D.K. Wall

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Touring Mansions

Touring Mansions

We were enjoying a Sunday brunch at an outdoor café when we saw a couple with their young children, all well-dressed in their church clothes, enthralled with the Jeep full of six Siberian Huskies parallel parked on Main Street. The dogs I knew; they were mine. But I couldn’t place the family, despite their recognizable faces.

Tired from a morning of hiking mountain trails, the dogs sat quietly watching their visitors approach the Jeep. Wary that one of the dogs might plant a muddy paw on the children’s clean clothes, I watched the situation unfold, ready to intervene if necessary.

Just when I thought I was never going to figure out who the family was, realization dawned – our local Congressman, his wife, son and daughter. Deciding I would rather avoid some national security incident, I got up from the restaurant table, left my half-eaten meal, and approached to ensure that my furry crew behaved.

Prior to being a political figure, the father was a renowned athlete, a star quarterback in college, a near Heisman Trophy winner, and a first round draft pick in the NFL. Frankly, as a big fan of that university, I was more intrigued with meeting the legendary quarterback than the fact that he was a noted politician.

As I introduced myself, I also discovered he was an avid fan of canines. We talked of his own dog, my dogs, and dogs in general. But what really piqued his interest, with his athletic background, was mushing. He was fascinated with Siberian Huskies and their ability to mush, asking many questions. When he discovered that my dogs pulled carts and sleds, he immediately wanted to bring his young son and try it out for himself.

At the mere suggestion, a headline popped into my imagination:

Local Man Maims Congressman In Freak Accident

But I didn’t need to worry. His wife shot him a look of horror, communicating to both of us that her son would not be riding a wheeled contraption behind a bunch of crazed dogs.

That story typifies our former Congressman. He is a small-town boy, born in a working-class family, who used his athletic prowess to launch a career. Though his years in the NFL certainly were lucrative, it was hard to match his personality with the legend of his house.

A few years before our Main Street meeting, rumors swirled around town about the house he was building. Whispers about its size and opulence abounded, so we periodically drove out to watch the construction.

At well over 10,000 square feet, it is one of the largest homes in our county – the grandest of the grand. The stately home sits well back from the road, acres of rolling pasture land with livestock grazing and the mountains rising behind the house.  Incredible stone work. Stunning lines. A beautiful structure.

We were invited to this magnificent home this past Saturday night.

To be fair, it is no longer his home. Unfortunately for his political career, he antagonized both his own party and the opposition, so his district was redrawn to ensure his defeat in 2012. A few years later, he sold the home and moved to a larger city.

The new owners of the house, however, were hosting an end-of-summer celebration of the work of a local non-profit. Food would be served in a large outdoor pavilion while a live band performed, a spectacular evening in our mountain air for over a hundred guests – all people who have supported the non-profit in one way or another.

As often happens, most people refer to the house as the former Congressman’s home, even though the new owners have lived there for a couple of years. In fact, when we were first invited to the party, long before the invitations had been mailed, we were told the party would be held at the former Congressman’s house. We would have accepted the invitation regardless, but were particularly excited to see the grandiose home we had watched from afar. When the invitation arrived, we immediately RSVP’d our acceptance and eagerly anticipated the evening.

Just a couple of weeks in advance, we received an additional invitation to attend a champagne reception in the home’s pool house prior to the main event. We were honored to be a part of that group, recognizing that we would be one of the first to arrive, long before so many other cars would crowd in to the estate.

Saturday evening, eager for the event, we took off in my trusty (and dirty) Jeep Wrangler. Driving down the road, the elegant entrance to the estate loomed on the left. Ten massive stone pillars framed the intimidating entry way. Wrought iron fencing stretched between the pillars, a clear warning not to enter. An electronic key pad extended to open the double wrought iron gate, but we had no need for a code since the open gates welcomed us to the property.

Soaring through the gate, we twisted down the long driveway, admiring the immaculately manicured landscaping. As we crossed a stone bridge, we watched Angus and Gelbvieh cattle graze among the Boer goats, all under the watchful eye of an intimidating herding / guard dog.

