From Weed to Weem:?Castle Menzies clan chief’s chair goes home

Robert Menzies
This historical photo shows the inside of the banquet room at Castle Menzies in Weem, Perthshire, Scotland.

Ten years ago, several Scottish members from northern California’s Shasta Celtic Society stopped by my home to see the Castle Menzies (Mingis in Scotland) Clan Chief’s chair.

“Why not take it back?” one commented. This chair had resided by the front doors of my family’s homes since our great-grandfather Thomas brought it to California. I was a bit possessive.

The story of the chair is that it was commissioned to be built in the 1500s by wood artisans of Italy.

It took some 13 years for it to reach Castle Menzies, where it resided until clan uprisings, looting and general disorder occurred and caused it to be taken to Dull, the Clan Menzies land in Perthshire near Aberfeldy.

It was cared for there until the 1700s and then returned to the banquet room in Castle Menzies – the same room in which Mary Stewart and Bonnie Prince Charlie and his generals debated the fateful strategy of Culledon by the English.

During the time that so many people were leaving Scotland and Ireland for America, furniture and affects from Castle Menzies in Weem, Perthshire were auctioned.

This was how our great, great-grandfather Robert D. Menzies (1795-1875) in Edinburgh, acquired the chair, along with some maps and books.

The chair was given to one of his sons, Thomas (1838-1899 – our great-grandfather) who brought it with him when he came to California, to Marin County, across from San Francisco.

He in turn gave the chair to one of his sons, Robert (our grandfather) who eventually gave it to his then number one son, John, my uncle. When John moved, it went to his brother, my father Robert.

When my son was born 26 years ago, my father then gave the chair to me here in Weed, California, close to the Oregon border.

Three years ago, when visiting Scotland and the clan castle, my wife Mary and I were fortunate enough to meet with John Jack, the castle warden and historian.

When John noted that some 10,000 people visit seasonally and that he was seeking anything that would enhance the castle, I mentioned that the chair was in our possession, but that I was reluctant to part with it.

However, as fate will have it, Sean Menzies of Disney, visiting family in Edinburgh, happened to go to the castle in the off-season shortly after my visit – and John Jack, being the gracious custodian, opened the castle for the family and allowed them to tour, during which time the chair was mentioned.

The idea of the misplaced chair thoroughly engaged Sean’s imagination and he embarked on a one-man crusade to see it returned.

In tracking me down, Sean contacted several Robert Menzies in California, including me. I responded and he was very convincing that “the chair needs to go home.”

Sean insisted on helping to return the chair, which would take three years to accomplish. It took innumerable phone calls to shipping companies; and immeasurable time and effort to deal with the details of applicable tariffs, duties, insurance, and pick-up and delivery.

Finally, a company that would do all that was needed was found and contracted; and within a two-week time frame this past July 2010, the chair was sent home.

When John Jack opened the shipping crate and removed the chair, he placed it unbeknownst to him at the time, a mere 20 feet from its original position in the banquet room. Possibly the ancestors were helping.

During the clan gathering held every year at the castle, family from around the world rewarded us with heartfelt thanks for what we had done. To see and experience this made all the work and time worthwhile.

A bit of history was returned to its rightful place, my father’s wish was realized, and I learned to let go. From Weed to Weem, Robert the Chair was home.

The inside of the banquet room at Castle Menzies in Weem, Perthshire, Scotland as it appears today, with the clan chief’s chair restored to its rightful place on the far wall. The chair was recently returned home after spending more than 100 years in California, most recently by the front door of Weed resident Robert Menzies.