Palace of Depression
265 S Mill Rd
Vineland, New Jersey 08361
Before we get started, let’s get this out of the way immediately:
“One of the things we see a lot of out there online is that people want to visit and tour The Palace but it is hard to catch us at the site. We are located at 265 S. Mill Rd. in Vineland, NJ. While we don’t keep regular hours yet, and are there at all different times, we always like to try to accommodate everyone as best we can that wants to see or know about The Palace. If you would like to tour The Palace, have questions about it, would like to make a donation or volunteer, or for media inquiries you can email us at:
Give us time to respond and we will try to accommodate everyone as best we can. This information is also posted at the site on signs near the driveway. Please remember though, we are still a working construction site that relies on 100% volunteers and donations so it is difficult at times to accommodate everyone, but we always do our best!” ~ Palace of Depression Facebook page
With that out of the way… WE FINALLY GOT TO TOUR THE PALACE OF DEPRESSION! Specifically, we got to visit during it’s soft opening… May 18, 2019 during Vineland’s Founders Day. We arrived and first checked out many of the exhibits during the annual event (although this was the first year it was held at the Palace, and it will be held again here in future years).
But after checking stuff out, it was time for the main event – a tour of the Palace! There was quite the line (Founders’ Day is definitely a well attended event), but The Pres and Tree Rider passed the old ticket booth (the only original structure remaining on the property and waited for our chance to head through that magical door.
“Mike”, you may ask, “why are you all worked up about this? What the heck is a ‘Palace of Depression’ anyway?”
I’d love to write 123 pages about this AMAZING place, but I’ll keep it short. During the Great Depression, a man named George Daynor showed up in Vineland (he claimed he was led there by an angel) with almost empty pockets and bought a dump, a literal dump in a swamp. Part artist, part visionary, part crazy person, he built a castle of building using that junk, complete with towers and a series of crazy rooms, which opened in 1932. Decorations were created with old car parts, statues, and whatever else George Daynor could find or create.
He then would give paying tourists tours of this Palace of Depression, which he made his living from. This became well known enough to appear in newspapers and on Esso road maps of New Jersey, and Daynor and his palace became famous across the country. He did pretty well for years, right up until he claimed that the Lindbergh baby kidnappers had contacted him about hiding out at the Palace. The FBI was not amused, and Daynor ended up in jail. He was released a few years later, but the Palace of Depression had seen its best days by then.
Daynor died in 1964 as a pauper. Soon, the Palace mysteriously burned, and Vineland bulldozed what was left.
Fast forward to 2001. Kevin Kirchner and a band of other helpers officially broke ground on on their dream – rebuilding the Palace of Depression. They based their plan off of old photographs, postcards, and a short film, as well as the memories of people who had toured the home (including Kevin, who had been in the Palace as a child and returned to it many times afterwards). It wouldn’t be identical (the original would never come close to meeting today’s building codes), but it would hopefully capture the creative, artistic, and whimsical spirit of the original. They used whatever materials they could find (they salvaged what they could from the original) or have donated, including bricks from a demolished theater and beams from an old covered bridge.
18 years after the official groundbreaking, they are still hard at work to finish their dream BUT with most of the building constructed, a visitor center complete, and a parking lot created, the Palace of Depression was complete enough for a “soft opening” at the annual Vineland Founder’s Day Event. So here we were, time to step through the door (pausing only in our reflections to check out the cannon firing demonstration put on by a group of Civil War reenactors just across the creek).
So here we go…
As you step through the door, you’ll immediately notice the new stairwell to the second floor. It’s a work of art, but isn’t quite ready for tours to walk up and down it yet.
In the same front room, where the tour guide was giving us a history of the Palace of Depression, is the wishing well.
Make sure to pay close attention to the walls throughout your tour, they have all sorts of amazing things included in them.
The highlight of the basement is the home of the Jersey Devil. He has quite the set up! Luckily for my slightly worried kids, he wasn’t home AND he and Daddy are friends so they don’t have to worry about him. (Note: My children now delight in telling their kids that their dad is friends with the Jersey Devil).
This trap door in the ceiling led to the bedroom of George Daynor and his wife. He was not a great husband, and she was forced to stay upstairs whenever anyone came for a tour. She eventually left him.
All too soon, our tour of the Palace came to an end. We exited, but stopped to check out the last (and one of the most famous) room – the Knockout Room. Here, Daynor would offer to drop a rock on the head of anyone who needed to forget their troubles during the Great Depression. Tree Rider was slightly worried that someone would think he was taking them up on this offer.
Our tour complete, the kids enjoyed some of the other fun at Vineland Founders Day (the magician in particular was a HUGE hit). Daddy just tried to wrap his head around the fact that not one, but two, fantastic castles had been built here at Vineland within 100 years.
If you want to learn pretty much all there is to know about the Palace of Depression, I can’t recommend enough picking up a copy of The Fantastic Castle of Vineland: George Daynor & the Palace of Depression” by Patricia Martinelli (2012), which is 123 pages chock full of information and pictures about the history of this amazing place from George Maynor through the reconstruction process.