Madame Sherri | New Hampshire's Most Eccentric Resident?
Take a drive down the Gulf Road in West Chesterfield, New Hampshire, some time. It’s an enchanting landscape — horses running through sun-drenched fields, steep green hills dotted with small white houses. Further down the road, you’re enveloped by woods and wetlands. The driving here is somewhat questionable, and you have every right to be concerned about your vehicle’s undercarriage. But at last, you find the car park for the Madame Sherri Forest.
You disembark, walk over a small bridge traversing an algae-choked pond, travel up a short path, and stop. There, in front of you, is a massive stone staircase, seemingly leading into thin air. Behind are the remains of a luxurious house, and a huge lawn, steadily being reclaimed by the forest.
Welcome to the world of Madame Sherri.
Of all of the local legends I’ve encountered, nothing seems to have hit the popular nerve as much as this particular eccentric New Hampshire resident. When you mention Madame Sherri — some five decades after her demise — someone in the room will suddenly speak up, and offer an anecdote. The thing is, though, as with most legends, many of the stories are spurious. There are tales of her running a brothel, of hobnobbing with Al Capone and Supreme Court justice Harlan F. Stone. Gleaning the truth from these tales is a difficult task, to say the least.
Madame Sherri was born Antoinette Bramare in 1878 in Paris. That year also marked a peculiar astronomical phenomenon; for a week, a weird corkscrew-shaped pillar of light appeared above the city’s skyline. She could not have asked for a better entrance.
Sherri originally trained as a seamstress, but also performed on stage as Antoinette DeLilas, dancing in some of the trendiest clubs in France.
In 1909, she struck up a relationship with one Anthony Macaluso, who was traveling under the pseudonym Andre Reila. Macaluso was an American expatriate who had fled to Europe after being indicted in an infamous blackmailing case. The two hit it off immediately, and got married.
The couple decided to return to America in 1911, boarding the White Star liner Oceania, headed for New York City. As Macaluso was still a fugitive, an elaborate cover story was concocted, involving a prominent Italian diplomatic family and an awkward meeting with Madame’s new in-laws. The ruse worked, and the Big Apple press ate it up. “Tears of bride melt young Riela’s family,” ran the headline in the New York World, describing the fictional encounter on the dock.
Andre and Antoinette settled into New York society, and opened a millinery on 42nd Street, designing costumes for the brightest lights on Broadway, including outfitting the Zeigfeld Follies.
It wasn’t until July of 1912 that Reila’s past came back to haunt him, due to a genuinely astonishing coincidence. On Wednesday, July 3rd, he told police at the West 57th Street station that jewels, worth between $12,000 and $30,000, had been stolen from his wife by a servant. Due to the enormity of the theft, the Deputy Commissioner assigned one Captain Gloster to the case, who in turn secured the help of Detective Fitzsimmons, from the District Attorney’s office. While interviewing Reila, Fitzsimmons had a sudden revelation, and yelled, “you’re Anthony Macaluso!” before promptly placing him under arrest.
Reila was incarcerated in the infamous New York City prison, “The Tombs,” for a few days, before being released on bail. Ultimately, the charges against him were dropped, due to lack of evidence.
With his name cleared, Reila began to pursue his dancing career in earnest, while Antoinette continued designing elaborate costumes for the stage.