In 1995, when Ray and Pat Piland moved into Hampton Manor—a 19th-century estate in rural Caroline County—they found two mannequins in the attic.
One had been taken apart at the torso and the other was streaked with red, to look like blood running down its body.
“I thought, ‘These have to be [Salvador] Dalí’s,’” Pat Piland said. “He was into mannequins. And blood.”
The famous Spanish surrealist painter and his wife, Gala, lived at Hampton Manor from August 1940 to April 1941 as guests of the home’s then-owner, arts patron and bra designer Caresse Crosby.
Crosby and her late husband had founded the Paris-based publishing company Black Sun Press, which published some of the early works of Ernest Hemingway, Charles Bukowski, Hart Crane, Henry Miller and Anaïs Nin.
Dalí and his wife were part of this Parisian circle of expatriates, and Crosby invited the couple to visit her in Virginia when they were looking to escape Spain during World War II.
While living in Caroline, Dalí, then 37, finished his autobiography, “The Secret Life of Salvador Dalí.”
“He writes that he is standing in front of his mirror [at Hampton Manor] naked and that he has finished his autobiography as his publisher asked,” Pat Piland said with a laugh. “I’m not sure why he had to say he was naked, but there you go: Dalí, naked, Hampton Manor.”
This was one of many antics Dalí got up to while staying in Caroline, Piland said. A photo shoot featured in Life magazine shows the artist, his wife and Crosby comfortably ensconced in the house’s library—with a full-grown Hereford bull reclining at their feet.
“How they got the bull in here, I don’t know,” Pat Piland said. The door from the home’s main hallway into the library is significantly narrower than a full-size bull.
Dalí also “enchanted” the Hampton gardens by hauling Crosby’s grand piano up into one of the estate’s mature trees and planting mannequins in a nearby pond.
“He planned to create a ‘surrealist pond’ here,” Ray Piland said. “He never did, but it was advertised in the AAA guidebook anyway, so my parents [who bought Hampton in 1945] would get people driving in here asking to see the surrealist pond.”
Dalí wasn’t the only artist who visited Hampton that summer. Crosby, who dreamed of establishing an artists’ colony on the property, also invited Miller and Nin to stay.
“Henry Miller actually started painting while he was staying here and Dalí was writing his autobiography, so they switched occupations,” Ray Piland joked.
Allegedly, Miller and Nin found Dalí and his wife insufferable.
“Gala kind of ruled the roost here and made sure everything was taken care of to suit Dalí,” Pat Piland said.
Ray Piland’s parents didn’t know about the house’s famous occupants when they bought the property in 1945, but they soon found out, because there were plenty of people around who remembered the visit—such as the barber who came out from Bowling Green to cut Dalí’s hair and the proprietors of the DeJarnette General Store.
According to Life, Dalí would visit there daily to drink Cokes and converse with the “bewildered but fascinated citizenry.”
He may have enjoyed the soda, but the Pilands said the Catalonian was not a fan of Virginia wine.
Ray and Pat Piland wouldn’t call themselves fans of Dalí’s surrealist art. They prefer the artist’s earlier, less familiar but more pleasant landscape paintings.
“I think he misused his talent,” Ray Piland said.
But they take their role as stewards of Hampton Manor and all its history seriously.
They’ve visited Dalí’s birthplace in Spain, as well as the Salvador Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg, Fla.—where they met with museum founder Reynolds Morse, a friend and patron of Dalí’s.
Morse told them about the five paintings the artist completed while at Hampton Manor, including “Daddy Longlegs of the Evening—Hope!”
“Dalí thought the spiders in Virginia were fascinating,” Pat Piland said.
Morse also told them about the time a model came to Hampton to pose for Dalí. According to the story, the artist asked her to remove her clothes and left the room. He was gone for so long that the model began to shiver and turn blue. When Dalí finally returned, he informed her that it had been his plan to paint her as “a blue lady.”
In the basement of Hampton Manor is a room with a rounded, adobe-style fireplace, which the Pilands think must have been installed by Crosby for her Spanish artist guest.
“I’d definitely have put him in the basement if I had been her,” Pat Piland joked.
They’ve turned this room into the “Dalí room.” Prints of the artist’s works hang on the walls and the shelves are lined with books about him and catalogs of his paintings.
The mannequin they found in the attic is displayed here, as well as a small china bull.