Just beyond the stone bridge, a quandary presented itself – a large directional sign with arrows pointing to five choices:

  • Main House
  • Guest House
  • Pool House
  • Horse Barn
  • Hay Barn

We assumed that the initial reception would be at the pool house and we would probably move toward the main house for the bigger event. Fortunately, all the arrows pointed down the same – and only – driveway, so we just kept rolling.

We approached our first intersection within the property, marked with a second sign. One arrow, for the hay barn, pointed to a road branching off to the right, but the remaining arrows pointed forward. Feeling confident in our choice, we continued along the main driveway, admiring the dozens of trees planted on either side.

A second intersection – and a third sign – soon greeted us. An arrow pointed left for the horse barn, straight ahead for the guest house, and to the right for the main house and pool house. The immense guest house loomed through the trees in front of us, far larger than most homes. With anticipation growing, we turned right on the path for the pool and main house.

We began to pass the main house on our right and spied a parking lot to the left across the driveway from the house. Not a single car sat in the parking lot. Nothing.

The driveway approached the front of the house and wrapped around its focal point, a huge fountain with ample parking space in front of the main entry doors.

A totally empty parking area.

Puzzled, we confirmed the starting time for the champagne reception. We were a few minutes past the official starting time, fashionably late as most people are. But how could we be the first?

Looking around the empty estate, I began to get an uneasy feeling. I turned and asked, “Is this the Congressman’s former house?”

“Yeah, sure.”

“Sure?”

A pause. “I think so.”

I looked around again. Not a person or car in view. “Then where is everyone? We haven’t seen a soul.”

We pulled the invitation out. Studied it. Out of curiosity – for the very first time – I entered the address into my GPS. A target was immediately identified. A driveway about a mile further down the road we had driven.

Here we sit. In a dirty old Jeep. Decidedly not at the location of a large party we were to attend. Uninvited in the middle of a giant compound large enough to require directional signs to the various structures.

Questions began to fly through my mind. Were we on video surveillance? Had we triggered some alarm? Were armed security guards going to appear? Were the police on the way?

Deciding not to wait for answers, I turned the Jeep around in the empty parking lot and quickly headed back to the road. The driveway had seemed impossibly long during our entrance, but now it seemed an eternity to escape. As we finally approached the entrance to the estate, I was relieved to see that the wrought iron gates still sat open, our escape route clear.

We turned and drove a mile further down the road. Arrived at a beautiful house that had formerly been the home of a congressman. Dozens of cars were already parked on the expansive lawn. A greeter welcomed us.

The house was a tasteful structure, a large home by any standard, though considerably smaller than the mansion we had just visited. A basketball goal was set up at the edge of the driveway. A pool sat behind the house, and a large pavilion was a short stroll away, the band warming up for its performance. The 10 acre estate was certainly impressive, but no directional signs were needed to move between the structures.

The owners of the house were warm and gracious, welcoming us with open arms. We had a grand time and enjoyed the hospitality.

Wondering how I could have been mistaken for so long – much more than a decade, I did a little research Sunday morning. Both the home we invaded and the Congressman’s homes were under construction at the same time, a mile apart on the same road. When we had heard the tales of the Congressman’s new home being built so many years ago, we had simply assumed that the house we saw was the one everyone referred to. Not once had we ever suspected our error.

I also discovered that the land we trespassed has a formal name, its cattle and goats prized breeding stock with a glowing reputation. In addition to a website, the estate has a Facebook page, sharing stories of their various achievements.

One of those posts was made Saturday evening:

Our trip today (to the local county fair) was a great one. All of the show heifers did very well. We had two class winners and a breed champion winner. Very proud of everyone.

The post was made on their arrival home, just a couple of hours after an unidentified Jeep cruised through their estate.

Today’s feature image is not a picture of any of the houses involved in this story, but  is licensed under Creative Commons: 0.0 License via pexels.com and Ingo Joseph.

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