Winner party trick: Napoleon's death mask

As background research to a possible novel (19th century mystery involving a sculptor, Isabella Stewart Gardner, Catholicism, and homoeroticism: stay tuned), I recently read Suzannah Lessard's The Architect of Desire, which purports to be about Stanford White, her paternal great grandfather, and his influence on her family, but is, as usual with such memoirs, mostly about Suzannah Lessard. It's pretty entertaining, actually.

The most interesting ancestor in the book did not turn out to be Stanford White, brilliant architect with a disordered private life ending in murder, but her maternal great grandfather's brother, Archie Chanler.  Both Archie and maternal great grandfather were famous as members of the "Astor Orphans", a group of children raised in a big Hudson mansion named Rokeby, all intelligent, all eccentric, perfect for stories. He married romantic and beautiful Southern belle Amelie Rives, who later became a bestselling author and then ran off with a Russian prince:


Archie believed that

...he could change the color of his eyes if he stood looking west out a window at a specified time, holding a pearl stickpin in one hand and looking deeply into a mirror he held in the other.

Nice choice of trick, actually, since almost no one can remember the color of someone else's eyes.

Then he went farther, and became convinced that he could go into a trance and take on the appearance of Napoleon's death mask.  Note, he didn't claim to be Napoleon, just that he could look like Napoleon. And not a living Napoleon.  Dead Napoleon.  Here he is doing the face:

 Looks just like the dear old Emperor, doesn't he? We all have our quirks....

Archie was later institutionalized in New York, escaped, and got declared sane in Virginia, his ex-wife's home state (and thus became famous as the man who was insane in New York, and sane in Virginia), and spent the rest of his life fighting his other siblings over the family money. When one of his brothers married an opera singer, Archie cabled him, "Who's loony now?" which became a universal catchphrase for quite a long while, even serving as the title of a comic strip.

Stanford White was interesting (and a brilliant architect), but my money is on Archie as a novelistic character.  Stay tuned.