Novelists draw from many sources for their inspiration. I draw from my childhood growing up on Long Island, New York. The Dalinger Estate, White Oak Hall, features prominently throughout I SEE YOU my new novel. I draw from three estates on Long Island to create the unique setting for much of the mystery in I SEE YOU.
Old Westbury Gardens
Old Westbury Gardens includes both Westbury House and the gardens designed by the same architect who designed the house. It is truly a gem of Long Island. It was donated by the Phipps family who built the home to the county in the late 1950s and was preserved intact, including furnishings, making it a true treasure.
When I was in junior high school, my older sister completed an internship in the gardens there as part of her biology major in college. I would accompany her to the gardens and have free run while she worked. I spent many hours exploring every nook and cranny of the old estate. On days when the house was open for tours, I loved seeing the interior of the mansion. My favorite room was the music room, a ballroom where concerts and dances were held. I transformed this room, with a bit of poetic license, into the ballroom in the fictional White Oak Hall.
Learn more: Old Westbury Gardens
Oheka Castle can be seen for miles around from the North Shore of Long Island. Long Island is mostly flat thanks to glacial action but Otto Herman Khan, the wealthy man who built the enormous estate, actually had soil piled up so that his castle could be seen for miles around.
In 1994, when I was working for one of the prestigious garden centers on the North Shore, we received a call from the new owners of Oheka Castle. We met with them on the grounds and I saw the building under refurbishment. The entire building had been sadly neglected, as had the gardens. After Khan sold the building, it went through a series of changes, including time spent as a military prep school, and the new owners were restoring it to its original 1920s splendor.
I’m happy to say that the castle is now restored and open for events. It’s a hotel, event center, and more. And it’s gorgeous! The library was restored when I saw it in the 1990s and that’s the library I imagined when I wrote about Andrew Dalinger’s library in I SEE YOU.
Learn more: Oheka Castle
Target Rock National Wildlife Refuge (the former Ebsterstadt Estate)
By far the biggest influence on the imaginary White Oak Hall, however, is what is known today as Target Rock National Wildlife Refuge. My husband took me there for long walks while we were dating; we had many lovely picnics on its pebbled beach. It was a quiet, seldom-visited sanctuary in the busy, crowded urban area we lived.
Target Rock itself is a gigantic boulder that during high tide sits out in the bay. During the American Revolution, the British used it for target practice. At low tide, you can walk out and climb to the top.
The estate was once the home of Ferdinand Eberstadt. He was a wealthy lawyer, a diplomat, and a government employee who worked with the CIA and FBI. Eberstadt’s estate consisted of a Georgian manor house and 80 acres of prime land in Lloyd Harbor including beachfront property. The gardens and home were donated to the National Park Service and turned to the Department of the Interior as a wildlife sanctuary. It was this act in 1969 that ended up stopping Shoreham Nuclear Power Plant from being constructed; the danger to migrating wildlife protected on the land helped stop the plant from being built. (Which, as a Long Islander, I can tell you was a relief. You cannot get off the island if an emergency happens. It’s too congested and there are too few bridges and tunnels. We dreaded Shoreham).
When I first visited Target Rock, the mansion was still standing. It was a gloomy old structure with tattered curtains and shades from its days as a headquarters for the Park Service. I’d peer through the dusty windows hoping to see some of its former grandeur, but aside from the old radiators and some interesting woodwork, it wasn’t much to see.
The gardens were sadly neglected too but in the spring you could see just rows and rows of rhododendrons and laurels lining the pathways. The best part of the gardens is the freshwater pond. As in I SEE YOU the pond lies just a few yards from the ocean. There is now a bird-watching blind constructed on its banks and I loved to sit there and observe the great white heron fish. My walks at Target Rock were my Sunday morning “church” in the days before I returned to my Catholic faith. I’d pray, nature watch, and pray some more.
Learn more about Target Rock.
But What About the Ghost?
Yes, I SEE YOU is a ghost story. None of the places mentioned above are said to be haunted. The haunted mansion on Long Island is the old Woolworth mansion. I’ve never been to the estate and it was privately owned when I lived near its location. However, a good friend who was a professional photographer gained permission to photograph the estate.
She took a picture…and saw a mysterious figure in the window.
Of the empty mansion.
I saw the picture. It was many years ago, but the ghostly image in the window still gives me the shivers. At the time the image was taken, computer graphics were in their infancy and she didn’t have a computer, so it wasn’t a photoshopped image. It just was…creepy.
The mansion itself is said to be haunted by Woolworth’s daughter and I’ve heard all sorts of stories about rapping sounds on the pipes and odd shadows. It was enough to get my imagination primed for the ghostly happenings in I SEE YOU.
Did you miss the first book? It’s still available!