Madame Sherri was born Antoinette Bramare in 1878 in Paris, France. She would go on to become one of New Hampshire’s most eccentric residents. Originally trained as a seamstress, she also danced in some of the trendiest clubs in France as Antoinette DeLilas. In 1909, she met her husband, Anthony Macaluso, an expatriate and fugitive from the law, who was traveling under the name of Andre Reila. In 1911, the couple sailed to New York City.
Once there, they concocted elaborate cover stories which lead them to be accepted by New York Society. They opened a millinery shop on 42nd Street, designing costumes for Broadway productions, including the Zeigfeld Follies.
In 1912, Andre’s past caught up with him. He was arrested. But, due to lack of evidence, the charges were dropped. With his name cleared, Reila started to pursue his own dancing career while Antoinette continued designing costumes. It was during this time, that they encouraged the talents of Charles LeMaire, who went on to a very successful Hollywood career in costume design.
In 1916, Antoinette decided she needed a new, flasher name to promote business. Influenced by the Otto Hauerbach’s play, “Madame Sherry,” she adopted the name “Andre-Sherri.” For the next eight years the couple realized great success.
In 1924, their glorious run ended. Andre’s chronic illness left him blind and insane. Eventually, he had to be institutionalized until his death on October 19th. This shattered Sherri, who no longer enjoyed the New York scene. A stage friend, Jack Henderson, invited her to his Chesterfield home where he held extravagant parties. She soon became a regular attendant. In 1929, she became a New Hampshire resident and eventually purchased 600 acres of West Chesterfield farmland and forest on Gulf Road.
It was then, that she started to build her “Castle”. She found no need for blue prints and trekked around poking stakes in the ground. While the local craftsmen were eager to sign onto the project, they found working with her very difficult. She would hover over them, frequently scantily clad and change things constantly. But, they persevered and created a one of a kind building. The unique style was reminiscent of a Roman ruin and a French chalet. The cellar held a cozy bistro with tables draped in red cloths. The main floor contained a large bar framed by live trees that poked through the roof. Portraits of famous people hung from the walls, animal furs were scattered across the floors, and bathrooms were lined with mirrors. The third floor was Sherri’s private quarters made accessible only by a stone staircase that ran up the side of the building.
This was her party house, as she still lived in a very, cluttered, small farmhouse across the street. The parties matched Madame Sherri’s outrageous and sometimes shockingly scandalous behavior. She reigned as Queen of the Ball and held court in a cobra-backed chair that she called the “The Queen’s Throne”. She made a point to outdo her guests in her outlandish costumes and was known for her extravagant entrances.
Unfortunately, her reign came to a close at the end of WWII. Apparently, her extravagant lifestyle was heavily subsidized by Charles LeMaire (Hollywood designer), whose checks suddenly stopped. She tried an assortment of schemes to recoup her fortune. But, her luck ran out, forcing her into poverty.
It was at this point there was an unsucessful attempt to convert her to a Jehovah Witness. She moved to Quechee, VT., but returned to Brattleboro six months later. There she came to rely on her old friends, especially her past bootlegging associates, for financial and moral support. In 1959, she returned to the Castle, only to find it so completely vandalized that she could never bring herself to return. The castle came to a fiery end on Oct. 20, 1962. Mrs. Charles LeMaire foreclosed on the property on July 16, 1963.
Destitute, Madame Sherri eventually ended up on public assistance in a nursing home outside of Brattleboro, VT. Ironically, on the same day that she died, October 20, 1965, Ann Stokes purchased the Chesterfield property. Ann worked diligently to preserve the integrity of the land, holding it until 1998. Then, she transferred it to the New Hampshire Society for the Preservation of Forest, which still maintains it. Now, it is called Madame Sherri Forest. The foundation, chimneys and a grand stone staircase of the Castle can still be seen near the Forest’s Gulf Road entrance.
If you would like to learn more about Madame Sherri, visit the Chesterfield Historical Society to hear stories and see some of her memorabilia.