The Strange Story Behind Kip’s Castle in New Jersey

Kip’s Castle is a majestic mansion that resembles a medieval Norman castle, located on the border of Montclair and Verona townships in New Jersey. The estate covers 10 acres of land and offers stunning views of New York City. But behind its impressive facade, there is a strange and fascinating history that spans over a century.

The Original Owners

Kip’s Castle was built in the early 1900s by Frederic Ellsworth Kip, a wealthy textile inventor and industrialist, and his wife Charlotte Bishop Williams Kip, who designed the building and the grounds. The castle, originally named “Kypsburg”, consisted of 30 rooms with vaulted ceilings, six fireplaces, and a rose garden. The Kips lived there until Charlotte’s death in 1926, after which Frederic sold the estate to a Spanish nobleman named Signono Munoz.

The Religious Cult

Munoz, who made his fortune in the oil industry, turned the castle into a religious retreat for a cult called the “Universal Peace Mission Movement”. The cult was led by a charismatic preacher named Father Divine, who claimed to be God and had thousands of followers, mostly African Americans. Father Divine preached racial harmony, celibacy, communal living, and economic independence. He also performed miracles, such as healing the sick, raising the dead, and multiplying food. Munoz donated the castle to Father Divine, who used it as a residence for his inner circle of devotees, known as the “Heavenly Family”.

The Indian Guru

In the 1980s, the castle was sold to an Indian guru named Osho, who was also known as Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. Osho was a controversial figure who advocated a philosophy of free love, meditation, and rebellion against social norms. He had a large following of disciples, who wore red or orange clothes and lived in communes around the world. Osho used the castle as a monastery, where he gave lectures and conducted meditation sessions. He also faced legal troubles, such as tax evasion, immigration fraud, and bioterrorism. He died in 1990, and his followers left the castle soon after.

The Law Firm

In 1985, the castle was purchased by a law firm called Schwartz, Tobia & Stanziale, who restored the building to its original glory. The firm used the castle as their office, and also opened it to the public for tours and events. The castle became a popular attraction, especially during Halloween, when it was decorated with spooky props and lights. The firm also planned to develop townhouses on the property, but faced opposition and lawsuits from the local authorities. In 2006, the firm put the castle on the market.

The County Park

In 2007, the castle was bought by the County of Essex, with the help of grants from the NJ Green Acres Program and the Essex County Recreation and Open Space Trust Fund. The castle became part of the historic Essex County Park System, and was renamed Kip’s Castle Park. The park is open to the public for recreation, education, and cultural activities. The castle houses offices for various administrative functions, and also serves as a museum, a meeting space, and a venue for weddings and other events. The park also has a 12-member advisory board that provides guidance on the maintenance, restoration, and development of the estate.


Kip’s Castle is a remarkable landmark that reflects the diverse and colorful history of New Jersey. From a private residence to a religious retreat, from a monastery to a law office, and from an attraction to a park, the castle has witnessed many changes and challenges over the years. But through it all, it has remained a symbol of beauty, mystery, and culture. Kip’s Castle is a treasure that deserves to be explored and appreciated by all.

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