10.06.2009

HARRY BENNETTS CASTLE


Retrokimmer and her brother JR went to visit Harry Bennett's Castle Sunday and we shot the front view. It is very lovely now. Nowhere on the property did we spy any lions or tigers...

Here is a great post I found on the Henry Ford Heritage Blog

Inspired by the reported splendor of the 11th century Mongolian summer capital, and composed after an admitted “opium induced” dream, this first line of Samuel Taylor Colerige's great romantic poem Kubla Khan has, in modern times, become a metaphor for both great power and grand opulence. Orson Welles used the stanza in setting the mood for his 1941 classic Citizen Kane, referring to his main character, Charles Foster Kane (aka William Randolph Hearst), as “America's Kubla Khan”.


High above Ann Arbor, Michigan's beautiful Huron River, stands the personal Xanadu of a man who could cynically be called Henry Ford's own Kubla Khan (or Genghis Khan, as many of those who knew him might have agreed). An opulent yet schizophrenic structure whose composition seems the result of paranoia rather than opioid, so reminiscent of the Wellesian melodrama, that on entering one may expect to hear the word “ rosebud “ reverberate throughout its halls.

The home that Ford's personal mercenary called his “Castle” exists today as one remaining monument to the controversial character that was Harry Bennett.

It was thanks to Ford historian Dr. David L. Lewis and the extreme graciousness of the Castle's current owners, Felecia and Dr. Aneel Karnani, that HFHA members were allowed a once in a lifetime tour of the Bennett sanctum. After meeting at the Henry Ford Estate, 100 members were transported about 30 miles to the Geddes Road site; traveling both by car and via the Dearborn Trolley, the latter piloted by HFE volunteer Otto Grau.


Upon arrival, the group received copies of two past Detroit Free Press articles, authored by Dr. Lewis, which profiled the castle and Dr. Lewis’ 1974 interview with Harry Bennett. The Karnani’s were presented with two volumes of Dr. Lewis’ Ford Country, a copy of his definitive biography The Public Image of Henry Ford and a reprint of Bennett’s own tome We Never Called Him Henry. After a question and answer period, in which the Karnani’s spoke of what it is like to live in such a home, tour participants were allowed to freely explore all the inner nooks and crannies of the house that Bennett built.

Harry Bennett purchased the 154-acre (now reduced to 8.6 acres) site in 1929. The man most feared for his ruthless treatment of Ford employees had reason to find refuge behind the gates of this fortress-like estate. Towers, tunnels, spiral staircases, “switch” steps, secret doors, hidden rooms and many other unique security features were incorporated into its design, all to protect the Lord of the manner from “well wishers”, union men and Detroit gangsters. Dr. Lewis has written that Henry Ford and Harry Bennett “designed the mansion with the enthusiasm of boys building a robber lair or pirate’s nest”. Since Ford was involved in the project, no expense was spared.

The architecture of the first floor seems to reflect Bennett’s artistic bent (in his youth he had studied art at the Detroit Fine Arts Academy). Arched hardwood doors, marble accents and vaulted ornamental plaster ceilings provide the perfect setting for the current owner’s collection of Indian art. Bennett’s “secret room” is now easily accessed through a normal doorway, eliminating the need to enter via the hidden fireplace door. A stunning feature is a black tiled, art deco bath complete with “porthole” window. A sweeping staircase climbs to the second floor within a castle-like tower. On the rail of a roof deck an original security spotlight rests in place.


Down in the basement, HFHA members found a bar and billiard room styled after an English Pub, an area where Bennett often conducted “Ford “ business. Another room is reminiscent of an underworld catacomb. Most unique, a tiled Roman bath carefully hidden beyond a sliding cabinet. For those members who dared, an exciting, yet somewhat claustrophobic, experience, was a stroll through the seemingly endless, and unlit, under ground tunnel. This ran from the hidden bath to the outbuilding that house Bennett’s infamous lion and tiger dens. A branch of this tunnel leads to an extremely tight spiral staircase, which ascends to the top of the home’s guntower.

A tour of the grounds revealed the small house Bennett built for his mother, the remnants of the pool house, and the overgrown ruins of a miniature village built for the enjoyment of the Bennett daughters.

The Bennett Castle lives up to its reputation as one of the most bizarre mansions in Michigan. An intimate reflection of the man Dr. Lewis, has described as Henry Ford's most trusted - and toughest - lieutenant. During his day, few outsiders were made privy to its hidden features. The Henry Ford Heritage Association would again like to thank the Karnani’s for allowing us such a rare peak. One would doubt that Kubla Bennett would have been so accommodating.

Tunnel under Harry's Castle

In one of Henry Ford II first acts
, he walked down to Bennett's basement office and told Bennett his services were no longer required. Tough talking Bennett got in a parting shot by telling Ford, "You're taking over a billion dollar company that you haven't contributed a thing to." That afternoon, Bennett burned all of his company records.

