Abbadia Mare Renaissance Festival at Hammond Castle Takes You Back to Olde Days (3.5 Stars)
What child didn’t dream of living in a real castle when they were young? Perhaps you wanted to be a dragon slayer wearing a suit of shining armor. Or maybe you wanted to be a princess who ruled over her lands from high in her tower. The fantasy of living in Ye Olden Days is very real for many kids both young and old. And For one weekend, Hammond Castle gives you the chance to do just that at one of the most amazing settings in New England.
The Abbadia Mare Renaissance Festival is an annual fund raising event for Hammond Castle in which the elements of the Renaissance Faire come together around the museum. After parking some distance away at Stage Fort Park, you take a free bus ride over the castle where you walk down a garden path to be greeted by merchants and minstrels who are wondering and playing tunes. The Faire takes place inside and outside with vendors and performers in numerous places.
The entertainment was geared towards families. No royal court is complete without a jester and magician which was provided by Tom Foolery. Complete in multi-colored clothes, he performed juggling and other tricks. Rosalita provided a puppet show for the kids down in the great hall. She combined hand puppets and marionettes to tell tales of kings and queens. Several musical minstrels played all over the castle. Guy Todd was a wandering harper, while the Dirge Queen sang songs and played guitar.
Of course there were knights in shining armor. The Brotherhood of the Sword and the Arrow donned full suits of steel and constantly reminded us that it a hot July day and they were wearing metal. The knights did a good job of being educational and explaining to the audience the historical aspects of their equipment as several types of armor were worn by different knights. Once suited up, the knights fought, bashing each other with swords, shields and maces in what seemed like wild, unpredictable combat.
When one goes to a Renaissance Faire you almost instinctively look for the big turkey leg to gnaw on and luckily you can find one here. The food is limited, but just enough to keep a hungry person in check. If you are looking for certain other staples of ren faires – mainly mead and ales – you will be disappointed as this event is dry as far as alcohol is concerned. It’s very much a family event.
Vendors set up tents all over the Castle. They were mostly on the great lawn facing the ocean but many were up in the opening courtyard and a few inside. They sold swords, jewelry, candles and even musical instruments. You could have your hair braided or even get tattoos – the temporary kind called Henna. If you like to shop for unique wares, you will have plenty of small merchants to browse.
Beyond a doubt the main attraction is Hammond Castle itself. Built in 1930 by the eccentric inventor John Hammond as his private residence and laboratory, it closely resemble a true medieval castle. Located in Gloucester right along the ocean, it houses a vast collection of historical art as well as tributes to Hammond himself who holds the second most patents on inventions next to Thomas Edison. The castle has a great hall filled with banners, an 80 foot pipe organ and a recreated medieval square complete with a swimming pool. It’s hard to believe someone lived there as a home. Seeing the castle is worth the price of admission alone. Having it dressed up with minstrels and knights is a nice touch to enhance the already authentic historical setting.
The event is small, but mostly because of the limits of the space they have. Hammond Castle is after all, a museum. There were only a few stages and the entertainment was limited. It’s always good to support the arts with a full 5 stars, and if you live in Gloucester or have creative kids, you might get there with the expectation that this event is small. If you are used to make a long trip from Boston to be rewarded with a big faire with jousters, street characters and exotic animals, then this event is just too tiny for more than 3.5 stars. It needs more entertainers, especially interactive ones like villagers or royalty, because much of the fun of these events is being able to be part of the show yourself. For kids, it’s a thrill to meet a king or princess and that didn’t seem to happen. But the best events are fun for both kids and adults, a crossover goal that the Abbadia Mare Festival’s performers did not hit well.
The Abbadia Mare Festival is a good excuse to check out Hammond Castle with more then just museum ambiance. It’s a chance to see it with a more dynamic setting and living characters. For kids, it’s a good experience and perhaps an educational one that may open them up to a love of historical learning. So bring the family for a trip back in time. Events INSIDER does not focus on kids-only events, so from our perspective, including the awkward off-site parking situation, 3.5 stars.