Palace of Depression
Vineland, New Jersey
Vineland bills itself as the Dandelion Capital of the World and the Birthplace of Welch's Grape Juice. But until the 1990s, it had let slip through its civic fingers George Daynor's Palace of Depression, alternately known as "The Strangest House in the World," or the "Home of Junk."
Completed on Christmas Day, 1932, the Palace of Depression was an eighteen-spired, pastel-colored castle built in a swamp out of rusted auto parts and mud. Far from a monument to melancholia, the Palace was built to show that the Great Depression was beatable. "The only real depression is a depression of individual ingenuity," Daynor explained.
Daynor, according to Daynor, was a former Alaska gold miner. He accumulated a fortune, then lost it all in the Wall Street crash of 1929. With only four dollars in his pocket, he was guided to New Jersey by an angel. Realizing that George had the proper can-do attitude and was good with his hands, the angel provided him with the basic design for his Palace. The four acres cost him four dollars. He ate frogs, fish, rabbits and squirrels during the three years it took to build the Palace.
Daynor called the finished edifice, "the greatest piece of originality ever brought about in the history of Man."
Daynor would do just about anything for publicity. Postcards from the thirties show his hairy head sticking out of a manhole in front of the Palace's massive outdoor fireplace. He would give tours to anyone for a quarter. The highlight was a visit to the Knockout Room, where Daynor would offer to remove all bad memories by dropping a lead bowling ball on your head.
Daynor called himself, "the most photographed man in the world."
His penchant for publicity was his undoing. In the 1950s, after a baby was kidnapped and newspapers described the suspects, Daynor called in and claimed they had visited the Palace just the day before. The FBI got involved in investigating the false claim, and Daynor was thrown in prison for a few years.
Daynor, who was known to wear lipstick and rouge in his later years, died penniless in 1964. He was reportedly well over 100 years old. With no known relatives and no money for a funeral, he was buried in the potter's field of Oak Hill Cemetery; the city of Vineland paid for his headstone.
Sadly, Daynor had many envious enemies who outlived him. They wanted his legacy to die as well, and they took revenge. A mysterious fire gutted the Palace of Depression soon after Daynor's death, and Vineland bulldozed it to the ground in 1969.
Some background information for this piece came from the New Jersey Grassroots Art Organization and a meeting of the Vineland Historical Society.
August 2010: Volunteer work on the Palace restoration continues. Kevin Kirchner estimates it will be completed in 2 to 3 years. Work is done on Saturdays and Mondays -- to volunteer, call Kevin at (609) 794-4113.
February 2007: According to a story in the Atlantic City Press, Jeff Tirante and Kevin Kirchner are still plugging away at the restoration, with volunteers helping on Mondays and Tuesdays during the warm months. They've repaired some walls vandalized in 2004, and project that the Palace won't be completed until 2011.