BRATTLEBORO -- They say all rumors start with a kernel of truth.
But which are real and which are fake? How many stories passed down through the years about notable people are accurate and will society ever figure out which ones are complete bunk?
Eric Stanway set out to try once and for all to decipher the true story behind an area legend -- Antoinette Bramare, also known as Madame Sherri.
A late resident of Chesterfield, N.H., Sherri has gone down in local history as an eccentric lady whose name conjures both captivating stories of her life and boldfaced lies. Stanway, a writer from Fitzwilliam, N.H., eventually became seduced with the mystique of this woman he never met and just weeks ago finished a 150-page book about what he has learned.
"Madame Sherri" is the result of what Stanway’s research has taught him and might put to bed some ugly rumors people have heard while detailing the finer points of an incredible life.
Though Stanway was unable to confirm Sherri in fact ever met infamous Chicago gangster Al Capone, some very odd factoids about her life proved true.
In a telephone interview, he said Sherri was born in Paris in 1878. Later in life, she wound up meeting Anthony Macalusco (aka Andre Riela), who she would marry. Andre came from a distinguished Italian family and was the son of a diplomat. He was training to become one himself until he abandoned his studies after meeting Sherri, who was
After tying the knot, the two moved to New York City and set up a millinery, or hatmaking business, called "Andre-Sherri" in 1915. It was there that they hired Charles LeMaire, who became a famous Broadway costume designer -- even winning an Academy Award for the film "All About Eve" in 1950. The movie starred Bette Davis and Marilyn Monroe.
In 1924, while America was still under the grip of Prohibition, Andre consumed some bathtub gin, or alcohol made in a poor and amateur fashion. There is evidence to suggest the concoction made him go blind and insane, causing him to be admitted to Manhattan State Hospital and die five months later. But Stanway said Wayne Carhart, the former head of the Brattleboro Historical Society, maintains that he died of syphilis.
Years later, the widowed Sherri began attending the wild parties of West Chesterfield’s Jack Henderson. Sherri fell in love with the area and in 1929 purchased the old Alphonse Furlone house and 600 acres going up the side of Rattlesnake Hill across the road.
Stanway said Sherri then came up with the weird idea of building a castle on the lot.
"There were no blueprints or anything," Stanway said in a telephone interview. "She just winged it. It completely confused locals."
The castle quickly became notorious for parties in the 1930s, the author said, and Sherri and her friends loved cruising around the area in her 1927 cream-colored Packard.
Stanway believes he was able to confirm the rumor that Sherri used to walk around wearing a fur coat with nothing underneath it. It is also possible that she had a monkey on her shoulder during strolls. Stanway said a dear friend of Sherri’s eventually buried the fur coat, which had been tattered and torn, in his backyard.
"After World War II, she became increasingly dependent on her neighbors for basic necessities," Stanway said, adding that her beloved castle started to get vandalized on a regular basis. Sherri became a ward of Brattleboro and the castle burned to the ground in 1962.
She soon became senile and lived at Maple Rest Nursing Home in Brattleboro, where she died in October 1965.
A woman named Ann Stokes grew fond of Sherri’s castle and bought the land around it -- the deal was finalized the day of Sherri’s death. She maintained it until 1998, when she sold it to the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests. It is now known as Madame Sherri Forest.
Stanway, who started pursuing his project in mid-April, he was interested in dispelling perhaps the harshest rumor surrounding Sherri’s life -- the one about her operating a whorehouse on the site. While he was unable to confirm one way or the other, he said it is very unlikely that it is true. It was probably the result of what he called "linguistic confusion."
"She was a big deal," he said. "She was like a local celebrity around here."
Stanway is scheduled to speak to the public at three Toadstool Bookshops in New Hampshire next month. He is slated to appear in Peterborough on Saturday, July 14, Keene on Sunday, July 15, and Milford on Saturday, July 21.
He said he would like to schedule some speaking gigs in Brattleboro but has not yet.
Domenic Poli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277.