The bizarre and ruthless Bennett era was finally over and later, when Henry Ford II recalled the firing he said., "I went to him (Bennett) with my guard up. I was sure he was going to blow my head off. Well, now Harry is back on the streets were he started."

Read more about Harry....
NEW* Video Tour of the Castle!
Castle Photos From 1984
Harry Bennett's Lodge HERE
Harry Bennett's Cabin HERE
The Rise and Fall of Harry Bennett HERE

24 comments:

  1. Cool Kim,
    Harry was one of Hank's "inner circle" and one shady character!
    Have you ever Henry's Mistress' mansion in Dearborn Heights?

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  2. "Harry Bennett had another castle on W. River road on Grosse Ile. Look for the pagoda style boat house on the river. "

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  3. No Jeff I don't know about that address either but I would assume Harry had to have closer digs to the UAW and plant action. It was a really long commute back in the 1940's from Ypsilanti to Detroit.

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  4. Ooo, that's fascinating! I love touring houses like that, and so cool that you got to check this one out!

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  5. Anyone who loves S.T. Coleridge's poem "Xanadu" should seek out the film about him "Pandaemonium" by Julien Temple (Sex Pistols' films, "Absolute Beginners" director.) I hadn't even heard of prior to a recommendation and it's wonderful.

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  6. Over 30 years ago, you could make out the chariot race track south of the castle on Handy Drive. There was evidence of a railroad siding. Bennett would entertain. Supposedly, they were girls for the visitors. Lost Lake Boy Scout Camp west of Clare, Michigan, has a home that was built by Bennett to secret the children of the Ford family. There was a swimming pool next to the house with a underwater viewing area from the house. There are gun posts on top. Greenfield Village carpenters made the furniture.
    Just some into I know.

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  7. Thank You Janet! Very Interesting!

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  8. "Have you ever Henry's Mistress' mansion in Dearborn Heights?"

    That would be the Dahlinger estate. It is privitly owned and he will not talk to anybody. But I know the history and property well, have been there several times and have photos of the property and ruins that are there. I dabble in Ford history. The side that most people don't know about him.

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  9. Harry Bennett also had a log-cabin looking (solid cement) home on what is now Lost Lake Scout reserve, it has hidden tunnels and a gun mount in a BBQ pit on the roof. It also had a runway accross the lake and it it rumored to have a tunnel leading over to it.

    http://photos-e.ak.fbcdn.net/photos-ak-snc1/v341/108/44/669012720/n669012720_1376140_9585.jpg

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  10. Henry Ford's mistress manor was on gully rd between Michigan Ave and Cherry Hill. the Late Les Stanford owned the home for a number of years

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  11. Kimmer,

    I skipped school back in the late seventies and explored the Bennet Castle. We were able to access the property from the Huron river. It was pretty scary to say the least but worth every minute.The gazebo on the east side of the property was beautiful overlooking the river. I remember just sitting in it and checking out the landscape it was a very well hidden place. I heard of all the rumors of this place but when I was there it seemed so peaceful. I can't remember who accompanied me on this trip but they were scared as hell.I kept telling them to just chill and absorb the adventure.I want to let Bob Fox know that I didn't believe him on the cabin stories he told me back in the day. But now I do. Good stuff.

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  12. This is all totally fascinating, brings back memories of goofing around in the woods near Bennetts castle circa 1975. Abandoned cabin with concrete swimming pool. Used to go there party/hangout. Hell to get too!!!!

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  13. It really is fascinating I might try to see if the new owners would let me in with cameras...

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  14. I used to live in the Summer Cottage on that same estate during my college years 1972 - 1975. The then owner used to rent it out to help out young college couples. There were three homes on the property, the main castle, a ranch home at the front and the cottage that used to be outdoor theatre. We explored a lot and found the old pool house and small village. The owner showed us all the catacombs, fake walls etc. It was the most fascinating place I ever saw! Does anyone know what happened to the recent owners? I think the last name was Stark. They owned a factory right on the river near the house.

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  15. Hi Kim, I am in the middle of rewrites of my book primarily related to my life in Aspen. The reason I say that is the depth of time I spent related to Harry Bennett could be a long essay of many hours or days. I will give you a brief of why I know these things. Bill Moss with Carroll Shelby and others related to Ford - from 1960 through 1970 - in the area across from the Castle, called "The Island" - was home to lots of activity a history unto itself and was a very well kept manicured area. I came there every summer and lived right there most of the time. I was keen on discovering the eerie cement trees etc. and was given first hand information by an old caretaker on what was where and what had not been explored and of course that no word was the final word on what could still be found - good or bad. I took my canoe across the river many times for many years, always with great fear of arrest or worse. Later Bill Moss, my dad lived in the Southern Home of the key homes as well as that cement home removed by miles from the banks of the Huron. Wish I could help you with the Pagoda House but I was at the core along the Huron and that is where I know my stuff. I need go back and uncover some things but likely I would be an unwelcome intruder on The Island now. I wanna learn more about you - learn more about me by checking my Through The Years photo gallery. David

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  16. was watching one of those haunted places tv shows, made me think of bennett's castle, googled it and came to your site. it's been years since i have been there, used to be friends with former owners. spent a lot of days and nights hanging out. one of the creepiest places i've ever been. its also one of the main reasons i beleive in ghosts and haunted places. had a few strange experiences there, mainly at night, but a few happened in the day. i wasnt the only one, i remember sharing stories, and experiencing some with other people. i also remember hearing there was another tunnel that hadnt been found, led fr main house to pool house. we tried to find it a few times, no avail.

