June 20, 2024
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The Hidden Gem of Lake Bomoseen and Its Unusual History

Neshobe Island Bomoseen Vermont

Neshobe Island, a serene and secluded spot on Lake Bomoseen in Castleton, Vermont, boasts a fascinating and quirky history. Once the stomping grounds for prominent literary figures and celebrities, this idyllic island retreat remains a testament to the golden age of American culture.

It's difficult to imagine that a quaint Vermont town, with a picturesque lake renowned for summer getaways, fishing, and other recreational pursuits, would transform into a playground for Hollywood celebrities and other prominent individuals. The island, named Neshobe, is located at Lake Bomoseen, in the small town of Castleton, which is just a few miles away from Rutland in the state of Vermont.

The Algonquin Round Table

A group of literary figures, known as the Algonquin Round Table, was particularly associated with the writer Alexander Woollcott during the 1920s and 1930s made it famous or perhaps infamous as some might say. By 1924, Alexander Woollcott, a member of the Algonquin circle and later a writer for The New Yorker, had purchased part of the island with six friends. Neshobe Island was a renowned retreat for members of the Algonquin Round Table, a group of literary figures that frequented the Algonquin Hotel in New York City. By the early 1930s, he had bought most of the island. During the 1930s, he constructed a spacious stone house where he permanently resided on the island; also accommodating several other members of his social circle and many other famous guests.

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How Neshobe Came Up Into the Green Mountains: Also the Discovery of Lake Bombazon by Samuel De Champlain (Classic Reprint)
  • John Macnab Currier (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 71 Pages - 08/24/2018 (Publication Date) - Forgotten Books (Publisher)

The Exclusive Neshobe Island Club

Some of the visitors to the island during Woollcott's time included Harpo Marx, Noël Coward, Ring Lardner, Thornton Wilder, Robert Benchley, Margaret Mitchell, Laurence Olivier, Helen Hayes, Vivien Leigh, Irving Berlin, and Walt Disney. Landscaping on the island was done by the painter Gerald Murphy.

Woollcott formed a 10-member Neshobe Island Club. Charter members included notable figures like writer Alice Duer Miller, playwright Beatrice Kaufman, illustrator Neysa McMein, New Yorker co-founder Raoul Fleischmann, songwriter Howard Dietz, actress Ruth Gordon, and publisher Harold Guinzberg. Each member paid $1,000 to spend their summers on Neshobe Island, enjoying activities, conversation, and relaxation.

Neshobe Island Bomoseen Vermont

After winning an Oscar for Gone With the Wind, Vivien Leigh visited Neshobe Island

Woollcott’s island haven attracted a glittering array of celebrities, including Harpo Marx, Noël Coward, Ring Lardner, Thornton Wilder, Robert Benchley, Margaret Mitchell, Laurence Olivier, Helen Hayes, Vivien Leigh, Irving Berlin, and Walt Disney.

Renowned painter Gerald Murphy, who inspired F. Scott Fitzgerald’s character Dick Diver, handled the island’s landscaping. The island is where Charles MacArthur and Ben Hecht completed their screenplay for Wuthering Heights.

The Algonquin Round Table New York: A Historical Guide
  • Fitzpatrick, Kevin (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 288 Pages - 05/01/2020 (Publication Date) - Lyons Press (Publisher)

Woollcott socialized with media celebrities of his time and invited some of them to become charter members of the Neshobe Island Club. Writer Alice Duer Miller, playwright Beatrice Kaufman, and illustrator Neysa McMein were among the Algonquinites included, along with New Yorker co-founder Raoul Fleischmann, songwriter Howard Dietz, actress Ruth Gordon, and publisher Harold Guinzberg. Memberships could be bought and sold, with only 10 members at any given time. To spend the summer on Neshobe Island, each member contributed $1,000.

