A Mermaid Palace in the Bay of Naples: 1912

A mermaid palace

Mlle. Heloise Yane, the vivacious little French actress of the Capucines, is at last to have what she has long wanted—a submarine palace. There is nothing in existence like it. Neither the crowned heads of Europe nor the nabobs and potentates of Asia have anything to compare with the wonderful structure which Mlle. Yane contemplates. That is one of the principal reasons why she wants it.

“Villas and chateaux! I’m tired of them. Anyone with any money at all can buy them,” she declared, somewhat pettishly, some months ago, while discussing her Summer plans with Mons. Francois Le Duc, the French engineer,  “can’t you suggest something that will be different from everything else?” “Well, how about a submarine palace—I don’t know of anything like that in existence,” replied the engineer facetiously.

“The very thing, Monsieur! You shall design one for me. You can begin”—

“But, Mademoiselle,” pleaded the engineer, “I was but joking. The thing is entirely impracticable.” “It may be impracticable, but it isn’t impossible, is it? I’m sure you can do it, and its very impracticability will be its principal charm, for it will insure its individuality.” Realizing that the young woman was entirely serious, the engineer at once turned his attention to the problem, and now, after three months’ hard work, his plans have all been completed, and he awaits only his fair client’s commands to commence actual work.

The site selected for this unique structure is in the Bay of Naples, midway between Sorrento and the Island of Capri, where there is a depth of one hundred feet.

The palace is to be built entirely of glass. There will be two stories. To obtain access to it, one will have to don a diving suit and be lowered from a boat. The entrance will be built upon the lock principle, that is to say, it will be open to the sea until the visitor steps into it. When the sea-doors will be closed and the water released. The visitor will then pass into the next chamber, where he or she will emerge from the diving suit and be ushered into the edifice.

This may seem a little cumbersome, but the engineer declares that it will be a comparatively simple matter, not more than five minutes elapsing from the time the arrival of a guest above the palace is announced until he is being welcomed below by the fair hostess.

Being entirely transparent, this structure enables its occupants to observe everything that is going on among the denizens of the deep, and, of course, they enjoy a reciprocal privilege. Through the glass walls Mlle. Yane will constantly gaze upon huge octopi and other sea monsters which infest these waters, and, though the horrible creatures may get on her nerves somewhat at first, she will soon realize that her marine neighbors can do her no harm and she will become accustomed to their presence.

In addition to this, the architect has provided for a periscope similar to those used in submarine vessels, so that everything that goes on above the surface of the water may be reproduced upon a screen in the observation chamber of the submarine palace.

Majestic Vesuvius in the distance, villa life on the Sorrento coast, the activities of the sponge fishers, and the constantly changing scenes in the beautiful Bay of Naples, will make a picture which those lucky enough to visit the submarine palace ought never to tire of nor forget. This observation chamber will be placed on the very top of the structure.

Opposite it will be situated one of the principal attractions of the submarine life which the French actress has mapped out for herself and her friends—the electric fishing chamber. Mlle. Yane is an enthusiastic fisherwoman, and when she first decided upon her submarine Summer home she did not look with favor upon the idea that she would have to forego her favorite pastime while enjoying the seclusion which her palace beneath the waves afforded.

It was then that M. Le Duc suggested the electric-fishing plant. Instead of hooks and lines the fish will be enticed to destruction by bait attached to electric wires, and as soon as they get within range, the fisherman, sitting a switchboard, will press a button and send a charge of electricity into the fish which will electrocute it instantly. Its body will then float up to the surface, where it will be taken in by boys in boats, rowing around for that purpose.

This electric fishing plan will likewise be used to rid the inmates of the glass palace of such unwelcome visitors as giant octopi if they become at all obstreperous and try to break through. Appetizing bait will be attached to the electric wires and put where the octopus can reach it, and when its huge tentacles close on the wire, it will receive its death charge.

At first blush it might seem that fishing thus conducted would lose much of its charm, and yet there is no important element of the sport as it is usually practiced, which the fisherman at the switchboard will necessarily miss. The fascination of waiting for the finny beauties to nibble at the bait, the joy of being able to press the button at just the right moment, either too soon nor too late, and the novel experience of seeing the captured fish float quietly to the surface ought to satisfy the most ardent angler, and Mlle. Yane, at any rate, feels quite sure that in this respect her submarine palace will be worthwhile.

On the ground floor, in addition to the specially constructed entrance chamber, will be the grand staircase and foyer hall, which will lead up to the grand salon and dining room on the second floor.

In its interior decorations and furnishings the submarine palace will be in every respect equal to the most luxurious edifices of royalty, but the lighting effects will be different and superior to anything ever before attempted. By an arrangement of prismatic and refracting lenses electric light will suffuse the whole palace with a soft, mellow, purplish blue atmosphere, in keeping with the purplish tint of the waters of the bay. The effect of this, taken in connection with the constant presence of the fish encircling the palace, will be to give one the impression of actually living in the water.

There will be an elevator from the ground floor to the fishing chamber, and a wireless telephone will communicate with the wireless apparatus at Sorrento.

In addition to the other attractions of the palace will be a well-fitted gymnasium, where the French actress and her guests may indulge in fencing and other athletic pastimes.

Although the palace under the waves will always be cool, provision will be made for swimming, a special swimming tank in which the water will be constantly renewed having been devised by the architect. Entrance to it will be by means of a lock-device similar to that provided for the entrance to the palace.

Donning her bathing costume, Mlle. Yane will enter a small chamber on the ground floor of the palace. She will then close the door leading to the palace and open the door leading to the swimming tank, which will be entirely enclosed by glass to keep out the cuttle-fish and other monsters of the deep. This swimming tank is one hundred by fifty feet and is supplied with oxygen generated by a plant in the palace proper, the inflow of the water being controlled so that it cannot rise beyond a certain height. After the swimmer has disported herself in this chamber to her heart’s content she returns to the lock-chamber, closes the door leading to the tank, presses a button and releases the water which followed her into the chamber and then opens the door leading to the palace.

Ventilation and air for the palace proper are provided by means of a powerful plant located on the ground floor.

Although the plans for this home beneath the waves seem to be complete as one could desire, all that remains to put them into execution is the necessary funds, and the engineer has figured that at least half a million will be required to complete the palace in the manner above outlines.

“Of course, it will cost a lot of money,” concedes Mlle. Yane, “more than I can afford, but I would not care to inhabit even this sumptuous palace alone, you know.”

Mlle. Yane is very popular. It is said that she might have the choice of half a dozen men eager to supply both the funds and the companionship necessary to make the submarine palace a thing of reality.

Anyway the plans are now all ready, and any day Mlle. Yane may decide who is to be the happy man to dwell among the fishes with her. 

Fort Worth [TX] Star-Telegram 14 July 1912: p. 4  

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:

The part of the caption not repeated in the article reads “The Hostess and Her Guests Will Wear Mermaid Costumes in Keeping with the Environment.” One would have given much to seen this charming fantasy brought to fruition with the assistance of some besotted millionaire, although it seems unsporting to slaughter  the finny beauties with electricity.

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5 thoughts on “A Mermaid Palace in the Bay of Naples: 1912

  1. chriswoodyard Post author

    But of course! It is a perfect Verne fantasy world! There are plenty of octopodes in the Mediterranean Sea, but at a maximum size of perhaps 1 metre, they scarcely can be described as “giant.” Poetic licence from the romantic Mlle. Yane perhaps.

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  2. Pingback: From the Garden: Decapitation & Fishing With Electricity | Not So Distant Past

  3. Pingback: Her Bathing Suit: 1895 | Mrs Daffodil Digresses

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