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Man Inspired By Famous Haunted Mansion Becomes Consumed With His Own Building Project

The adage goes that a man’s home is his castle. It’s supposed to mean that when you have your own place, you can be yourself and be in charge, but of course, a few people take the “castle” part a little too literally.

Out in the rolling hills of Wyoming towers a one-of-a-kind residence — one just as colorful as the man who built it. Even though its countless nooks and crannies still provide a spectacle for onlookers today, there also hides a tragic history behind every nail and board…

Sunny Smith-Larsen takes care as she steps over wooden beams and pieces of rubble. Up close, it looks like she’s wandering through a scrap heap. In reality, however, she is walking through her inheritance — and one of the most distinctive buildings on the face of the Earth.

Today, Sunny owns the weird and wooden Smith Mansion, just a few miles outside of Cody, Wyoming. Its origins are just as fascinating as the structure itself, which has mystified locals and tourists alike since the early 1980s. So who exactly was behind this oddity?

For that, we have Francis Lee Smith to thank. Though he worked as an engineer in Cody, Lee’s real passion was the great outdoors. He loved nothing more than exploring Wyoming’s rivers and mountains, and one day, Lee wished he and his family had their own place out in the wilderness.

Smith Mansion

One disaster turned out to be a windfall for Lee. A wildfire tore through nearby Rattlesnake Mountain, leaving many trees scorched by the flames. By law, this damaged timber was now available to anyone who wanted it. Lee jumped at the chance.

USFS

In many ways, he took inspiration from the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, California. Sarah Winchester, the wife of a firearms mogul, continually added to this mansion throughout her life, often adding whimsical additions and stairways that went nowhere.

Flickr / 3xmachina

While he enlisted some friends to help haul the wood, Lee built the Smith Mansion singlehandedly. Whereas most construction projects start with a detailed set of blueprints, Lee had no interest in any of that. For his dream house, he decided, he would simply make it up as he went along.

Almost every chance Lee got, he would work to get a bit further along on construction. Even at night, he toiled away on the Mansion by the light of a single light bulb, powered by a tiny generator. Of course, his fanatical building habits took a toll on his family.

Lee’s wife couldn’t stand the project and divorced him, but that didn’t deter Lee. He brought his children to spend summers with him in the Smith Mansion, and they still have fond memories of the many nights they spent under the looming wooden roof.

Smith Mansion

Though the mansion is ornate — in its own junkyard way — its living conditions are far from luxurious. The home has no running water, and its only source of heat is a small iron stove in the dining area. That can only provide so much warmth during the harsh Wyoming winters.

On the other hand, the mansion made the perfect home for all kinds of wildlife. Several raccoons, owls, and even skunks moved into the mansion right alongside the Smith family. There’s no word on whether or not any of those critters ended up as dinner.

AAAnimal Control

Lee did not include any specific bedrooms — he wanted all the spaces to have multiple uses. The family and their guests slept on the floor in sleeping bags. They were essentially camping in style.

Alternatively, Lee made foldable wooden hammocks that were handy for both sleeping and storing supplies. We can only imagine Lee woke up with a sore back most mornings, but even that couldn’t stifle his joy about living in his dream house.

Atlas Obscura

No, Lee was not too big on including pillows or cushions in his log estate, though he did cobble together some neat swinging benches. 

The house was a virtual playground for the Smith kids. Bucky, Sunny’s brother, liked to use the larger rooms as an indoor basketball court. It’s safe to say that he got his fair share of splinters while balling here.

Although his mansion already had more than enough room to shelter his entire family, Lee wasn’t satisfied. He went bigger and bigger, tacking on wild additions like a “crow’s nest” that rose five stories above the ground.

Atlas Obscura

Lee even designed a set of metal wind chimes out of scrap metal for his towering home. He completed almost all the work with conventional tools, except he brought in a crane to place the upper level’s A-shaped frames, as seen around the chimes in the picture below.

Alan Rogers

After 12 years of back-breaking work and counting, Lee understood the enormity of his project. He always joked, “The building will get me before I can get the building.” Tragically, his prediction came true.

In 1992, two whole days passed without anyone hearing from Lee, so his family drove out to the mansion. That’s where they found his body. He was improving the upper levels of his home when a piece of timber came loose and knocked him off the five-story building. He was only 48.

Smith Mansion

These days, the Smith Mansion is abandoned. Outside of Sunny giving the occasional tour, the only visitors the residence gets are wild animals and vandals. Sunny realized she needed to take drastic action to salvage her dad’s masterpiece.

In the summer of 2018, Sunny put the Smith Mansion up for sale, in the hopes that some special individual would come along and treasure the palatial cabin as much as her father did. For a mere $750,000 it could be all yours. Who knows, maybe you’re just the person to take up Lee’s mantle and make the mansion even grander?