Two nights in another time
08.21.2013 - 08.23.2013
I slip on my traveling shoes—old brown shoes bequeathed to me from Professor Brown Shoes. Inexplicably, these shoes help me listen.
And we journey to the Clark House Bed and Breakfast in northern Idaho to hear its story.
Its story is an unsolved romantic mystery. And since my brofriend Saul and his wife Valerie were to celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary, I thought this might be a perfect retreat.
The Clark House is a 100-year-old white mansion with green shutters and ten acres of luxuriant lawn that genteelly cascades to Hayden Lake. When the 15,000 square-foot mansion was completed in 1910, it was largest and most expensive home in the state of Idaho. The original property sat on 1,400 acres with barns, riding stables, carriage houses, tennis courts, greenhouses, guest and workmen’s houses, a putting green, 150 acres of landscaped grounds with exotic plants and trees from all over the world, lighted pathways, yachts and boat houses; the estate even boasted a private zoo with exotic birds and animals.
But what impresses me about the Clark House is not just its majesty, but its intimacy—
Here’s the story in a nutshell. (There’s much more info on the Clark House website: www.clarkhouse.com):
The Clark House was built by F. Lewis Clark in 1910 for his wife Winifred. Lewis moved to Spokane after being educated at Harvard. He was said to have a Midas touch and made his fortune in milling, mining, banking and real estate. Lewis was tall, dark and handsome; however, he was rather shy and introverted.
Winifred, on the hand, was not shy. She was described as “beautiful beyond words and “. . . reached out to everyone with her great charm and gracious personality.” She was educated in France and studied music at the Conservatory in Paris. She was an accomplished pianist. And she loved to host lavish parties.
So Lewis built the Clark House for Winifred, the woman he madly loved. But in 1913— three years after the mansion was completed— Lewis’ fortunes and health were deteriorating quickly. He and Winifred typically spent their winters in Santa Barbara, California. And according to the New York Times, “On Jan. 16, 1914, Lewis took Winifred to a train station, kissed her good-bye, left the station and walked to the limousine. He dismissed his chauffeur and walked into the night.”
Lewis was never seen again. His body was never found.
Winifred returned to Hayden Lake and waited for Lewis to return. In 1922, she lost the mansion and auctioned her furnishings. Winifred died in 1940, twenty-six years after Lewis vanished. Her estate was valued at $10,000.
The Clark Mansion barely survived. It was scheduled to be burned down as part of a firefighting exercise, until the current owner, Monty Danner, a supermarket executive from San Francisco, bought it in 1989. He and his family have been restoring it every since.
Here’s a PBS documentary on the Clark House.