Thursday, September 15, 2011
Murder in the Mansion
Last year I toured the historic Crane Estate mansion and grounds as I was beginning to write Murder on the Bluffs. I wanted the murder to take place somewhere on the vast grounds of the estate. I took pictures and lots of notes.
Mr. Crane was a plumbing magnate who spared no costs to build this summer retreat from the oppressive midwestern heat of Chicago. Parts of it remind me of the opulence of Hearst Castle on the opposite coast.
Yesterday I had the good fortune to score a slot in the "Hot and Cold" tour, which takes place in the back halls and stairways of the mansion, the realm of the maids and butlers. It was fascinating. We explored the pantries, the trunk room, the furnace area (hot), the rooftop, the ventilation system (cold), and much more. We traversed a hidden spiral staircase. We peeked into the old lift used to bring wood upstairs for fireplaces and checked out the dumbwaiter in a pantry the size of a small apartment.
Boy, did I come away with ideas. What if a body was stuffed in a trunk in the cellar? How about if Lauren was lured into the safe, a green-felt lined room used to store the considerable silver collection? Once the heavy door swung shut and the combination twirled, she'd have no way to call for help.
The antique elevator looked intriguing and dangerous with its door that resembled a jail cell door. That wood lift, with its pulleys, ropes, and rotting infrastructure. And the slanted concrete slab that coal used to slide down. Oooh.
I have changed the name of the estate in my book. Public places don't usually appreciate having fictional murders or assaults taking place on their properties, even if only in a book. Still, I think I might have material in surfeit for the climax scene I'll be working on tomorrow.
What's your favorite real or imagined site for murder and mayhem?