Excitement is in the air! We are heading downriver on an October Saturday, cutting through the rippling waters of the St Lawrence, past numerous islands whose autumn beauty would dazzle us...any other day. Right now, we don’t care about the scenery: we have an hour to get to Singer Castle, and we aren’t going to waste it sightseeing.
In fact, all eyes on the double-decker Uncle Sam tour boat are focused inside—on screens surrounded by black drapes blocking the light—as we anticipate viewing the as yet unaired Great Escape pilot filmed at Singer Castle last year. And when we arrive at Dark Island, we know we will experience the castle’s secrets firsthand!
Onscreen, we are treated to aerial views of the castle’s exterior, accompanied by musical passages—some understated, some evoking suspense; after the views from all angles have been exhausted, our 42-minute (no-ads!) viewing adventure begins.
We meet the three pairs of contestants, each confident they will be the first to find their way out...of a place they have no idea is a castle on an island in the St. Lawrence River of New York State!
Once the blindfolded teams reach the island, they are brought into the vaulted Great Hall, and their blindfolds removed...briefly. Then they are taken to the very top floor of the castle, where they must find a way, through hidden passages, to the bottom (Obvious doors and stairways are blocked, and each team must find a unique, hidden route to the floor below.) But there’s more! They must break out of the castle and traverse an intervening waterway before escaping the island itself. (Oh—did I mention they must do this all while avoiding detection by the constantly patrolling “guards”? If they are caught, they get sent to a “prison” from which they must also escape.)
The race begins, and one team quickly finds a way to the floors below; we witness another team’s despair as they start to run out of options. But the leading team meets a challenging obstacle, and their own confidence wavers as the third team breaks into the passage ahead of them. We can hardly help groaning when a team that has shown extraordinary strength and persistence gets caught—not once, but twice!
As spectators, we enjoy viewing each team problem-solving through their particular
surroundings, and our experience is further enhanced by frequent cutaway views of the floor plan that reveals, in color-coding, their whereabouts.
All three teams must use brute force as well as fine motor skills to find their way through the castle. We watch them as they skim fingers over nooks and crannies to find triggers; we grunt as they hammer their way through concrete; we squirm with them as they crawl, flat on their bellies, over the castle grounds, only to find they must plunge into a freezing “moat.”
By the time the winning team has found their way, wet and cold, to their warm drinks and hot prize—$50,000—the audience applauds as if they've tasted the victory of a cherished friend.
The boat docks at Dark Island, and we are ready for our own expedition through the castle. We are divided into small groups, each with its own guide. We are shown the lavishly appointed rooms of the castle as they must have appeared to guests of Frederick Bourne, the Singer Sewing Machine president who built the place. It is impressive. Then we are taken to the top floor, from which we are guided through the exodus patterns of the contestants we have just seen onscreen.
We find the tricks to entering hidden stairways; we traverse the servants’ mezzanine; we cut vertically through the castles’ many stories via the spiral stone staircase. We spy through peepholes, we squeeze through narrow secret doors (triggered by activating “innocent” objects) on our labored descent. Below ground level, we follow a tunnel to the north boathouse and view the winners’ exit route from the island.
Finally, we board our own boat, which has moved from the south boathouse to the north, to pick us up and ferry us back to Alexandria Bay. The trip back gives us time to reflect. All those contestants—though truly in the Dark—exhibited persistence and endurance to escape from a place that could have been anywhere on the globe. But only one team could win, and we will not forget that pair—wet, cold, and exhausted, but flashing huge smiles as they accept the prize they have earned.
We passengers, too, feel like winners as we go our separate ways: after all, we have been treated to a “private” viewing of a Hollywood reality show and have been entrusted with a castle’s secrets! And we'll never be quite the same...
Now and then, when our eyes chance to rest on an innocent object—a coat hook perhaps, or a picture frame—we’ll pause and wonder: What might it reveal if we only knew its secrets?
By M.A. Noble
M. A. Noble spent her early years on a North Country dairy farm then moved to California where she worked first as a teacher and instructional designer. Then as a writer, she moved from technical manuals to short stories for language arts instruction to novels. Now she has returned to New York's farmlands and is once again, as she says, “milking”...her fiction. Her first novel, Taking Hart is set on the St. Lawrence River and combines suspense and regional history, coinciding with the 1812 centennial. It is available at many US retail outlets and on Amazon.
This is Maggie’s second article about Singer Castle written for TI Life. Her first article “A Royal Job” appeared in the October 2012 issue.
Editor's Note: Singer Castle will keep us informed if or when the episode will be aired on North Country TV.