John Hays Hammond Jr. – True Gloucester Genius

What are you reading this on? A tablet? A phone? A laptop? Was it printed out and offered to you by a cult-like follower on a bejeweled tray? Assuming your wretched supplicant used a wireless printer, in each case you can enjoy this fine piece of infotainment thanks to technology pioneered by Gloucester resident and awesome genius John Hays Hammond Jr.

we can only assume that as the father of remote control, this was a selfie

we can only assume that as the father of remote control, this was a selfie

You have him to blame.

Sure, you’ve driven by Hammond Castle bunch of times and maybe have attended one of the Haunted Halloween things because who doesn’t delight in the sound of tweens from Beverly screaming at the top of their lungs for half an hour straight? Or maybe you went there on a field trip or something, but none of it has ever made much sense. You  probably thought something like this:

“Guy was inventor. Guy built castle. Now is site of Renaissance Faire where dude with leashed ferrets wearing pantaloons capers about playing lute.”

Centaurs and Doritos don't mix, apparently

Centaurs and Doritos don’t mix, apparently

But I beseech thee to suspend thy knavery and listen hence to the tale of John Hays Hammond, Cape Ann’s greatest genius after Chubby Woodman, inventor of the fried clam (and porn actor if his nickname is any indication). Birdseye was pretty good too, and we’re going to do a thing on him later in hopes of getting free tater tots.

But we digress (we are a little shitfaced, sorry). This is one of those stories that looks like it needs to be made into a family movie you never watch on Hulu with the kids on a trip because you wind up watching like nine Sponge Bob episodes on the hotel TV instead. Here is what you missed:

  • Son of a wealthy engineer, John Jr. spends his early childhood years in South Africa at a mining camp, becoming intimately familiar at a young age with the techniques and equipment used to dig ore miles below the ground. Our own kids have trouble getting out the door with two matched shoes.
  • Eventually the family moves to England where he falls in love with castles. In fact, castles are his only friends as they are more penetrable and warm than his British classmates.
  • At age 12 John Jr. goes with his father to meet Thomas Alva Edison at his laboratory in New Jersey. The young Hammond asks perceptive questions of the great inventor who comes to like the cut of his jib and invites him to hang around the lab. Also Edison was trying to motivate his employees to invent the technology that would eventually become the Taser, and as we know from personal experience having a young boy around when you’re trying to do something complicated is the best inspiration for this kind of device.
Or this. This works

Or this. This works

  •  While assisting on an experiment being conducted by Nikola Tesla with a mysterious source of dark energy in the luminescent ether, Hammond miswires a connection sending himself and Tesla back to the 13th Century. They wind up being enlisted by Leszek II of Poland to defeat the invading Huns of the ‘Golden Horde’ using Tesla’s lightening machine, thus paving way for Europe to leave the Dark Ages and enter the Renaissance [citation needed].
  •  Hammond builds his Radio Research Laboratory on Gloucester Harbor. There, he invents over 400 devices patented under his name. How did he manage to get that past the DPA? Getting this structure approved remains the greatest triumph his career, one that has never been repeated to this day.
  •  He also builds a castle. Because fuck yes, when you are a mad scientist (more of a mad engineer, really) you’d better damn well have a boss lair. He uses local materials mixed with the ruins of historical European buildings salvaged from the rubble of WW I. How cool is that? It has a Roman pool in the middle of it. Greta Garbo used to swim in this pool because she was having an affair with Hammond’s brother. Do we think she swam naked in this pool? We do.
The zoning board rejected the first few proposals

The zoning board rejected the first few proposals

  • He had a MASSIVE organ. Oh, come on, a pipe organ. The musical instrument. You people make us sick.
  •  He uses radio control to send a pilotless boat around the harbor freaking people’s shit out all over the place. Using the same system he remotely controls a boat from Gloucester to Boston and back again. Later he would use the same technology to remotely steer an unmanned battleship for the Navy in a demonstration. The Navy can never quite get its head around remote controlled vessels because with no sailors on board the sodomy would have to occur on land, which just seems wrong somehow.
Authors vision of what this looked like

Authors vision of what this looked like

  •  From his castle locals report hearing massive explosions echo across the harbor and seeing weird lights. Do you love this guy or what? How do you not love this guy? He also invents a variable-pitch propeller (the navy likes this better) a magnetic bottle cap remover and a “Hypodermic Meat Baster” which coincidentally was the name of a punk band at our college we would play bass for sometimes.
  •  He turns his house into a museum while he’s still alive so everyone can enjoy his collection. If there was any demand at all for a “Museum of tattered Ikea Furniture Covered in Pet Hair” we’d do the same.

    drone shot of E. Gloucester. Hammond would have LOVED this. Photo M. Del Vecchio

    drone shot of E. Gloucester. Hammond would have LOVED this. Photo M. Del Vecchio

We could go on, but if there is anything we’ve learned from our site statistics is that you don’t want us to go on, you just want funny lists. “Give the people what they want,” is our motto.

To reiterate: Hammond was born rich, could have sailed around the world on a golden yacht full of prostitutes doing little more with his time than firing champagne corks at bargemen. Instead he decided to invent amazing stuff and live in a castle he made into a public museum while hanging around with the coolest people of his day.

A hearty “Clam Huzzah” to John Hayes Hammond Jr.!

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  1. Martin Del Vecchio

    Next bullet item on the aerial-photo list: Hammond Castle! Or, as Michele calls it, “Ham and Cheese Castle”.

  2. That was pretty cool. I wish it went longer.

  3. SO much better than wikipedia!!!

  4. Burgess Meredith was a frequent house guest.

  5. Outstanding! I wish someone would write a screenplay for a movie about Hammond. And no, I do not want Christopher Lloyd in the leading role!

  6. Totally awesome!! Loved it!! Made me realize that I’ve only been once to Hammond Castle, need to go again to remember all of the fascinating things that I’ve since unlearned there!!

  7. You make me LAUGH. I love you people. In a strictly platonic sense, of course. Like the way Tarzan loved Cheetah. Not that I’m calling you a bunch of chimps. Oh, this has all gone horribly awry …

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