Colorado, San Isabel National Forest – the heart of what many call Cowboy Country. Yet stray of the beaten path and you come across Bishop castle – a 160-foot high structure that weighs in at an estimated 50 thousand tons.
Incredibly, it is the work of a single man – Jim Bishop. Strangely though, if you are a tourist to the state, you will not find a mention of Bishop Castle on any official brochure.
That’s a shame because the place is magnificent. You might be forgiven that for believing that you had stumbled upon the home of the Colorado branch of the Addams family or perhaps a set mock up for a Tolkien inspired movie.
With the wrought iron, dragon’s head and formidable masonry it even has the look of a post apocalyptic stronghold for survivors. Yet it is a family home.
Johann Konrad Dippel was rumoured to create potions, perform electrical therapies, and partake in gruesome experiments involving stolen body parts from the graveyard.
Born in the Castle Frankenstein in 1673, it’s disputed whether or not he was the inspiration for Mary Shelley’s mad scientist of the same name, who did some cadaver experiments of his own.
What is sure about Dippel is his colourful career as an alchemist. He attached his name to Dippel’s Animal Oil, which he discovered from the destructive distillation of animal parts and claimed as a universal medicine. The animal oil came at the end of a wave of popularity for Iatrochemistry, which had moved alchemy from the search for creating gold to finding new medicines.
The unpleasant taste and smell, as well as the progression of medicine, made Dippel’s oil fall into disrepute by the end of the 18th century. Dippel later helped set up a laboratory in Berlin for making gold and, at one point, he ended up in prison on a Danish island for seven years due to political activities.
In 1734, he finally had a stroke and died at the Castle Wittgenstein near Berleburg, although his friends claimed he was poisoned. By his own hand or that of another, it is unclear.
The Castle Frankenstein is now in ruins, with only two towers, a restaurant and a chapel remaining. However, the perhaps mythical connection to Mary Shelley’s novel “Frankenstein” keeps it a popular destination, especially for Halloween.
Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland, Cinderella Castle at the Magic Kingdom and numerous other magical castles were all inspired by a real castle: Neuschwanstein Castle, the awe-inspiring retreat of the “fairy-tale king,” Ludwig II of Bavaria.
Commissioned by the king in homage to Richard Wagner, the fantastical castle was designed by theatrical set designer Christian Jank.
The first stone of Neuschwanstein Castle (which literally means, “New Swan Stone palace”) was laid in September 1869. The technology used to build this castle was considered modern and advanced.
New inventions such as electricity, plumbing, heat and steamboats were used in the construction of the castle, and Ludwig himself was considered responsible for the introduction of many of these inventions to the area.
In 1886, as the massively expensive castle neared completion, the State Commissioner pronounced Ludwig insane and arrested him soon after. The day after he was arrested, Ludwig requested the Commissioner go on a walk in the woods with him.
The commissioner agreed and told his guards to stay behind. Both were found mysteriously dead in a lake later that evening.
Ludwig was never able to see the finalised castle, but his taste for elegant, and extravagant, design resonates throughout the interior of the castle.
After his death, the castle was opened for the public to help pay off the expenses and now attracts over a million people a year.
Of particular delight is the Grotto Room, an artificial cave complete with stalactites and a waterfall; it was intended to represent a cave from Wagner’s opera “Tannhauser.”