For Jessie Jones of Paradise, N.L., the mysterious blue structure seemed to appear in the town’s roundabout overnight.
Jones thought the skeletal metal pieces might be a frame for a “Welcome to Paradise” sign, but no such sign materialized. Then she noticed people in the “Town of Paradise” Facebook group posting questions about it.
“Some people were posting like, ‘Does anyone know what that blue thing is?’ And I just thought that was really funny because no one seemed to really know what it was.”
So Jones started a Facebook group devoted to sharing memes about the mysterious origins of the object in the roundabout.
“I thought, if everyone’s got the same question, it seems like a good time to make some memes about it.”
The memes range from serious to outright absurd, speculating on the blue structure being an adult-sized jungle gym or having been left behind by aliens — but what is it actually supposed to be?
Paradise Mayor Dan Bobbett has the answer: it’s a monument to the old Octagon Castle, a four-storey structure with a beach area, housing a hotel, a gallery and a restaurant right on the shores of Octagon Pond.
Bobbett explained the former community landmark burned down over 100 years ago, and when the town had an opportunity to build something in the roundabout to honour Paradise’s history, the Octagon Castle was a popular suggestion.
Bobbett said the town did studies to ensure the monument would not be a distraction to drivers.
“There was a challenge for the artist to put something there that’s not going to draw too much attention away from your driving and your concentration. And I think they’ve succeeded,” said Bobbett, who pointed out drivers can see through the monument.
The structure will be lit up at night, he said, and shrubbery will be added to the base of the monument.
But the question remains: what was the Octagon Castle? Was it just an old hotel, or was there more to this historic structure that makes it worth memorializing?
The answer can be found in a small collection of documents and artifacts housed in Memorial University’s Queen Elizabeth II library.
Colleen Quigley, the head of MUN’s archives and special collections, says the files on the Octagon Castle are among her favourite in the collection. She said the castle was owned by “the very eccentric, extravagant, fabulous, Charles Henry Danielle.”
“He really was a fascinating person and we really don’t know that much about him, but we do know that he was very much in the public eye, especially in St. John’s,” she said.
Danielle became a local celebrity in the late 1800s, due to his many businesses and his opinion columns for St. John’s newspapers.
Quigley said Danielle was born in Baltimore in the 1830s and moved to Newfoundland in the 1860s to open a dance academy. She said he moved frequently, and often traveled to New York to learn what the latest trends were before returning to Newfoundland. After learning of the newest dances, like the “turkey trot,” Danielle would return to St. John’s to teach people what was hip elsewhere in the world.
“If he was around now,” Quigley said, “I’m sure he’d have a TikTok.”
After opening a number of restaurants and skating rinks in the city, in 1894 Danielle embarked on his most ambitious project yet: the Royal Lake Pavilion on the shores of Quidi Vidi Lake — billed as the first suburban roadhouse in Newfoundland, said Quigley. Alas, Danielle’s first attempt at a waterside resort was not to last.
Feeling unwelcome in town, Quigley said, Danielle decided to move the business elsewhere and shipped the building from the shores of Quidi Vidi to Topsail. He renamed his roadhouse the Octagon Castle and reopened it near the body of water now called Octagon Pond, in reference to the castle.
The official opening of the resort, in June 1896, was “a big deal,” said Quigley.
“Everybody who needs to be known in the city was there, even the prime minister, Sir William Whiteway.”
Danielle’s plan was to capture the same wealthy clientele he taught dance lessons to, and to draw them outside of the city for a summer resort destination. The castle became a go-to spot for honeymooners and local companies’ staff parties.
Quigley said Danielle’s reputation was key to his success and he would try to outsmart negative press. She recounted an instance in which a newspaper claimed Danielle’s business was cutting corners by watering down the castle’s cream. Danielle responded in “the most dramatic way,” she said.
“He basically stated that it had absolutely nothing to do with cost-cutting measures. He said it was the fault of a farmer who sold him faulty cows,” she said. Danielle argued the skin of these cows were thinner than normal and absorbing rainwater into their milk — and he came up with a solution.
“He had invented his own type of eavestrough to go over the cows back so that the water would then be flicked away from the cows, so future guests of the Octagon Castle did not have to worry about watered-down cream.”
This type of eccentricity was central to appeal of the castle, which was also known for its elaborate decorations, involving a lot of satin and brocade. It even had a “mortuary” room on the fourth floor.
“He even had his coffin displayed on the floor,” Quigley said. “Part of his shtick was that he would get in the coffin for the guests.”
Quigley said some believe that Danielle slept in the intricately detailed coffin at night.
“The outside was covered in black satin and embellished with handmade lace and flowers. The inside was upholstered with over 7,000 shells of white satin and the top was glass.”
Beside the coffin was a framed document with Danielle’s wishes for his funeral arrangements, with specific instructions on all aspects of his burial. The document was put to good use after Danielle died in 1902, and his funeral was an immensely popular event in St. John’s at the time, said Quigley, with more than 2,000 people from town attending.
As for the castle itself, it burned down in 1915.
Jones has since learned of the meaning behind the monument and has an explainer pinned to the top of her Facebook group. However, she’s still generating memes on the topic for fun.
“I like to keep the mystery going,” she said. “I don’t want to give up so soon.”