The Mansion on the Hill

On a nostalgic journey one sparkling, late October afternoon, I stood on the bluffs in front of Seaview Terrace, as it’s known by locals in Newport, Rhode Island, and looked at waves crashing against a rocky shore. Yes, those waves, the ones that made their debut more than 47 years ago under the opening credits of the premiere episode of Dark Shadows, in which I appeared as Maggie Evans. In the ensuing 1,225 episodes, I would also play Josette DuPres, the hapless fiancé of vampire Barnabas Collins.

But what I was experiencing in nature’s glorious Technicolor that autumn afternoon, we in early 1966 viewed in grainy shades of gray, lending even more ghostly shadows to the mansion on the hill with the haunting glow of light in a single upstairs window. Seaview Terrace, also now known as the Carey Mansion, had been built in the 1920s for a wealthy Washington D.C. distiller (producer of Old Crow whisky) who requested that his architect, Howard Greenley, pattern the summer home after a particular chateau in France. But, as often happened after the Great Depression and the introduction of federal income taxes during the 1930s, the wealthy owners couldn’t afford the luxury of the huge household staffs necessary to the upkeep of these lavish summer homes. The house was not inhabited for a decade prior to World War II when Seaview Terrace was used as barracks for naval personnel. Windows were broken and the lawns overgrown when the mansion was purchased for back taxes in 1949 and converted for use as a summer school called Burnham-by-the-Sea.

In early May of 1966, Dan Curtis arrived in Newport with his set designer, Sy Tomashoff, to scout exterior locations for ABC’s new afternoon soap, Dark Shadows. The Gothic architecture of Seaview Terrace had caught Tomashoff’s discerning eye as a suitably brooding facade for the Collins mansion which was set in the mythical town of Collinsport, Maine. Curtis negotiated to film the opening credits at Seaview Terrace for the sum of $500, with the owner’s stipulation that filming would have to be completed before school opened in late June. However, to the consternation of the school’s staff, Dan Curtis arrived unannounced with a film crew at noon the day before the summer term was to begin. The crew set up their cameras and spent the afternoon filming on the grounds of Burnham-by the-Sea. By late afternoon, the weary headmaster asked if they were finally finished shooting. No, Curtis told him, they would also be shooting that night and would need to have the entire mansion dark except for one light shining in a window. The headmaster protested that with school beginning in the morning, he had a lot of work to do and needed the lights on. After considerable persuasion (Curtis, after all, had a television series to launch!) the schoolmaster was relegated to a room in the turret where he worked by candlelight with a blanket covering the window.

Curtis returned one more time to film exterior scenes on the grounds of the school. Beginning in 1976, the mansion housed Salve Regina University dorm and classrooms for three decades. Today it’s

In 2010, Jonathan Frid (Barnabas), Lara Parker (Angelique) David Selby (Quentin) and I played cameo roles in Tim Burton’s feature film Dark Shadows, starring Johnny Depp, with an exterior filmed in England standing in for the great Collinsport Estate. Beginning in . . . . , reruns of the entire original series that “every kid ran home from school to watch,” will be broadcast on METV.

Meanwhile, somewhere in the evocative Seaview Terrace setting, lurking in the dark shadows of his original home, Barnabas Collins must be watching the current inhabitants, a sinister gleam in his eye.

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