Monday, June 1, 2009

The Secret Stairs

The Elizabet Ney Museum, Austin, Texas

I spent the best part of my girlhood in this magical, limestone, castle-like structure. Thanks to a woman with whom I shared a deep love of this old place, I was the princess of this castle. There was no nook or cranny that was off limits to me or unknown to me...or so I believed until a recent visit.

My castle was then and is now a museum, and as it is the former studio of Elizabeth Ney, a 19th century, German-born sculptor, it is named for her. Tall Husband I and visited this small Austin Museum last week. He was again subjected to my stories of Elizabet: how she wore men's pants while she worked; how she ate raw eggs for lunch so as not to waste time cooking; how she napped in a hammock. Tall Husband asked me the name of the woman who gave me the run of the place. I have no idea why, but I never knew her name. I had spent hours listening to her stories about Elizabet, reading books she suggested but I had never asked her name.

I told a museum employee about my relationship with the museum and this woman. He asked for a description. I described her so well that he was able to look through some museum books and papers and find her name. She was Willie Rutland,* the first curator of the museum. There was a small photograph of a young Willie, standing in front of the museum, holding her dark hair in place, against the wind, letting her skirts fly. I smiled at the memory of her and said, "Nice to meet your again, Willie."

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To reach a small room in the tower, Tall Husband and I climbed a tiny spiral staircase. I'm terrified of heights, just as I was back when I first made this climb. But the room with its corner fireplace and view is worth the fear. As a girl, I spent hours in that room, reading and daydreaming. We stood silently for a moment, feeling my girlhood around us, then we spotted the museum sign describing a sky door. Tall Husband reached out and pulled on a handle on the built-in bookcase. The bookcase swung toward us to reveal a hidden stairwell. The stairs obviously led to the roof of the tower. "Why didn't Willie ever tell me about these secret stairs?" I felt betrayed. First they tell me I was not allowed to take photos inside my castle, now I learn Willie had apparently kept a secret from me.

Tall Husband said, "Maybe she didn't want you to fall. Or perhaps she didn't know the stairs were hidden behind the bookcase."

We didn't climb those secret stairs. I felt that Willie didn't want us to.

*The street that runs alongside The Bunny Bungalow is Rutland.


  1. thanks for sharing your wonderful memories with us...

  2. What a wonderful wistful memory! Thanks so much for sharing this peek into your childhood castle and friendship!

  3. Your blog is absolutely delightful! I love this story of childhood memories, and what a rich experience to go back and "relive" those sweet times.

    You have been blessed with such a full life! So much to share! And thank you for sharing this beautiful story.

    Your heart beats with friendship and love for others.



  4. What a great story. I will often have dreams of finding secret or unknown rooms in my house, and the feeling is so exhilirating!

  5. Annie - what a sweet story. I loved reading your memories in such a special Austin place.How fun for you to go back there.