle of a church for cracking jokes during a wedding about the bride’s pregnancy.
“My grandmother said I had no filter…I came back from Vietnam at 20, and never listened to anyone again.”
Wing’s voice turned into a bark when his ire was up. When asked a question, he would look off to the breathtaking view of the Hudson Valley and let his mind wander abstractly for a couple seconds before charging in with the answer. This is what he did when I asked him about his Cuomo comment, and he charged in extra-hard.
“This country is based on freedom and capitalism, not based on coming here to get a free handout, and that’s how it’s been for the last 80 years…if you get to New York State and crash in an alley for one night, one night, the next morning when you get up, they hafta give you welfare.”
He talked about how kids these days expected everything to be given to them, how none of them had useful skills, and how the US was doomed because of its complacency and lack of entrepreneurial vigor. A 40-something guy who was working for Wing walked up during our conversation with a question about an unsalvageable tool.
“He,” Wing pointed as the guy walked away, “is the youngest person I know who still knows how to run lathes, how to mold parts, how to really do things.”
Wing took us to his kitchen, where we were peered at by his 101 year-old parrot and yapped at by his miniature dog, who kept looking up adoringly at Wing for moral support. He made us a fresh pot of coffee.
The phone rang while the coffee was brewing and Wing picked it up. It was a group from Russia trying to book a tour. The tour conflicted with some other business of Wing’s, so he angrily rambled off a litany of mild curses before picking the phone back up and telling them no.
He mentioned a lot of Russians came by for tours.
“Why do you think that is?” I asked.
“All those years under the government’s thumb…they really value self-expression.”
If you want to book a tour or stay overnight at Wing’s Castle, click here.