Moldenke Castle as a Chastelet

Moldenke Castle as a Chastelet

I realize the tower looks like it suffered from artillery damage, but this is my pastry replica of the family castle.

A Pastry Castle

Family history married medieval cuisine when I baked a Christmas chastelet as the Moldenke castle. The idea came when I took an online medieval cooking class from eatmedieval. Part of the 13th-century Christmas menu we recreated highlighted a chastelet – a castle in pastry form filled with all sorts of goodies. No need to make the same castle we created, one of the teachers said. Pick any castle that has some kind of personal meaning for you.

I knew right then I had to create our family castle.

Moldenke Castle

Moldenke castle. Private family photo.

Excuse me, but a castle in New Jersey, in the United States?

You bet. A German metallurgist in New Jersey, Dr. Richard George Gottlob Moldenke, built a castle in Watchung starting in 1900. He finished it in 1930 and dubbed it “Elsinore Castle,” but locals called it the “Moldenke Castle.” Elsinore had nothing to do with Shakespeare’s play Hamlet, in which he dubs the Kronborg Castle in Denmark “Elsinore.” Moldenke castle’s form differs sharply from Kronborg’s imposing square form. Elsinore was probably a play on a Moldenke family name, Elise.

My Czech grandfather, Jiří Hurych (anglicized as Jerome Herrick) purchased the Moldenke castle in 1945 and moved my grandmother, mother, and two uncles in. Jerome was a research scientist and used the castle’s large annex to set up his research laboratories. My mother loved the adventure of growing up in a castle. Unfortunately, it’s no longer in the family. The Moldenke castle burnt down in 1969 and my grandfather sold the property to developers.

Nevertheless, the castle offered a fun opportunity to recreate a medieval Christmas treat and remember each family member individually. I took the second story floor plan, where the bedrooms were, and individualized the fillings as a memorial to each person.

My Family’s Individual Fillings

The castle’s second story floor plan.

My grandparents Jerome and Rose slept in room 1, the master bedroom. As the foundations of the family, I gave them the heartiest filling – hard-boiled eggs and pork sausage. My mother was in room 2, with a skylight in the center. I filled her room with a pistachio filling because she loved pistachios.

My grandparents’ wedding picture.

Uncle Jerry and James Bond

Uncle Jerry, who had room 3, was an adventurer. His job took him to many countries, and over the course of his life he lived in Bermuda, Indonesia, and Saudi Arabia. In the 60s, while he was in Bermuda, he joined the scuba diving club. Eon Productions asked the club if they could dive as extras in a scuba diving fight scene for their new James Bond film, Thunderball (also filmed in the Bahamas). If you watch this clip of Thunderball, Jerry swims closest to the camera at 1:49-1:50. We can tell because he tied a red ribbon around his ankle to identify himself later. At the post production party, Sean Connery patted him on the back and asked, “How’re you doing, Jerry?” Jerry was so amazed that Connery remembered his name he became an instant Sean Connery fan. So Jerry got the almond cream, shaken, but not stirred.

Uncle George, the Practical Joker

Uncle George slept in room 4. He was a practical joker. I remember well his I-found-a-finger-on-the-street trick. He took a small box, cut a hole in the bottom and stuck his finger through it. He then doused his finger with ketchup and told us kids he’s found a bloody finger on the street. As we gathered around to look at it in shock, he started wiggling his finger. George got the red egg custard filling to make it look like that red, bloody box. I colored it with sandalwood and beet juice.

Number 5 was a tiled roof where my mother liked to sunbathe. I used almond cream for that. And the five-story tower, number 6, got a mince meat filling. Number 7 was the annex and research labs – not so medieval – so I left that off to simplify the pastry.

Questions, Questions

Another view of the castle from our family’s photo collection.

Patterning my chastelet after a family home proved to be a great way to introduce my adult sons to some family history. They knew about the castle, of course, but the various fillings tied to individual family members led to a variety of questions.

What other practical jokes did Uncle George play?

How could our great-grandfather afford a castle? What kind of research did he do?

Where else did Uncle Jerry live? Was he ever in another Bond film?

All in all, it was a great way to kick in the New Year. Thanks, eatmedieval, for the idea.

Happy New Year, everyone, or as my Czech grandparents would say, stastny Novy rok!

Written by
Ann Marie
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  • Thank you, what an interesting past you have.
    Looking forward to reading some of your stories later.

    • Thanks, Susan. Although I once in the castle once before it burnt down, I can’t really say it was part of my past. It was more of my mother’s. But it was interesting!

