The Winchester Mystery House has been getting a lot of press. You might have seen trailers for the movie, which just came out (to less-than-stellar reviews). But did you know that North Carolina has its own, albeit smaller, version of a crazy house? Körner’s Folly is in Kernersville, NC. It consists of seven floors spread across three stories. The ceilings in some rooms are twenty-five feet high, while others are five and a half. There are trap doors, weird staircases, a portion of the house used to be a horse barn—yet classical murals and opulent furniture abound—and there’s a children’s theater on the top floor. Also, we went there last weekend.
Jule Gilmer Körner started construction of the house in 1878. The double dots you see above the “O” means that “Körner” and the start of “Kernersville” is pronounced the same, and indeed Jules Körner was a grandson of the town’s namesake. “But what about this Körner,” you might think, “inspired him to use Dr. Seuss sketches as building blueprints? Was he mad? Did he believe in ghosts like the late Sarah Winchester? Or was he an interior designer who wanted various types of rooms to show off different types of chairs and couches and rugs and other household adornments—like a type of life-sized decorating catalog?”
If you guessed the curiously-specific third option, you would be right! Everything in Körner’s Folly serves a purpose: the larger rooms showcase Victorian furniture and decorative painting and paneling styles, the tiny rooms children’s beds and miniature dressers and bureaus. All of the stairs—from wide to narrow to hidden—have different banisters, and all of the fifteen fireplaces are made with variously colored enameled brick. Different window shapes and sizes show off different curtain and shade types. Also, the house was built about two decades before Dr. Seuss was born, so Körner really was a guy who danced to the beat of his own original drum.
Though this rhyme and reason doesn’t mean the house isn’t strange. The top-floor theater still puts on children’s puppet shows to this day, and the puppets in upper rooms of the place are odd. The trap doors and giant wall vents in the house were part of an intricate air-circulation system, but they also feel like they are part of secret passageways, constructed to aid in the murdering of people à la a good whodunit. Also, why is the outdoor privy a miniature replication of the house? Or, why do so many of the “windows” pivot? You could easily lean against one and fall to your death, and the largest pivoting window happens to be in one of the children’s bedrooms.
It is a “house” that simply has to be seen. But in closing, Körner’s Folly really warms my heart. In 1886, years after the initial structure was finished, Jule Körner married Polly Asten Martin. He considered making another home for them to live in, but she nixed the idea—she wanted to live in his “folly” with him. So Körner’s eccentric bachelor pad became an eccentric family abode. It’s a tall order to find a person who wants to eat and sleep in a constantly redesigned 6,000 square foot display case, complete with eight different sizes of bricks and its very own Witch’s Corner. But apparently Polly loved it. In short, Jule Körner truly found his person.
–Jeff and Leah
Edit: Everyday Strange visited the house right around when we did — check it out