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  17. In the summers of 1982-1983, I was employed by the company, Electro-Arc, which was owned by the Stark Family. As a grounds keeper for the company, I was required to mow the lawn of the castle estate where they lived. I did explore the out buildings, namely the lions den, and aquired a Bennett Family Crest, which is a cast aluminum piece about 12" x 12". It has a profile of a armor suit with the letter "B" on it.

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  18. The crest appears in the picture of the stone fireplace. My time line was wrong, I was working there in 1983-1984 during the summers. There must have been more than one, because the picture is dated september 84, and I was done working there??

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  19. I am trying to find family background on Harry Bennett. I am trying to determine if he was a family friend or relative. When I was little I was getting presents from " Uncle Haze". I only heard that name and was later told that he worked for Ford.
    My Father was William Benjamin and he married Miladore Young (my Mother)from Chelsea, mi. who was the daughter of Tillie Young.
    My name is Robert (bob) Benjamin.
    I would appreciate any information you might have, or any other source.

    Thank You

    Bob Benjamin

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  20. I spent some time in this house in the late 80's. This was the coolest house I have ever seen. I remember the walls opening up downstairs to reveal a roman bath and a tunnel that led outside. The towel holder in the first floor bath could be pushed down to reveal a secret staircase that led to the ceiling. I also remember the office that had a wall with multiple wood squares. One of the squares would open and was used to stash money or guns. The coolest part for me was the main staircases and fireplaces that would open to reveal secret tunnels. The house was like Wayne manor...very cool place. I wish it was open to the public for viewing...great history. I also heard there was a tree on the property that opened at the trunk and there was a secret room where meetings were held. Can anyone confirm that?

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  21. A couple of story’s to share.

    I spent some time in the cement log cabin on Geddes Rd., not the one mentioned on your site, but the one close to Bennett’s castle, actually across the river from the castle and near the Electro-Arc factory, at the end of Handy Lane (now called Stark-Strasse). There were cement trees in the yard of this house and the trees were yard lamps. I crawled under this cement house while attempting to locate a break in the wiring to some of the yard lamps. What I found in the crawlspace was that it looked like it used to be a basement that was filled in, there was only about 3 ft of headspace and it was filled with broken concrete and dirt. The ceiling of the crawlspace was concrete with arched concrete beams and columns and everything was covered with a concrete stucco like finish.
    Looking on Google maps I can see that this house is still there but the Electro-Arc factory is gone.
    I have been told that Bill Ford Jr. now owns this property and looking on Google maps I can see there is a big new house nearby.

    There was another house I did some electrical work on that the owner told me was originally built by Harry Bennett. This is located on Ford Lake, just a few miles from the Bennett castle. I entered an apartment or condo complex driveway off of S. Grove Rd. and made an immediate left turn onto a driveway that went between to cement columns with the words “Park Lane” inscribed on them. This drive went back to a large house. There was a door in the basement that entered a tunnel, which led to a boathouse on the lake.

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  22. When I was a kid in the 60's my stepfather Gerry Kamrowski took me many times to the Island. Bill Moss, my next door neighbor and Paul Lohmann would both be there, Carroll Shelby was there once that I remember. it seemed like the ultimate man cave with cars, slot machines, beer (not for me at that age) even bears at the dump on the way. Several years ago I did find one of the cement log cabins, I have some pictures if anyone is interested. There was a rumor that my grandfather, Preston Tucker tried to buy the castle from Harry Bennett at some point. David Moss, I probably babysat you and your brother a few times. Your mother gave me her Mercury Capri convertible when it stopped running. I rolled it down the hill to our lower lot but never did anything with it.

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  23. When I was a kid in the 60's my stepfather Gerry Kamrowski took me many times to the Island. Bill Moss, my next door neighbor and Paul Lohmann would both be there, Carroll Shelby was there once that I remember. it seemed like the ultimate man cave with cars, slot machines, beer (not for me at that age) even bears at the dump on the way. Several years ago I did find one of the cement log cabins, I have some pictures if anyone is interested. There was a rumor that my grandfather, Preston Tucker tried to buy the castle from Harry Bennett at some point. David Moss, I probably babysat you and your brother a few times. Your mother gave me her Mercury Capri convertible when it stopped running. I rolled it down the hill to our lower lot but never did anything with it.

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  24. Preston!! plz email me!! retrokimmer@gmail.com ASAP xxK

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