  • Hi Anne Marie,

    I stumbled upon this article and am curious if you have additional information about the castle. I grew up in Watchung and my father in law was involved with the real estate company that subsequently developed the property(sad, but true) I am helping the Watchung Historical Committee gather more information on the Moldenke family and anything you might be able to share would be terrific.

    • Dear Kathi,

      I have some information about the castle, but none about the Moldenke family that you probably don’t already have. I take it you have the book “Genealogy of the Moldenke Family,” because I purchased it in the Watchung Museum several years ago when it had an exhibit about the castle. Of course I know more about my own family, who purchased the castle from the Moldenkes.

      Feel free to email me via the contact form for this website.

  • btw, my maiden name is Dischler and my distant relatives own the Dischler winery in Wolxheim – are yo near there?

  • gotta love that! Does Camp Elsinore ring a bell at all? It was not attached to the Valley Road properties but was on the northwestern edge of Watchung between Hillcrest Road and Plainfield Avenue. Dr. Moldenke’s brothers, both of whom who had been pastors in a primarily German Lutheran church in NYC that lost several congregants in the 1904 Slocum disaster, opened this summer camp for the victims’ families. It was later called the German Camp.

    • Camp Elsinore doesn’t ring a bell, just the Elisnore Villa across Valley Road. But I’m familiar with the Slocum disaster and that the Moldenkes were associated with the church that hosted the event. I think it was really generous of the Moldenkes to host the camp. Your comment inspired me to check a book that I have about the Moldenke family history, and sure enough, there’s an entry about Camp Elsinore in it. The book says Alfred Moldenke started the camp not just for the Slocum orphans but for poor children in NYC who wouldn’t otherwise get the chance to have a vacation in the country. So thanks for commenting!

    • Good evening Kathleen. Just stumbled across this conversation tonight. I grew up in Berkeley Heights. All of my grandparents immigrated from Germany and all ended up in Brooklyn NY. All were drawn to this area because of Camp Elsinore and one of my grandfathers was an original founding member. Both sets of grandparents ended up building houses in Free Acres which is where my parents grew up on the same street. After they married, mypaarents built a house on Old Farm Road, the first street east of Free Acres. The Free Acres Archive Museum has many documents on the camp and the Moldenkes. I have been in the castle as it was opened to the curious public just prior to its destruction. We, as kids, used to hike there, but never went into the main building. I was also in the mausoleum which was detached and to the left of the castle. Interestingly (and you may know this) a small portion of the building, I believe that it was the laboratory, was not damaged in the fire and stood for years after the castle was raised and used as an office for the development company.

  • So the big question is were there tunnels in the castle? Would also like information on your families time at castle

    • No, that’s just a myth. At least my family never said anything about tunnels in the castle and I’m sure they would have, as my mother and her brothers were rambunctious youngsters during their time there and would have not only discovered any tunnels, but would have probably held parties in them. My uncle did once hold a Halloween scavanger hunt on the castle grounds that took his high school guests through the mausoleum.

      If you want to know more about my family, you can email me through this site, but I can’t promise I can tell you everything. I also need to protect some of my family members’ privacy.

  • Hi Ann Marie:

    My name is Jim Beckwith and I grew up on Valley Road along with my older siblings. My brother Charlie was in George’s class at North Plainfield High School .all my siblings are still with us and I’ve put out a request for memories. Let me know if you are interested in chatting with me.

    Jim Beckwith feel free to call if you would like to please leave a message if you don’t connect. Robo calls drive us nuts.

    George, by the way, was my diving coach at Rutgers. That is an interesting story as well. George was George Franklin at that point.

    I look forward to hearing from you.


    • Hello Jim — that’s fascinating that you knew George. If he was your diving coach, he was definitely the same guy. I’ll drop you a line per email and thanks for contacting me with some family history!

  • Hi Ann Marie,

    I just came across this blog researching Shakespeare and Dame Judi Dench’s recent discovery and link to Castle Kronborg, Hamlet’s Elsinore. I lived in Watchung in 1968 at age 11 right next to the castle property. I played there as a young child. The castle was abandoned and in disarray then.

    I read that area young people vandalized the castle but I was not one of them. I suspect these were not Watchung residents. I can’t imagine any of my childhood friends doing anything like that but also that activity took place prior to my generation. The castle burned down shortly after my family moved to Watchung. I frequently saw people coming to take pictures and the like. There were strange happenings at night time in the forrest surrounding the castle so I would never venture there after dark.

