Memories of OHEKA Castle
by Roger Hall
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Otto Kahn and OHEKA Castle
Portrait of Otto H. Kahn (1867-1934)
(from NNDB )
He named his dream castle: "OHEKA" after the initials of his full name (O=Otto/ HE=Hermann/ KA=Kahn).
OHEKA castle was completed in 1919. It originally had 127 rooms
and occupied 109,000 square feet of space, making it the second largest
private residence in the United States (after the Biltmore Estate in North Carolina). It was also the largest residence built in New York State A few quick shots of OHEKA were included in the opening newsreel shown in the classic film, CITIZEN KANE.
Roger Wolfe Kahn and His Orchestra
Otto Kahn's son, Roger (1907-1962), was a talented musician in the 1920s and 1930s. He played many instruments and was a young band leader and songwriter. Among the famous Big Band musicians who played in his band were Tommy Dorsey, Eddie Lang, Artie Shaw, Jack Teagarden, Joe Venuti, and others.
One of the songs he co-wrote with Irving Caesar and Joseph Meyer was "Crazy Rhythm," a big hit and recorded in 1928. Listen to Roger Wolfe Kahn and His Orchestra playing this hit song at YouTube
Another of his hit records, recorded in 1926, was a song by George and Ira Gershwin: "Clap Yo' Hands." Hear it on YouTube
Read the full biography of Roger Wolfe Kahn at Wikipedia
Eastern Military Academy
When I first arrived there in September of 1952,
I knew immediately that it was going to be a very special place.
I was attending Eastern Military Academy (or EMA). I didn't know it when I went to school there, but that was actually a castle built by a wealthy banker with Kuhn, Loeb & Co. in New York. He was Otto Hermann Kahn.
At EMA they mistakenly told us it had been built by the playboy, Aly Kahn,
who was once married to movie actress, Rita Hayworth.
It was many years later before I learned it was Otto (not Aly) Kahn who had built this magnificent castle.
I was pleased to see Otto Kahn's castle briefly in the newsreel footage at the beginning of the film classic, CITIZEN KANE, one of my all-time favorite films and considered by many to be the greatest Hollywood film. I first watched the film on WOR-TV in New York in the 1950s and knew even then it was a great film and was thrilled to catch a brief glimpse of my EMA home.
The castle was not so luxurious when I arrived there in 1952, but it was still impressive. It had a well worn cobblestone courtyard like some old European town. Kahn was originally from Germany, but
his castle was modeled
on a French chateau.
After EMA went bankrupt, the castle was unoccupied and vandals took over and caused almost total destruction.
OHEKA Rises Again
Fortunately, it was purchased in 1984 by an industrious developer, Gary Melius,
who could see the value of restoring Otto Kahn's jewel of a castle. He began restoring it and after years of careful restoration work and millions of dollars spent on labor and materials, the castle itself is now restored again and shines like a beautiful jewel.
This is how the entrance courtyard looks after the restoration..
Here is the magnificent swirling staircase in the entrance foyer,
modeled after the one at the Chateau Fontainbleu in France...
and long straight hallways from the EMA days...
During the time I attended Eastern Military Academy in the 1950s, many of the young cadets were afraid to walk past the wind tunnels in the basement on the way to the canteen. The tunnels were dark and mysterious and made an eerie, whistling sound.
It was quite spooky,
like a haunted castle in a horror movie.
The fountains outside did not have any water in them and many of the ornamental statuary were cracked or missing pieces. Weather permitting, each morning we met to pick up any trash on the terrace grounds at the side and rear of the building just before we had breakfast.
EMA did try to keep the place neat and clean but it wasn't easy with such a massive building to maintain.
This 1999 photo shows the room where I lived while an EMA cadet,
before undergoing restoration:
Here is that same fireplace in a beautifully restored room of the castle:
My room during my first years at EMA was right above the Main Ballroom.
The photo shows the outside rear facade and my room was where the third large window
on the second floor is located and also the window around the corner.
I loved that room. It had such a great view of the surrounding grounds, including the neighboring golf course.
Unfortunately, after EMA went bankrupt in 1979, almost total destruction was done by young vandals, who set many fires
inside the rooms and broke all of the windows.
It was burned and broken but the castle refused to die.
That's because Otto Kahn had made sure it was built extremely well.
He had it constructed so it was fireproofed, with walls over three feet thick and using reinforced steel and concrete materials.
For over twenty years the restoration of OHEKA has been taking place. This photo shows a section of my favorite room there -- the restored OHEKA Library with a beautiful grand piano.
