Saturday, December 2, 2017

Lost Carcosa and the Yellow Sign

A reader that wishes to remain anonymous sent over this intriguing tale.  With minimal editing, I present to you the true story of lost Carcosa and the actual Yellow Sign associated with it:
Imagine:  It's 1896, and the British Empire is at its height.  In the recently acquired protectorate of Malaysia, British civilization is slowly taking hold in the tropical jungle at odds with centuries of native tradition.  Sir Frank Swettenham, First High Commissioner of Malaysia, requests that a mansion be built for himself, and shortly thereafter it is constructed; a wild fusion of Gothic and Tudor styles sporting eight bedrooms, balconies, terraces, and columned arcades.

As its name, Sir Swettenham gives it the title of... are you ready?... Carcosa.

And this is no strange coincidence, in a letter written to the Editor of the British Malaysia newspaper, Swettenham responds to an inquiry over its strange name with the affirmation:

"When this house was finished and occupied I read a book which interested me. It was called "The King in Yellow," and at the beginning of this book there were some verses...
Here he quotes Cassilda's Song, and goes on to talk about how no other name seemed a better fit for a building as characteristically out of place as his Victorian mansion in the jungles of Malaysia. 

Today, this Estate is protected by the National Heritage Act of Malaysia and is operated (again, this creeped me out), as a wellness hotel offering "hospitality and high society living".

Lastly, and this is the thing that drew it all together for me, is the logo of the Carcosa Seri Negara Estates; supposedly drawn to evoke "natural elements, the environment, and humanity."



There. 
It's right there.

It's a sign, and it's yellow, and it creeped me out instantly.

I am not making this up.  There's a strange Victorian Estate in the heart of the Malaysia jungle, built by an eccentric British commissioner obsessed with the King in Yellow,  named Carcosa, which is currently being run as a heath and wellness retreat for the wealthy and whose literal logo is a Yellow Sign!

Is it the true form of the Yellow Sign?  An artful coincidence?  Something in between?  It doesn't really matter, because either way this place is begging for coverage on your site, for its storytelling opportunities alone.  If only as an example of how close something can actually get to being Lovecraftian without actually going too far and saying it.  I was happy and pleased and slightly unnerved by the whole affair, and I hope it has the same effect on you.  When reality reads like a novel, that's what I look for in life.

Serendipity or chance or whatever brought this thing about, it's just bursting with promise.  I know your crowd of readers would be as equally pleased as I to learn this quaint little historical fact.


Oh, this is gold. The Wikipedia entry for Carcosa Seri Negara includes the full text of Sir Frank Swettenham's letter explaining the origin of the home's name:

To the Editor of “British Malaya”

[British Malaya, May 1936]

SIR,

In the April magazine your correspondent in Malaya asks me, in courteous terms, to tell him why I gave the name “Carcosa” to the house that was designed and built for me at Kuala Lumpur by the late Mr. C.E. Spooner, assisted by Mr. A.B. Hubback – as he was in those days – and I have no objection to answer the question even though the simple truth may spoil a number of excellent stories. When this house was finished and occupied I read a book which interested me. It was called “The King in Yellow” and at the beginning of this book there were some verses with a note explaining that they came from Cassilda’s song in “The King in Yellow”, Act 1, Scene 2. Here are two verses: -

“Strange is the night where black stars rise, And twin moons circle in the skies, But the stranger still is Lost Carcosa.”

“Song of my soul, my voice is dead; Die thou, unsung, as tears unshed Shall dry and die in Lost Carcosa.”

I did not call the Resident General’s dwelling “Government House,” or “King’s House,” because neither seemed an appropriate name in Protected States. I did not give it a Malay name, because it was to be the residence of a British Officer; so I took a book name as has often been done before.

As to the word Carcosa, I imagine it was the Castle of the King in Yellow, but the book explains nothing about either the place or its occupant. That apparently can be found in the play, to which there are only occasional allusions. Probably it is a word created by the author’s fancy, though it looks like a combination of the Italian words cara and casa and would mean “desirable dwelling,” as indeed I found it.

The only curious fact is that this name was prophetic for, as I understand, the house has lost its name and is thus, “Lost Carcosa.” The occupant, I am told, is now styled “F.S,” instead of “R.G.”

Yours obediently,
FRANK SWETTENHAM

19 April 1936.

The dwelling itself is exactly the kind of grandiose, ornate building you would expect for a High Commissioner at the height of British colonial power.




There's one architectural feature that immediately leapt out at me.  It's particularly noticeable in a vintage postcard of the building showing the original paint scheme of the exterior woodwork.  The rest of the structure has a wraparound veranda of conventional design, but this portico stands out.

Surely I'm not the only one that sees a stylized skull bearing a crown.


Lost Carcosa, indeed.

6 comments:

Joseph Hallam said...

This... this is incredible. I love this.

The Last Northumbrian said...

I've been following this blog now since 2009, and this is probably the most incredible thing you've posted- and you've posted a lot of incredible things!

CrawlingChaos said...

That is truly awesome. Behold the power of fandom before fandom was even a thing. Though as an amateur typeface enthusiast, I’ve got to point out that the hotel logo, which according to Wikipedia was designed nearly a century after the mansion was built, looks to be an especially elaborate calligraphic C: http://janefarr.blogspot.com/2009/08/flourish-friday-august-7.html

Aleister Crow said...

All the strange and wondrous works of art and fiction I've seen here over the years, then Reality steps up and says "Hey... I can top that."

Anonymous said...

I'm always glad to be of service, thanks for putting this up!

Raven said...

The late Raphael Aloysius Lafferty, in one of his several hallucinatory-quality novels, The Devil is Dead (1971), promises starting out: “Given here, for the first time anywhere, are the bearings and correct location of the Terrestrial Paradise down to the last second of longitude.” — coordinates he delivers, along with, inter alia, a bitterly plausible solution to the mystery of the Mary Celeste.

I suppose these, then — 3.1442°N 101.6803°E — could be advertised as the opposite.