• Ashley Urban

Face Tattoos in a Dominatrix’s Haunted Mansion

 

This January, in the midst of methodically burning down my life (let's call it a controlled burn shall we?), I found myself residing in room number 12 of a once abandoned mansion and former Freemason’s rest home. A once neglected property which is slowly being brought back to life, much like myself…not the rest home part, but the will to live part. As for the Freemason membership, well, I’m working on it.


 


 

The crumbling structure was rescued two years ago by none other than Isabella Sinclaire herself, a legend in her own right; not only a world-renowned dominatrix of impressive prestige, she also happens to be the kind of woman who turns every one of her grandiose goals into pure, realized magic. She makes it all look so effortless. In reality, she’s one of the hardest working and most radiant women I’ve ever met. I consider myself quite fortunate to call her my friend.


 


 

Isabella materialized in my life one evening some years ago, silently passing me a note and confident nod in the dark of a member’s only nightclub on Hollywood boulevard...

...Anyone that introduces themselves via hand-written letter in a clandestine dance hall is of course bound to be my friend for life. Little did I know that this mysterious, black-clad woman would continually be even more awe-inspiring than her first impression.


After 6 years of friendship and her cross-country move, I found myself in her sumptuous Massachusetts estate while serendipitously in the company of two other friends I happened to meet at that very same nightclub. On a Monday evening beneath the astounding hand-carved woodwork and painted walls of China Red within the mansion’s library, one would just so happen find our pack of reunited comrades distributing impromptu face tattoos upon one another. How life winds down these paths and lands at such odd landmarks, I may never understand.


 

Now, a little backstory on the mansion:


“The Wheeler Mansion, rumored to be haunted, was constructed in 1903 as a private residence for renowned industrialist John W. Wheeler and his wife, Almira of Orange, Massachusetts. The industrial revolution took hold and created successful entrepreneurs that would enjoy prosperity and entertain lavishly.


After the death of John Wheeler in 1910 inside the mansion, the property was deeded to The Order of The Eastern Star, a Masonic appendant body open to both men and women and became the rest home for the Ladies of the Order of the Eastern Star in 1925.


In 1990, the Eastern Star Home closed and the property was sold and used as a private residence with the intention of turning it into a Bed and Breakfast but due to several financial setbacks, the property went into foreclosure in 2015 and was abandoned and badly damaged from a leaking roof and burst pipe for over 5 years. After winning an auction on June 17th, 2020, the new owner quickly began restoring the property with a new roof to take on the endeavor of saving the mansion.”

- RevivalWheelerMansion.com


 


As a part of my grand escape from the frustrations, heartache and dead ends that life had become over the last year, I packed the contents of precisely one vintage tanker desk housed at my place of employment, the essence of a 650 square foot apartment that would be traded for a rather full, and not so glamorous 10’x10’ storage unit, one suitcase: size small, and one leather duffle bag that belonged to my mother. It escorted her on many overpacked excursions through the decades and it still smells like her. In early December, packed in all regards, and questioning my sanity, I hit the road. For how long, well, I’m still unsure.





 

Seeing my friend and her marvelous mansion was near top of my list of destinations. The mansion feels like a place of endless possibility. A beacon of reimagining the forgotten greatness of its own past. It seemed appropriate to be within the walls of a withered architectural beauty that was finally being basked in the nurturing attention it required for a proper rebirth. With care and vision, Isabella is breathing new life into a place that for decades, showed the signs of more than a few hard days and broken dreams. At the risk of sounding terribly kitsch, I’ll make note that as of late my life has felt like a mirror held up to said crumbling mansion. This last year brutalized me to the absolute. I’ll spare you a great deal of the details, but the ultimate blow that shone a spotlight on all that needs to change in my life was unexpectedly losing my mother in May of 2021. Catastrophic. My true nightmare. But a deep dive into this particular journey of grief and enlightenment is a story for another day.


 

 

The profound loss piqued a sea change for everything nagging in my life that I’d been ignoring as it all quietly metastasized. The pandemic, of course became my catchall excuse for said neglect. In reality, these dishonored internal calls to action had been eating away at me for several years. My mother’s death was the sunbeam in the magnifying glass held up to my self-sabotage and existential panic that ignited the fire of change.


