November 25, 2008.

'Father of radio control'

Tomb's move will allow land sale to support Hammond estate

Gail McCarthy, Staff Writer
Gloucester Daily Times

The body of one of America's most prolific inventors and one of Cape Ann's most iconic figures was moved on the grounds of Gloucester's Hammond Castle yesterday, clearing the way for the future sale of a piece of land.

John Hays Hammond (1888-1965), known as the "Father of Radio Control," built the sprawling oceanfront castle in Magnolia to house many of his European antiquities and his laboratory.

Yesterday, workers removed the steel casket from Hammond's mausoleum on the property nearby the castle, which is built with architectural elements from several centuries. Hammond himself designed the crypt, which faces the Atlantic Ocean near Norman's Woe. The bell buoy located near the rocky reef rang frequently yesterday as workers carried the casket up the rugged terrain and through the entrance at the castle's bell tower and into an outdoor courtyard.
Craig Lentz, president of The Hammond Museum Inc., said the directors first filed a petition in Salem's probate court to receive permission to move the body. Hammond had no children and no next of kin.

"We had to do a genealogical search that turned up two distant cousins, one who was an attorney and who became a co-petitioner," Lentz said.

Last month, the directors received permission to move the body, which yesterday was interred in a 4,200-pound bronze vault located in the "cat garden," one of the outdoor courtyards where the Hammonds would exercise their many cats, and where Hammond's wife, Irene, would host tea parties.

Both Lentz and John Pettibone, another director, said the security of the vault has always been a concern after at least two break-ins in the 1980s. The wooded area was concealed from street traffic and commonly used as a place for drinking parties by teens, who would leave the area strewn with beer cans and bottles.

The vault had contained three of Hammond's cats, preserved in formaldehyde in glass jars. But the cats were apparently taken by vandals after a break-in. In the 1980's, the directors had a cinder-block wall erected in the crypt so if vandals again broke open the vault door, they would find only a cement wall and be prevented from reaching the vault, Lentz said.

Although yesterday was a frigid day, conditions were better than when Hammond was initially interred during a February blizzard.

Chester Mscisz, the father of Mark Mscisz who owns North Shore Vault that made the move yesterday, was part of the crew who did the original burial more than 43 years ago .

"My father said he actually remembers the wind blowing the salt spray almost to the tomb," said Mark Mscisz.

Yesterday's internment was overseen by Pike-Grondin Funeral Home, which arranged for the pallbearers. Pike Funeral Home was part of the original burial. A plaque will be placed at the new tomb, which is protected by a locked gate when the museum is closed and a wall topped with broken glass as a deterrent to trespassers.

When he died, Hammond left the property to the Catholic Church, at which time the Boston Archdiocese was led by Cardinal Richard Cushing. But after about a decade, the church decided it didn't want to be in the museum business, Lentz said, who has been a director of The Hammond Museum Inc. for the past 15 years.

Hammond Castle has been host to Renaissance fairs, concerts and other events. During the Halloween season, it is famous for its "Castle of the Damned."

But maintaining such an estate is costly.

Last December, the directors approved the sale of land off to one side of the castle for $750,000. Lentz said at some time in the future, a parcel on the other side of the castle, located off Hesperus Avenue, will also be sold. That was the area from which the casket was removed.

Lentz said the directors want to make sure the Hammond Museum will be around for future generations. That view also was shared by the distant cousin who co-signed the probate petition.

"It's important to have the institution survive," Lentz said.

Stories abound about the enigmatic inventor, whose mentors include America's most noted scientists, including Thomas Alva Edison, the inventor of the light bulb, and Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone. Hammond had approximately 800 patents and 400 inventions. He later would become a director at RCA, a leading U.S. electronics company from 1919 to 1986.

Hammond's initial inventions provided the groundwork for television remote controls, programmed car radios, and cell phones, according to John Dandola, a Hammond biographer and author.

Hammond was known for his experiments with radio remote control, in which he would steer small unmanned boats around Gloucester Harbor, spooking the fishermen, vacationers and Eastern Point residents across the harbor who witnessed these "ghost boats" gliding through the water with no one at the helm.

The budding inventor attended Yale University. He became familiar with the work of Guglielmo Marconi, who did pioneering work in wireless communication and who won the Nobel Prize for physics in 1909. Hammond also studied the work of Nikola Tesla, a Serbian inventor, who later worked for Edison and who is known for his pioneering work in the field of modern electricity.

Hammond was a son of John Hays Hammond, an internationally known mining engineer, who made his fortune from developing the gold and diamond fields in South Africa where he worked closely with British mining magnate Cecil Rhodes. The elder Hammond built a villa on Western Avenue, along the shore of Gloucester's Outer Harbor, which is now owned by the Unification Church.

Born into a family of wealth, the second son known as "Jack" had the freedom to pursue his experiments.

From 1926 to 1929, Hammond would build the castle on several acres of pristine oceanfront land in Gloucester. The castle, home to his laboratory, also houses the largest organ in a private residence. The organ is made up of roughly 8,700 pipes.

Dandola recalled a story as told by one of the castle cooks about Hammond's love of cats.

"He drove some people on Cape Ann crazy when he would hold his own funeral processions for his cats," he said. "The cat in a formaldehyde jar would be driven with the headlights on at a funeral pace all around Cape Ann, tying up traffic."

Gail McCarthy can be reached at

Comments from readers:

A tawdry ending to the bizarre epic of an eccentric genius: The story of some local entrepreneurs making a few bucks carting a casket around, calculating where the new building lot lines wouldn't interfere with the eternal repose of Mr. H. Truly bizarre. If ever there was an argument for cremation, this is it. presterjohn

What a shame they are doing this. The museum has been mismanaged for years. Kathryn

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Hammond personally designed this tomb and his will stipulated it as his final resting place. After being interred there for nearly forty-four years, his body was moved yesterday.