When you're driving around a lake and there's an arrow-shaped sign that says "Castle," you follow it.
After all, you need to know: will it lead to little square burgers with holes punched in them? Will the aroma of sauteed onions lead you to your ultimate destination? We had these questions as we drove Lake Shore Road around Budd Lake (not the town ... the actual Budd Lake) on a quiet Sunday morning.
Ivan and I were doing a quick birding sweep before heading off to a holiday party, and our intended stop just off Route 46 had been taken over by law enforcement officials doing cold-water rescue drills. Hence, we were looking for a quiet spot where we could look over the water. Most of the logical places were either fenced off or otherwise rendered useless by annoying NO TRESPASSING warnings. Then, we saw the sign, an appropriated one-way arrow that had been pointed upward, with the letters "C A S T L E" superimposed where the usual lettering would be.
We continued around the lake, through a residential area of converted summer bungalows, seeing the occasional sign pointing us toward our quarry. Then, suddenly, as if from the mist, we saw it: a cinderblock stone structure with crenelated towers and a rough-hewn oaken door. This must be the castle.
Pulling up, we noticed a gated park across the road between the castle and the lake. Hmm... we didn't expect this to be a full compound. Before we walked across to the castle, we entered the park to find a variety of statues dedicated to various people. Obviously some sort of community was making this area its domain, but it wasn't overly concerned about uninvited visitors. We saw no NO TRESPASSING signs or anything else to indicate we were unwelcome. The place just looked kind of weathered and a little unkempt, with fallen leaves and branches strewn about.
It started making sense, kind of, when we reached the front of the building. Atop the door was a sign reading "Pax Amicus Theatre." I guess the park is a nice gathering spot for patrons before a show, or during intermission, especially in the warmer months. I've actually heard of the theater but had no idea it was housed within a castle.
Seriously, a lake in Morris County seems a bit of an odd spot for a castle. A log cabin or fishing lodge, perhaps. An old church, maybe. Even a school. But a castle? According to the theatre's website, the building was once a Jewish community center, and then a Knights of Columbus, but there is no information on why the thespians chose to convert the facade to a castle when they converted it to its current use. I'd like to say they took the former "Knights" theme to heart, or maybe they're just Monty Python fans and hope there's a Lady in the Lake waiting with a grail for the right prince to come along.
One interesting point: the website noted that the theatre's dedication in 1983 was attended by both the Wizard of Oz's Wicked Witch, Margaret Hamilton, and a young actor named Kevin Bacon. That Kevin Bacon? It would have been just before his first film appearance, in Animal House. And according to the Oracle of Bacon, Margaret Hamilton has a Bacon number (degrees apart) of two. Perhaps, with the Pax Amicus, we can reduce that to one.