New Jersey’s “Palace of Depression” Was Even Stranger than It Sounds

New Jersey’s “Palace of Depression” Was Even Stranger than It Sounds

Shannon Quinn - August 20, 2018

When the nobility built castles and chateaus in Europe, they were always given grand names that suited their intimidating size. But for a man named George Daynor, he called his masterpiece “The Palace of Depression”. And no- it wasn’t named after the mental illness. Daynor was a wealthy man who lost all of his money in The Great Depression, and he decided to move to Vineland, New Jersey and build a castle out of whatever scraps he could find.

New Jersey’s “Palace of Depression” Was Even Stranger than It Sounds
George Daynor, from his movie about The Palace of Depression. Credit: YouTube

Making Lemons Out Of Lemonade

During his youth, George Daynor was a gold miner in Alaska, and he became incredibly rich. Like most people with a lot of money, he thought it would be a good idea to put a lot of his savings into the stock market. Unfortunately, in 1929, the market crashed, and he lost absolutely everything he was meant to live on for the rest of his life. Understandably, he was feeling a lot of anxiety, wondering what he was going to do next. He was no longer a young man, so it would be difficult for him to start up a new career at this point when so many people were looking for jobs. However, he was still very physically fit, and good with his hands.

One night, he claims to have had a vision from an angel who told him to go to the promised land… New Jersey. Laugh all you want, but this actually worked out for him, and it truly was a miracle. Daynor listened to the angel’s advice, and found the cheapest property he could possibly find. He traveled to south Jersey to a town called Vineland. The area is full of swamps, has sandy soil, and is filled with ticks and mosquitos. At night, crickets and croaking frogs make it nearly impossible to sleep. No one wanted to build on that land, and no one had money to invest in property during the Great Depression, anyway. So he got to buy 4 acres for a measly $4. There was a reason why the land was so cheap, but for Daynor, this was home. In many ways, this was far better than living on the streets of New York City. The swamp was full of frogs, rabbits, squirrels, and fish. He had plenty of food to eat and cook over an open fire while he built his home from scratch, and cedar trees provided shelter from the elements.

The plot of land he bought was an old junk yard that was filled with trash- old bricks, cars, and bottles. Back in the 1920’s and 30’s, there was no proper trash collection, so people usually threw everything away in large trash piles on their property, or they had to pile their trash into the back of their wagons and carry it to dumps. George Daynor was able to take advantage of this by gathering materials like wood and discarded bricks to build a house with his own two hands. But why stop at just a house? Since Daynor could make his home into literally anything he wanted, he added 18 spires, archways, and intricate details. It was painted in cheerful pastel colors. It was unlike any other castle in the entire world.

New Jersey’s “Palace of Depression” Was Even Stranger than It Sounds
Colorful post cards were given out to tourists who came to visit The Palace of Depression. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The Strangest House in the World

It’s very possible that from the very beginning, George Daynor knew that he wanted his house to be as unique as possible, in order to attract people to come and see it. This was on the heels of the roaring success of P.T. Barnum’s American Museum circus, and it was clear that people loved weird oddities that were out of the ordinary. He began to advertise his castle as “The Strangest House in the World”. He eventually created colorful flyers and postcards, which showed him standing in front of the hand made castle.

After completing his palace, he opened it to the public in 1932. He charged 25 cents per ticket, which is more like a few dollars with modern-day inflation. It became a popular roadside attraction for years. Vineland is in the Southern part of New Jersey, and many people traveling from New York and Philadelphia passed through in order to get to the beach. So it was a great place for a family on a road trip to stop for an hour or two. He would incorporate his own corny “dad jokes”, like an area he called “The Knockout Room”, where he had a bowling ball sitting there- just in case you wanted him to knock out the bad memories of the Depression for you. He would hang pieces of metal from the ceiling, and hit them like drums to play music for guests.

New Jersey’s “Palace of Depression” Was Even Stranger than It Sounds
Screen shot from the 1938 movie The Fantastic Place shows how elaborate The Palace of Depression really was in its prime. Credit: YouTube

When people came to visit, George Daynor always welcomed them with a big smile on his face. He wanted to be an example for people that even when you are at rock bottom, it’s still possible to be scrappy and make something amazing out of your life. In 1938, he paid for a movie to be made about his palace called The Fantastic Place. In the film, the palace looks like it belongs in a theme park like Disneyland. Daynor did a truly amazing job.

It’s easy to tell by now that George Daynor was an incredibly eccentric person, unfortunately, it got him into a lot of trouble. Ticket sales were slowing down as he was getting older, and he was looking to get some publicity, even if it was negative. In the 1950’s, he searched through the newspaper for the most salacious story, and decided to insert himself into it.

He saw that a kidnapper had taken a small boy and was on the run. He made up a story to say that he had visited The Palace of Depression while he was on the lamb. This totally backfired, because when the FBI came to question him, they did a full investigation based on his tip. When they discovered that he made the story up, Daynor was thrown in prison for a year for reporting a false claim. In the year that he was in prison, citizens of Vineland destroyed his palace, and he was forced to rebuild much of it all over again.

New Jersey’s “Palace of Depression” Was Even Stranger than It Sounds
After The Palace of Depression burned down, the only building left standing was the small ticket booth. Credit: Wikimedia Commons


According to those who knew him, people thought George Daynor lay somewhere between a genius and a crazy person. He began to wear women’s makeup and large hoop earrings as he got older, because he no longer cared what other people thought. He did not have any family that anyone knew of, and he was never married. After he died, the town of Vineland paid for his funeral and tombstone.

Daynor lived to the ripe old age of 104. Sadly, after his death, arsons set fire to the castle in the 1960’s, and much of the wooden parts were burned. The city of Vineland tore it all down. The palace was not forgotten, though. There was even a reference to it in the 1983 movie Eddie and the Cruisers, which was also filmed in South Jersey. In 2006, a rock band called The Cryptkeeper Five named their album Rise of the Palace of Depression.

New Jersey’s “Palace of Depression” Was Even Stranger than It Sounds
Volunteers in Vineland are restoring the Palace of Depression down to the smallest details. Credit:

The only remains of the original building was the ticket booth. After several years, Vineland residents who grew up visiting the Palace of Depression realized that they did not want it to disappear, and they wanted to continue on the legacy for their children. Today, a committee of people called The Palace of Depression Restoration Association are coming together to rebuild Daynor’s home to its former glory, using photos and his movie as reference. After being close for so many years, it is open to the public once again.


Where did we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

Palace of Depression.

Local weird landmark, the Palace of Depression, being rebuilt from the past. 2015.

Palace of Depression. Wikipedia.

Weird NJ at the Palace of Depression. Weird NJ. YouTube.