The Library was also the favorite room of the castle's original owner, Otto H. Kahn, whose portrait hangs there in a place of honor.
Fortunately, thanks to the efforts of
the owner and developer Gary Melius (shown in gray vest),
the castle now looks much better than when I attended EMA there.
Since it was a military academy, there were many drills and parades. I loved marching to the snappy tunes played by the very good EMA band, under the direction of Mr. Felix Sangenito. My favorite piece was E.E. Bagley's "National Emblem March." For the next few years I would spend many happy hours learning, thanks to teachers like Mr. Brody and Mr. Duncan.
Most important to my later music career,
I did my first singing while at Eastern Military Academy.
I joined the Lower School Glee Club in 1954,
which was the first year they had one for us youngsters. The director was Mr. Willard Young. I remember performing in a variety show which featured a medley of Irving Berlin songs, among them were "This is the Army" and "Oh, How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning."
Many years later, in 1988, I did a 100th birthday radio tribute to Irving Berlin. I played "Oh, How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning," as sung by the songwriter himself. The radio host commented how much fun it was to recall the song when trying to get up in the morning. This song is the title of a chapter from my memoir and now available on the DVD I prepared.
That song title was true for us EMA cadets as well -- Oh, how we hated to get up so early in the morning!
But oh, how much I loved living in Otto Kahn's magnificent castle!
I've never forgotten those wonderful years spent at Eastern Military Academy and offer my EMA cadet salute and remember the inspiring school motto...
"What you are to be, you are now becoming."
--by Roger Hall, June 2012
For more about OHEKA Caste and Eastern Military Academy, see the DVD:
MEMORIES OF OHEKA
See the "Mega Mansions" program about OHEKA Castle on YouTube
with pictures loaned by Roger Hall and Nancy Melius --CLICK HERE
OHEKA Garden Party
The 20th Anniversary
Restoration of OHEKA Castle
(1984 - 2004)
Sponsored by the Friends of OHEKA Castle
June 10, 2004
Theme: The Roaring Twenties
Hosts: Otto and Addie Kahn
(portrayed by Gary and Pam Melius)
The Kahn's Special Guests:
New York Governor Al Smith
(portrayed by William Naughton)
(portrayed by Jo-Ann Raia)
(portrayed by Susan Berland)
(portrayed by Roger Hall)
The Great Gatsby
(portrayed by Mark Cuthbertson)
Anne Kahn Baugh (a Kahn descendant)
with singer Roger Hall, who portrayed Fred Astaire
and sang several Gershwin songs
at the 2004 OHEKA Garden Party
Message from Frank L. Scalia,
Former President of the Eastern Military Academy Alumni Association...
"Thank You! Gary and Pam Melius and Friends of OHEKA for restoring our former home,
Eastern Military Academy. We occupied the Castle the longest,
from 1948 to 1979.
Our proud members appreciate your efforts to maintain and promote
the heritage of Eastern Military Academy!"
For more information see
Eastern Military Academy Alumni Association
In Grateful Remembrance,
R.I.P. Frank L. Scalia, 1937-2015
Read how to get your copy of this personal remembrance of
of the author's years spent living at OHEKA Castle
attending Eastern Military Academy with
many pictures and a music album with several songs by
Click this link for
MEMORIES OF OHEKA
Also available with a story titled, "E.M.A. at OHEKA,"
on this multimedia CD-ROM...
Songs, Poems and Stories by Roger Hall
Resources and Credits
Images of America: OHEKA CASTLE - an illustrated book by Joan Cergol and Ellen Schaffer. Arcadia Publishing, 2012. Foreward by Nelson DeMille.
OHEKA CASTLE: Monument to Survival - The Story of the Largest Restored Home in America -
a magnificent beautifully illustrated book by Ellen Schaffer and Joan Cergol.
Introduction by Nelson DeMille (2008).
Note: Roger Hall and Frank Scalia and their EMA memories are mentioned in
Chapter 4: "Eastern Military Academy - What You Are To Be You Are Now Becoming, 1948-1979."
Otto the Magnificent: The Life of Otto Kahn - by John Kobbler and the best biography about OHEKA's first owner (1988)
For further information,
click on this link for OHEKA CASTLE
See also biographical information on
Otto Hermann Kahn
Unless otherwise indicated, the photos on this page are
from Eastern Military Academy yearbooks and those taken by Gail Hall.
For any comments or questions, write to:
Memories of OHEKA and EMA
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