They talked a lot, played a lot of sports and games, and worked a little in the rustic house. It was not enjoyed by everyone. Dorothy Parker and Vincent Sheen sat in a corner and drank. Sheen wrote that Alec was extremely angry. “We were disgraced. Anathema was what we were. We weren't giving any heed to his jokes and his annoying behavior.”

No matter how cold the lake was, everyone had to take a morning dip. While floating on his back, Woollcott appeared impervious to the cold water thanks to his protective layers of fat, and read books propped on his belly.

Harpo Marx stripped naked and brandished an ax at nosy sightseers

In his autobiography, Harpo Speaks, Marx wrote that the island's isolation, along with its natural beauty, was the thing they cherished the most. Harpo Marx, who was a close friend of Woollcott, was a frequent and well-known visitor to the island. Throughout the 1920s and 30s, he and his brother Groucho attained fame in the film industry. In real life, Marx was extremely shy and hardly spoke, even in his movie roles.

In the book ‘Beautiful Lake' Bomoseen, Angela Stebbins, a Castleton alum, quoted Marx as saying that the thing they cherished the most about the island, besides its natural beauty, was its isolation. “We entered our own primitive society every time we set foot on Neshobe, leaving behind Western Civilization.”

Harpo Speaks!
  • Amazon Kindle Edition
  • Marx, Harpo (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 588 Pages - 03/17/2017 (Publication Date) - Pickle Partners Publishing (Publisher)

Marx enjoyed the solitude of Neshobe Island so much that he often did things that frightened even the most unsuspecting fishermen and daytime picnickers, causing them to stay away from its shores.

Harpo, a frequent and well-known visitor to Neshobe Island, cherished the island’s isolation and natural beauty. He often engaged in eccentric acts to deter curious onlookers, such as running naked and mud-caked from the woods while wearing a red wig. The island’s seclusion offered Marx and other celebrities a peaceful haven away from the public eye.

Marx is described in several publications as running out of the woods, screaming and chanting, with his body covered in mud and a red wig on his head after stripping naked. The tourists hastily collected their belongings and rushed towards their boat and the mainland, according to Stebbins. The snooping problem was solved by Marx, but the rumors became more widespread.

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Lake Bomoseen: The Story of Vermont's Largest Little-Known Lake
  • Used Book in Good Condition
  • Thompson, Donald H. (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 160 Pages - 09/25/2009 (Publication Date) - The History Press (Publisher)

While waiting to cross the lake to the island on a summer day, Marx was approached by a group of young ladies who slowly moved closer to him, one of whom held a pen and a piece of paper. His autograph was wanted by her. Sporting his usual goofy grin, Marx sat in complete silence on the boat as Roberts watched. Marx acted quickly when the girl, who was young and well endowed, finally requested his signature. Rogers recounted the tale of Harpo standing up, grabbing the paper from the girl, and slapping it flat against her chest. Turning around, he signed his name.

Roberts and Marx floated away as the girl and her friends stood speechless and shocked on the shore. They didn't say a word until they arrived at their destination. Rogers says that Marx was still wearing his foolish smile. After stepping off the boat, he turned to Roberts and commented, ‘I bet she remembers that for a while.' Years after it happened, Roberts still tells the story of one of the few times he remembers Marx speaking.

The End of an Era

The Neshobe Island Club came to an abrupt end on January 23, 1943, when Woollcott suffered a heart attack during a radio broadcast and passed away. Today, the island features the Stone House, Woollcott’s principal residence, and the Clubhouse, which remained untouched until the Brown family arrived. Restoration efforts have since taken place to preserve the historic structures.

Lake Bomoseen: Its Early History, Conveyances, Fishing, Hunting, Resorts, Islands-Their Names
  • Hardcover Book
  • Spencer, G D (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 30 Pages - 10/27/2022 (Publication Date) - Legare Street Press (Publisher)

Conclusion: The Lasting Legacy of Neshobe Island

While Neshobe Island may appear desolate, its rich history and cherished memories live on. This hidden gem on Lake Bomoseen stands as a testament to a bygone era and the remarkable individuals who once called it their retreat.

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