Where the Shadow Self Lives

The imposing James M. Castle home in Stillwater, MN, built in 1872. See more: https://www.oldhousedreams.com/2019/05/23/1872-stillwater-mn/

This is the house where I imagine that my alter ego Aurora lives. Isn’t it sheer Gothic Revival perfection?

You could come over and Aurora would serve you an absinthe cocktail on the front porch.

Knowing Aurora, she might even slide down the banister on her way to greet you.

Come into my parlor. You look so handsome in that sweater; is it cashmere? Since there’s a spring chill in the air, when twilight descends, you can make a fire, and I’ll light the candles on the candelabra.

At first glance, I felt a kind of revulsion at this house (the fact that there are more deer heads and a bearskin rug complete with the bear’s head had something to do with that). Like the Addams Family house, there’s an atmosphere that feels slightly imposing and yes, even sinister. The architecture is in stark contrast to the light airiness of the house where my family currently lives, which features a 1980s design of soaring ceilings and two-story windows. This home feels equal parts strange and beautiful. I couldn’t stop looking at the photos.

In 1872, the year the house was built, Mark Twain was writing The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (the book would be published in 1876). The horrific and bloody Civil War had come to a close in 1865. The city of Chicago had been destroyed by fire a year earlier, in 1871. It seems that the owner, James Castle, was ballsy enough to want to build a gigantic wooden house despite the threat of fire. I think Aurora and James Castle would have gotten along swimmingly.

If you were born in 1872, your life expectancy was 38 years. Life was short, and full of sorrow. Some one-third to one-half of infants didn’t live to age five. If you managed to survive to see age 10, your life expectancy rose to 48 years — that’s how perilous infancy and young childhood was.

Overcrowding, harsh climate, extreme poverty and diseases from measles to whooping cough all took their toll. The design of this house acknowledges that this was a hard world. I love that it embraces the shadow side of life, because the shadow side will be heard.

I’m fascinated by the portraits with heavy frames and the ornate, carved Victorian furniture. It’s as if this owner decided to zig when everyone else is zagging. This house could serve as an antidote to the “open concept” home layout that every single person looking for a house on HGTV seems to request without fail. By inhabiting a house that expresses the shadow side so eloquently, I can imagine that it would be easier to be light ourselves. We’ve lost something important when we surround ourselves exclusively with the light and bright. In our age, positivity is praised and darkness is banished. “Don’t be so negative!” is something I myself have said on too many occasions. But if you shoo negativity away, it doesn’t disappear. It simply moves to a dark corner.

I think I’ll clean out some of the dark corners this weekend by watching a Stephen King movie … or two, for good measure.

3 thoughts on “Where the Shadow Self Lives

  1. Erica Louise


    When I read this blog entry, I heard the words “Paisley Park is in your heart,” and the music that accompanies the phrase, play in my head.

    My thoughts also went to Matt Damon’s question for Prince: “So you live in Minnesota? I hear you live in Minnesota.” Damon relates Prince’s reply: “I live inside my own heart, Matt Damon.”

    These are the places my thoughts went, but I’m not sure about the quality of my associations. What do you think, Laura?

    Do “Prince’s utopia’s” connect in some way to all of this? Does the abode of an alter ego relate in some way? Could the James M. Castle house be a place in Aurora’s heart? In Laura Tiebert’s?

    • lauratiebert

      I like the associations you’re making. Having been a travel writer for many years, place is very important to me. And that Matt Damon conversation is 🤣. Paisley Park was for sure a Utopian community in Prince’s mind! And yes – I believe we all have castles in our hearts.

  2. Erica Louise

    Hi again Laura,

    We just did a crossover comment, and that really tickles me. As you can see, I really appreciate many of your “places” of wisdom and perspective. Travel writer definitely included. Have used your writing to guide others in travel to Chicago. Haven’t mentioned, as don’t want my fangirl stuff to be revealed as a scary level of over-the-top. But now it comes up here in a very fun way. : )

    Have been so chatty here that I’ve been saving something up, but will go ahead and note here. Speaking of alter egos and what some may call “badass” stuff, another part of your writing I discovered over a year ago was your article on losing a place to live. That happened to a relative of mine, despite our trying to help save it, so it touched me personally in that way.

    But infinitely more important than one parallel in my life is that it was the sort of event that echoes through human experience, yet one the vast majority of people aren’t badass enough to write about in the way you did. I found that article so touching and meaningful. It spoke on so many levels about home and place. I should have told you how much I enjoyed having read it over a year ago, back when you posted about it on this blog. Was trying to find the right words. And Ha!…also honestly trying not to scare you off with my combined research-assistant-by-trade and obsessive-fangirl self. : )

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