Dona Yu via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

The “Castle” in the Middle of Death Valley

Dona Yu via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

If you happen to stumble upon the onetime residence of Albert Mussey Johnson while visiting Death Valley, you might briefly wonder if you’re suffering from heatstroke. After all, it’s not every day you see a $2.5 million Spanish Colonial Revival villa smack in the middle of nowhere.

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, a man named Walter Scott traveled with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show and earned quite a reputation as a cowboy. After he quit the show, Scott decided to try his hand at gold prospecting and used his newfound status to convince wealthy businessmen to invest in his Death Valley mine.

The only problem: there was no Death Valley gold mine. Whether he actually even tried to find one or simply spent his time and energy swindling investors is still up for debate. Whatever the case may be, Scott had no qualms about spending the money he had collected on himself.

One such investor was Albert Mussey Johnson, an insurance bigwig from Chicago. Johnson was likely one of Scott’s biggest investors, funneling thousands of dollars into the “mine” without ever seeing any evidence of the precious metal. After several years of this, enough was enough, and Johnson booked a trip to Death Valley to see what was going on. When he arrived, Scott made his investor “tour” the desert for days, hoping that the oppressive heat would deter Johnson from hanging out for very long.

It didn’t. Johnson loved the dry heat, and, amazingly, loved Walter Scott. The insurance mogul was well aware that he had been duped, but he couldn’t help but like the man who conned him. For the next decade, Johnson and his wife vacationed in Death Valley to visit Scott every winter. Sick of camping in canvas tents, Bessie Johnson convinced her husband to build something they could live in during their frequent visits. Though the Johnsons financed it, Scott told people that he was building a lavish desert mansion with his profits from the gold mine. Incredibly, when reporters asked Johnson about it, he corroborated Scott’s story—and the mansion became “Scotty’s Castle.”

Construction came to a halt in 1931 when the Johnsons discovered a surveying error that meant they were building on federal land, not private. When they died in the 1940s, the Johnsons left the unfinished castle to their charity, the Gospel Foundation. The charity also took care of Scotty, who lived in the castle during his final years. When he died in 1954, Scotty was buried on a hill overlooking the estate that wasn’t actually his, even though it bore his name.

Most of the time, this incredible product of the strange friendship is still open for tours, but sadly, Scotty’s Castle was damaged by recent flash floods—a storm in October resulted in 2.7 inches of rain, more than the area usually gets in 12 months. With more than a foot of mud covering the floor of the visitor’s center, damaging and destroying exhibits, Scotty’s Castle could be closed for up to a year. The good news: there are plenty of other castles around the country ready to receive tourists.

Luke Hayes, Asif Khan/Getty Images
Vantablack Pavilion at the Winter Olympics Mimics the Darkness of Space
Luke Hayes, Asif Khan/Getty Images
Luke Hayes, Asif Khan/Getty Images

British company Surrey NanoSystems disrupted the color spectrum when it debuted Vantablack: the darkest artificial substance ever made. The material is dark enough to absorb virtually all light waves, making 3D objects look like endless black voids. It was originally designed for technology, but artists and designers have embraced the unique shade. Now, Dezeen reports that British architect Asif Khan has brought Vantablack to the Winter Olympics.

His temporary pavilion at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games in South Korea has been dubbed the darkest building on Earth. The 33-foot-tall structure has been coated with Vantablack VBx2, a version of Vantablack pigment that comes in a spray can.

The building’s sides curve inward like shadowboxes. To break up the all-consuming blackness, Khan outfitted the walls with rods. White lights at the ends of the sticks create the effect of stars scattered across an endless night sky.

Child next to wall painted to look like the night sky.
Luke Hayes, Asif Khan/Getty Images

Khan told Dezeen that the piece is meant to give “the impression of a window cut into space.” He was only able to realize this vision after contacting the scientists behind Vantablack. He told them he wanted to use the color to coat a building, something the pigment wasn’t designed for originally. Sculptor Anish Kapoor securing exclusive rights to artistic use of the color in 2016 further complicated his plans. The solution was the sprayable version: Vantablack VBx2 is structurally (and therefore legally) different from the original pigment and better suited for large-scale projects.

The pavilion was commissioned by Hyundai to promote their hydrogen fuel cell technology. The space-themed exterior is a nod to the hydrogen in stars. Inside, a white room filled with sprinklers is meant to represent the hydrogen found in water.

The area will be open to visitors during the Winter Olympics, which kick off in Pyeongchang, South Korea on Friday, February 9.

[h/t Dezeen]

Shari Austrian
You Can Order a Stunningly Detailed LEGO Replica of Your House on Etsy
Shari Austrian
Shari Austrian

LEGO blocks can be used to construct fictional starships and works of abstract art, but there's something comforting in replicating what's familiar to you. That's the concept behind Little Brick Lane, an Etsy shop that promises to custom-build detailed LEGO models of real homes.

Designer Shari Austrian tells Apartment Therapy that the idea came to her when her family was building their real-life house. Her twin boys had recently gotten her interested in LEGO, so she decided to construct a scaled-down, blocky replica to match their new home. She enjoyed the project enough to launch a business around LEGO architecture on Etsy at the end of 2017.

Austrian bases her designs off interior and exterior photos of each house, and if they're available, architectural plans. Over eight to 10 weeks, she constructs the model using LEGO pieces she orders to match the building design perfectly, recreating both the inside and outside of the house in the utmost detail.

To request a custom LEGO abode of your own, you can reach out to Austrian through her Etsy shop, but warning: It won't come cheap. A full model will cost you at least $2500 (the exact price is based on the square footage of your home). That price covers the cost of the materials Austrian invests in each house, which can add up quick. "The average LEGO piece costs approximately 10 cents," she tells Mental Floss, and her models are made up of tens of thousands of pieces. But if you're looking for something slightly cheaper, she also offers exterior-only models for $1500 and up.

For your money, you can be confident that Austrian won't skimp on any details. As you can see in the images below, every feature of your house—from the appliances in your kitchen to the flowers in your yard—will be immortalized in carefully chosen plastic bricks.

A bedroom made of LEGO

A kitchen model made of LEGO

The exterior of a house made of LEGO

[h/t Apartment Therapy]

All images courtesy of Shari Austrian.


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