    I recall the basement in the Castle was very damp and about a foot or more of mud and smelled pretty bad. I used to climb to the top of the tower even though the stairs were partially collapsed. Someone pushed a piano down the main circular staircase and I believe it was still there during the open house.

    My sister and I came across the open house by accident. I didn’t have shoes on so she shared one of her flip flops with me. Unfortunately the realtor guy stopped us and said we had to get shoes because of broken glass and the like around the castle. We ran home and got shoes and my other siblings and went back for the tour.

    The two private roads to the castle were in such a bad state that a regular car really couldn’t go up them, especially after those major rainfalls that flooded the Plainfields back then. My parents frequently held big garden parties with hundreds of people and would hire the Watchung Police to assist with traffic. The police used the castle roads for parking. Today I can imagine when a guest needed to find parking, the cops would tell them to use the Castle driveway. How odd our guests would have found that.

    I also remember playing often at the mausoleum right behind my house where the caskets had long been removed. One of my grammar school teachers brought up the subject and I became a defacto witness. There were railroad tracks near that mausoleum and I wondered what that was about. Do you have any information on that? I suspect it was to bring building materials up the mountainous uninhabited terrain.

    There was a cannon on that portico space or somewhere and I read that it was a famous one from a revolutionary warship. I wonder if you know anything about that and if it is true. Many tall tales about the castle were circulating through the years. One first hand tale was from a friend’s mother who worked in a garment shop in Plainfield decades earlier. She recounted a castle shopper purchasing huge lengths of velvet for the giant windows. When I was there the curtains had long disappeared like those from Tara in Gone With The Wind. I do remember decorative fabrics used as wallpaper and remember thinking that was unusual how they framed it.

    Those are my childhood memories. Thank you for the great blog. I’m glad I accidentally came upon it just like the castle open house so many years ago.

    • To append my previous comment.
      The Villa Elsinore at 601 Valley Road is up for sale. It has been beautifully restored and can be seen on Zillow and it’s own website which I will list in website below. We were friends with the family that lived there and I’ve been in that house. That family had lowered the kitchen ceiling from the 14’ to make it more cozy, something a home renovator would never do today. The original wood beams are 8×8.

    • Hello Dale,

      I’m glad you stumbled across the blog too! I got a chance to visit the castle as a child before it fell into disarray, and I also remember climbing the tower. Might you happen to remember the suit of armor on the second floor? I always wondered what happened to it. There was also a chandelier of Civil War rifles at the main entrance that I was lucky enough to see before the castle burned down. I have no idea what happened to them, either.

      That piano that got pushed down the stairs was a Steinway grand piano my mother used to play. Our family got it as a gift from Steinway because my great-grandfather Anton Hylsky used to work for Steinway in Astoria and invented a new technique for the hammers that Steinway still uses today. I’m sorry the piano was destroyed, because it was a family heirloom and I would love to play it today.

      The mausoleum never had caskets in it — it was never used. This is the first time I’ve heard of railroad tracks. Because one of the Moldenkes was a metallurgist, it’s possible the tracks were used to deliver metals to the castle.

      The cannon was also from the Civil War and was purchased by a family who has it displayed on front of their house. I have a picture of that cannon taken by my family in 1946, and on the back side, in Czech, my grandmother describes how they were planning to fire it on the Fourth of July. I don’t know if they ever really did.

      That castle shopper, if it was after 1946, was probably my grandmother!

      Thanks so much for commenting and offering your memories.

  • I co-chaired start of Watchung’s historical museum and still very involved with it. I’d love to have contact with everyone who’s posted here as Im constantly adding to our knowledge if Watchung history and it sounds like you all have some to contribute! We have a sizeable display on the castle in the museum, including the restored stained glass skylight which my Mom tracked down. Kathi and I both work on researching. My Mom was a realtor and sold the lot with the mausoleum to current owners when the property was developed. I sold Villa Elsinore earlier this year – its stunningly beautiful! Be glad to swap stories with you. I made a gingerbread house of the castle when my kids were in Bayberry. Susancoletucker@gmail is my contact, please reach out!

  • To everyone who has commented here: I co-chaired start of Texier Museum, Watchung’s historical museum, may have handed Annmarie that book! We have a nice display about the castle including the stained glass skylight, which my Mom located. I tracked down the cannon. Mom sold the lot with the mausoleum when property was developed. I sold Villa Moldenke this spring (realtor) i also made gingerbread house of castle when my kids were in Bayberry. Would love to swap stories with all of you! I dont think they’ll publish my email but just google me, please! We’re constantly adding to our research about this!

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