By Andrea Sachs
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 19, 2010; 11:14 AM
With 48 rooms, 18 bathrooms and five kitchens, guests need a GPS - or more fitting to the fairy-tale setting, a bag of bread crumbs - to find their way around the Lindenwald Haus in Elmira, N.Y. But getting lost, or at least temporarily misplaced, adds to the overnight adventure in what the owners claim is the largest B&B in New York.
Of course, Cynthia and Cortland "Woody" Woodward don't send visitors into the wild unprepared. At check-in, Woody, a retired pilot, charted out the route from the front parlor to my room with the skill of a navigator. But first, he locked me out, so that I could practice opening the sometimes tricky main door with my key. One turn and I was in.
Then he escorted me past the piano to the spiral staircase, whose walls exhibit a small gallery of personal photos (Cynthia and Woody get married!) and framed swatches of lacy fabric. On the second of three floors, we turned the corner and took a few strides to the last room on the right. For ID purposes, I noted the name on the door, Sammons, and the number, 19. If I'd had a crumb, I would've subtly dropped it.
For a macrocosmic view of the sweeping Victorian property, Cynthia leads tours, free for guests, $35 by appointment.
"I can't tell every story, but at least I can give a history of the house," she said. "And I want to show you the easiest way to your room. No lost people."
When I arrived, Cynthia was midway through an afternoon tour, explaining the mangle (an old-fashioned ironing press) in a corner nook to three young women who had booked the property for a baby shower. I tried to catch up historically and geographically but failed. As soon as the women departed, I asked Cynthia for a redo.
We started in the narrow hallway off the restaurant-size dining room, where she ran down the house's resume: built in 1877 and 1903 (the extension), opened in 1880 as a home for nine widows of Civil War officers, converted in 1907 into a residence for seniors, and purchased by Woody and his first wife in 1998. On the so-called Wall of Fame, she showed me photos of stern-faced elders dressed in mourning black arrayed at the bottom of the steps and outside on the porch.
For some comic relief, Woody stepped in to point out the picture of Hal "Jughead" Stone, who stayed here when he was in town to tape the Archie Andrews radio program at the nearby Clemens Center. And Stone wasn't the only celebrity at the Lindenwald slumber party: Add to the list "Lone Ranger" radio announcer Fred Foy and TV star Gale Storm, who was such a fan of the property that the Woodwards named a room after her (first floor, near the library). (For you youngsters, Storm starred in the 1950s sitcom "My Little Margie.")
Though we had so much ground to cover (17,000 square feet), Cynthia and I did not get very far, as we were often sidetracked by an artifact (for example, a delicate, doily-style knitting by a former resident) or a surprise treasure (a chest full of vintage hats that made me want to dress up and throw a tea party for the various dolls scattered about). At this rate, the attic would forever remain a mystery.
That evening, the house was as quiet as church, minus the atmospheric creaks of the old wooden floorboards. The second floor was empty, so I claimed as my territory the common room outside my door, a cheery space with flower garden decor. I curled up on the white rattan couch to watch the Hitchcock thriller "Rebecca," empathizing with Joan Fontaine as she rambled around the de Winter mansion, her expression a mix of befuddlement and awe. (Joan, babe, I've been there: You should've seen me looking for the secondary kitchen so I could microwave my dinner.)
The next morning, after a deep sleep beneath a tartan comforter, I joined Woody in the dining room. I poured myself a cup of tea, careful not to splash the cabinetry dating from the 1800s. We shared the day's plans and then he excused himself to make an appointment. He headed for the back door with the parting words: "You're in charge, Andrea."
He was gone before I could answer back, "Woody, where do you keep the maps?"