Opening the heavy wooden door to the Frederick Kip family mansion, the unwary visitor may be startled by a life-sized suit of armor keeping guard near a massive fireplace. “Vestigia nulla retrorsum” reads the family motto on an interior door. “No steps back” is its meaning in English, and the crest shows a gloved hand and two beaked and taloned gryphons.
This is Kip’s Castle, once known as Kypsburg, in Verona. It’s the setting for “Fright Night Movie Night” sponsored by County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo, Jr., the Board of Chosen Freeholders, the county Department of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs, and the Kip’s Castle Advisory Board.
“Monster House” is rated PG and will be shown outdoors on a large screen on the castle lawn on Friday, Oct. 21. In the movie, three teens discover that their neighbor’s house is really a living, breathing, scary monster but no adults will believe them. When they disturb the house, creepy events start to take place and they must save the neighborhood in this animated adventure.
The setting is dramatic even without special effects. While cousin was having “Montrose,” now the Kip-Riker Mansion, built in South Orange, Frederick Ellsworth Kip and his wife Charlotte Bishop Williams Kip were constructing Kypsburg.
Kip was a successful textile manufacturer who also wrote several books, one a history of the Kip clan. His estate now spans 11 acres, straddling the border of Montclair and Verona, and it includes a 30-room house and two-story carriage house. The mansion is at the top of First Mountain; it can be reached by walking or driving a long winding driveway lined with a stone wall. The estate commands stunning skyline views, and once boasted octagonal rose gardens that were the pride of greater Montclair.
Completed in 1905, the mansion is modeled on a medieval Norman castle, and that influence is evident. It boasts turrets, escutcheons and two-foot-thick stone walls. The exterior doors are heavy, and wrought iron covers the peephole window. The windows that flank the front door suggest arrow loops, the narrow openings that castle occupants once used for defense.
Inside, the first floor is open to the public. Tile surrounds the fireplaces and crests decorate the walls. Under glass, a genealogical chart links Charlotte Kip to an early King of Wessex. Stained glass and chandeliers hint at the elegant parties once held here, some of which had our local Kips on the guest list.
The estate has a complicated history. In 1926, after Charlotte died, Frederick Kip sold the castle for $175,000, according to a real estate report in The New York Times. Then already in need of repair, the house changed hands several times before the law firm of Schwartz, Tobia & Stanziale purchased it in 1985. In 2007, with grants from the N.J. Green Acres Program and the Essex County Recreation and Open Space Trust Fund, the county purchased Kip’s Castle. The property is now part of the Essex County Park System, which is why the public is invited to visit the castle, especially during the spooky season.
“Essex County Kip’s Castle Park has been the site of several Halloween events that provided thrills and chills for the whole family. This year, we invite you to a special movie night where you can experience the castle in a whole different way. We look forward to seeing you at ‘Friday Night Fright,’” DiVincenzo said.
The movie presentation is free. Attendees should bring their own chairs or blankets.
For those who scare easily, the castle is still worth a daytime visit. There is parking behind the carriage house, and the grounds are ideal for an autumn stroll, as there are both wide-paved driveways and large grassy areas. There are restrooms available, but no concessions; either bring a picnic or plan to eat elsewhere.
After Frederick Kip left his castle, he moved to 28 Melrose Place in Montclair, where he lived until his death in 1938. The New York Times noted that some 12 hours after he had been seen shoveling his walk, he was found dead due to auto fumes in the garage of his large home. “No steps back” read the family motto, for a man whose path forward was halted dramatically by his actions. There may indeed be frights in the night, at Kip’s Castle in Verona.
Essex County Kip's Castle Park, 22 Crestmont Road, Verona, N.J.; Phone: 973-239-2465. Movie is rated PG. Free admission. Movie begins at 7 p.m. Refreshments available.