 

For a while now, I’ve felt quite a bit like that leaking mansion roof. The one that slowly deteriorated from within. But the mansion’s bones are solid, as is my refusal to settle into a state of permanent emotional and physical disrepair. Something that Isabella and I share is a ferocious willpower to change what must be alchemized in order to get what we want out of life. We do not settle, we do not give up, and we take the many difficult steps required to bring our dreams to life. No wonder we get along famously.


In addition to myself and Isabella, we lived those cold weeks in the company of our friend Keight (K8)…a streak of light and frenetic creativity, who routinely and mysteriously fluttered through the corridors of the night club aforementioned. And for a brief portion of my stay, yet another Hollywood night crawler joined us. Baba; the club’s grantor of long-stemmed red roses and a watchful eye on the crowd to keep an air of safety about the place. Here we were, four first-generation weirdos of a club that wouldn’t last forever, yet so many friendships born from it shall. Eating its own tail; so much connection lived, died and was reborn through the community within it.


 


 

Baba’s three day stay became a tattoo convention meets goth club reunion all rolled into one. He happened to be on the east coast in the midst of a tattoo tour, so he brought his kit along with his signature and expansive array of verbal wit. For three straight days, he tattooed the eager flesh canvases of Orange, Massachusetts. A smattering of Isabella’s friends came and went for their dose of permanence. On the third night, delirious from cold and laughter, K8 and I decided that matching face tattoos were in order. Perhaps you wouldn’t take me for a woman who’d adorn herself with such a thing. But perhaps it would be something you’d never know was there unless you read about it in my internet diary. Some mysteries we keep in plain sight…one just has to know where to look.


 


 

Simply an inky emphasis of our beauty marks is what we wanted. I opted for the extreme end of the spectrum and had the already existing mole on my right cheek darkened within its distinct perimeter by exactly 2 shades of brown. And K8, the mole under her left eye. It’s quite literally nothing to write home about, but calling them face tattoos sounds shocking and confusing. Capturing your reader with a disconcerting title is crucial, or so I’m told.


One little dot and 20 seconds under the gun. How could I pass up such a story? As an adorable collection of nerve endings, the mole would likely reject the ink anyhow. I presumed, correctly, that my mole would be intolerant of such frivolous stamps and ultimately unwilling to put up with my bullshit. What’s one more of life’s rejections anyhow? They build such a strong temperament.


 

Baba, with his zero fucks given attitude, decided it a good idea to let us tattoo his face as well. “One dot each”. Just like us. Of course we howled in laughter at the idea of tattooing our friend directly on the front page…both of us having zero experience or knowledge in the field of making skin art with a vibrating needle. So the face tattoos commenced.


The laughter induced adrenaline was high. K8 being the avant garde romantic that she is, giggled and only half jokingly shrieked that we should share a tattoo needle in order “TO BE BLOOD BROTHERS AND SISTERS!”. The sentiment was pondered in a rare moment of quiet that blanketed the library. “If I get menopause from sharing blood with you two, I’m gonna be pissed.”, Baba replied.


We decided that the pursuit of personal health and hygiene had won this battle. So, one by one, he prepared a fresh needle and carafe of ink for each of us. He concluded that rather than his face, K8 and I should tattoo what he so beautifully referred to as his “ear labia”. Apparently it’s called a tragus, but I’m no physician. So, with tears of laughter in our eyes we each took a turn under and over the gun. Who knew that a few casual face tattoos could bring me such unbridled joy?! I hadn’t laughed that hard or smiled so much in what felt like ages.

And though my life felt like it was falling apart, I was reminded of the powerful anecdote that is travel, laughter, friendship, and of course face tats inside a haunted mansion.

 


 

It’s been several weeks of radical self-reflection and the pursuit of healthy habit building since I departed the mansion. The new tattoo has indeed eluded me, yet the fervor and fire to reinvent my life has not. In the forests of magnificent Sequoias, fire is a necessary part of regeneration and regrowth. If the proper environmental factors lend themselves, fire can be all-cleansing and healing. If your life’s direction is in need of change, perhaps you should let some things burn.




Yours truly,

AU

 

*To learn more about the Wheeler Mansion project, visit RevivalWheelerMansion.com and follow @RevivalWheelerMansion & @TheIsabellaSinclaire on instagram