December 17: Iranistan

2012/12/17 § 2 Comments


On this day in 1857 Iranistan burned down.

Iranistan was a crazy carnival of a country seat designed by Leopold Eidlitz for Phineas Taylor Barnum.  What a pair!  The client: well, you know the huckster-showman-hawker-author-conniver-philanthropist-shyster-politician-rascal, founder of The Greatest Show On Earth.  With that kind of c.v., Barnum couldn’t just have your garden variety Italianate villa or Greco-Roman manse in the country, but of course turned to an architect who was known to have a wild hair.  Eidlitz was a bit of a nut–that wonderful kind of historically curious and wildly inventive nut that the nineteenth century had by the bushel.  The house Eidlitz designed for Barnum was as much a dazzling event as the three-ring circus that made him famous.  Blending exotic Moorish and Persian sources with not a little homage to the Brighton Pavilion, the three-story structure was girdled with lacey balconies and topped with bristly pinnacles and a small army of onion domes, and complimented by fantastic garden pavilions and furnishing designed specially for the place.  Its reported cost of $150,000 was a sum that would have paid for a substantial library or hospital at the time.

In mid-December Barnum went to New York to see to business and left workers in the otherwise empty nine-year-old house to make adjustments and repairs.  It was probably a smoldering pipe or segar that touched off the blaze.  In just two hours the fantastical creation and all its stuffing burned to the ground.

Image: the house (from this source)


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