Henry Chapman Mercer home
84 South Pine Street
So I’m sitting in the vet’s office, waiting for my dog, Lucy, who’s in the back getting an X-ray. (Don’t worry – she’s okay.) And they only have two magazines to read – Parents and Bark. Since I’m not a parent (well, not of a child, at least), I pick up Bark and start thumbing through it. It’s one of those content-light glossies crammed with pictures of cute dogs, the kind that make you say “Aw-w-w” right out loud.
I get to an article called “A Dog’s Castle: Delightful Discovery in Doylestown,” and suddenly I’m interested enough to read more than the first paragraph. The story is about Henry Chapman Mercer (1856-1930), a rich guy who, in the 1910s, built a concrete castle for himself called Fonthill, which is today a big tourist draw in Doylestown. The author of the article talked about how cold the castle seemed to her, until she learned more about Mercer. “He may have been a bachelor and an eccentric,” Sally Silverman wrote,” “but he also was an avid dog lover and advocate for all creatures.” That’s when my gaydar started going off, so I read on: “Mercer was a private man and destroyed much of the personal information that might have given historians a window into his life…” Ding ding ding ding ding!
Fonthill is apparently something to see, with 44 rooms, 32 stairwells, 200 windows, and 18 fireplaces. It’s filled with pottery and tiles, which Mercer collected. It turns out that he was also an antiquarian and archaeologist, a founding member of the Bucks County Historical Society, and the founder of the Mercer Museum and the Moravian Tile Works, both also in Doylestown. When I got home from the vet, I tried to locate any source that suggested he was gay, but all I could find was a small reference to him in Will Fellows’ excellent book, A Passion to Preserve: Gay Men as Keepers of Culture.
Mercer deserves more study by gay scholars, although probably much of what we would have found useful was in those files he destroyed (as did so many other queer personages of the past). I did find a reference to his having come down with gonorrhea after a trip to Europe as a young man (and the suggestion that that was why he never married). If anyone has other information about Mercer, I’d love to hear about it.