Woodstock Castle Makes for Unusual Tale
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The turrets of the castle appear suddenly between the trees and even when you’re expecting them, you do a double take. What on earth is this doing here? It’s a giant 35,000-square-foot-plus Disneyesque castle with stone walls, towers, a moat and what appears to be a drawbridge. Ornate and surreal, the castle looks like a set for a sword-and-sorcerer movie, or a misplaced Las Vegas resort. Stranger still is the fact that it is plopped down in the middle of an otherwise normal neighborhood of moderate-sized homes.
The castle sits overlooking a serene lake in Woodstock, on a quiet road in a quiet town near the Massachusetts border in Windham County. The 20-room edifice is on a 354-acre gated parcel that also includes another smaller house. Exotic animals—including at one time a zebra, emus and camels—are kept on the property, too.
The site’s been attracting attention since the castle walls went up.
“People are constantly running up and down the road to look at it and when they get there they say, ‘My god, it’s a real castle,’” says Terry Bellman, a Woodstock building official who toured the castle several years ago and can attest to its structural soundness.
Who built it? Why and for what? The answers involve a tangled tale of failed business attempts, acrimonious divorce proceedings and even allegations of child and animal abuse that remind us all that although we tend to remember the happy ones, many fairytales are grim . . . .
Unhappily Ever After
The castle was built by Christopher Mark, with primary construction completed in 2009 at a reported cost of $4.1 million. Mark comes from a royal line of steel tycoons, and is the great-grandson of Chicago industrialist Clayton Mark Sr., one of the pioneer makers of steel pipe and who in 1888 founded Mark Manufacturing, once the fourth-largest steel company in the country. In court documents, he has been described by his now ex-wife, Mary Galt, as “impulsive, eccentric and colorful.”
Perhaps it was those characteristics that initially drew her to him but public details about their courtship are scarce. Surprisingly, considering they built an attention-grabbing castle as a home, Galt and Mark seem to do what they can to avoid the public eye. Mark is notoriously press-shy, and the number at which Galt was listed has been disconnected; her lawyers did not return multiple phone calls seeking comment for this story.
Court documents show the couple was married in 2001 in Las Vegas and quickly had two children, born in 2002 and 2003. If money could buy happiness Mark and Galt certainly would have been an able to afford it. According to divorce filings, Mark, a manufacturer and importer/exporter, grosses $21,000 a week, or more than $1.1 million annually. According to Woodstock tax records, he is the highest noncommercial taxpayer in town and third-highest taxpayer overall, trailing only fragrance and body product company Crabtree & Evelyn, and Laurel Ridge Inc.
Yet even with the riches of royalty, two young children and a literal castle for a home, Mark and Galt were not destined for a happy ending.
In May 2010, Galt filed for divorce. Hundreds of pages of documents in relation to the divorce are housed in the Putnam courthouse. These documents are rife with bitter allegations detailing the couple’s troubled relationship.
While the divorce was being argued in court, Mark fathered a child with girlfriend Marina Isakova. When Mark and Isakova broke up she also took Mark to court in an attempt to get him to pay additional child support. That case was handled in New York and was covered by the New York Post. Andrew Black, Mark’s lawyer in that case, says “we settled according to statutory guidelines in New York State.” He adds that child-support issues are “pretty much statutory in New York State, so there’s not a lot to fight about.”
Mark and Galt’s divorce was not handled so easily. In a sworn affidavit on July 27, 2010, Galt said she was “greatly concerned for the emotional health and safety” of the children. She alleged Mark was trying to turn the children against her and attempting to spread false stories “all with an intention of manipulation for a custodial advantage.” Later in the affidavit, she charged that Mark had “a long history of mental-health issues and has been diagnosed as bipolar, manic-depressive, dyslexic, ADD and has a history of mental-health hospitalizations.”
For his part, Mark accused Galt of abusing the children. Due to these allegations Mark was temporarily granted full custody, and for a time Galt was only allowed visitation under supervision at KIDSAFE, an organization that works to prevent child abuse.
The animals on the castle property also came up in the case. Mark has long run a nonprofit refuge for exotic animals called Wilderness Kingdom, Inc. Since 2004, the property has been licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as a traveling zoo.
When a camel died in 2010, both Mark and Galt alleged the other was neglectful. In a motion filed on June 25, 2010, Galt claimed “the animals are not being properly taken care of” and “a camel on the property has recently died.”
In an email to Galt written on July 3, 2010, Mark countered that “when you sent the workers home and animals were not fed for 4 days, the camel lost a lot of weight since and died last week.”