Monday, July 28, 2014

July 28, 1914: The Start of World War I

Serbian troops at the outbreak of the war

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I, known at the time as the World War or the Great War, or in the United States initially as the European War.  Triggered by the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria one month earlier, the conflict began on July 28th when the Austro-Hungarians fired the first shots in anticipation of their invasion of Serbia.   By the time of the armistice on November 11, 1918, more than 16 million soldiers and civilians had been killed and four empires – German, Russian, Ottoman, and Austro-Hungarian – ceased to exist. 

The Glessner journal, by this time being written by John Glessner, contains numerous references to the start of the war, as well as letters from friends and family who were in Europe at the time.  We present a few excerpts to provide insight to the reactions of these individuals, who, of course, had no way of knowing they were witnessing the beginnings of a war that would last more than four years.

Nathalie Sieboth Kennedy

The first letter was written from Milan, Italy on August 2, 1914 by Nathalie Sieboth Kennedy, the paid reader for Mrs. Glessner’s Monday Morning Reading Class.   She wrote, in part:

“We were ordered out of Austria yesterday, and after a pretty rough journey arrived here where everything is still at peace, but we are told we cannot go on to Switzerland as we expected to do.  I feel that we are safe personally, having our passports and being American citizens, but that is about all I am sure of.  Every man in Austria was ordered to report for service: every waiter, every porter, every proprietor under old age.  Even the horses were requisitioned and we had to walk to the station and have our luggage carried by hand.  The scenes of confusion were indescribable at the station, as they had been for two days in the town.  All the women had red eyes from weeping, and the departing men were sad and serious. . . So far, Italy has not taken steps to break her neutrality but, of course, she is the ally of Austria and Germany, and may be made to maintain it.  Tomorrow morning we shall consult the American consul as to what we had better do.”

Frederick Stock

The Glessners also received several letters from their dear friend Frederick Stock, conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, who was returning from Europe when the war broke out.  Stock was most apprehensive because his wife and daughter Vera were still in Europe and he worried for their safety.  The war would have an enormous impact on Stock’s life and career.  He was still a German citizen, and in the wave of anti-German feelings that swelled as the war progressed, he was ultimately forced to step down as conductor of the orchestra in 1918 when numerous patrons and supporters made it clear they did not wish to support an orchestra led by a German conductor. 

In a letter to Mrs. Glessner, written in Boston and dating to early August 1914, Stock noted:

“Up to the present I am still without any definite news regarding Mrs. Stock and Vera’s whereabouts; I presume that they are in Switzerland, and hope they are, because there they would be fairly comfortable and safe.  I tried to get in touch with them through my music agent in Berlin, sent several cables to different places in Switzerland, etc. etc. but so far no reply has reached me.  I hope everything is all right with them. . . It will take a few more days for me to get over one of the worst experiences I ever faced, and this, together with an overdose of anxiety and disappointment has put my mind into a rather gloomy frame.  I feel as ‘blue’ and sad as the saddest of all ‘poles’, our good friend Paderewski, for I am afraid that the end of the German Empire is at hand.”

In a letter dated August 29 from the Hotel Puritan in Boston, Stock notified Mrs. Glessner that he had received word that his wife and daughter were safe and hoped to sail shortly for the U.S.:

“Let me begin this by telling you that at last I have had news from Mrs. Stock; a cable arrived yesterday, notifying me that they expect to sail from Rotterdam, that they were in need of money, which she wanted me to cable to her care of American Express co., Rotterdam.  I think that they will try to sail from Rotterdam at first chance, and I am glad of it.  Isn’t this war the most frightful thing imaginable, and does it not seem to get worse from day to day!  What will the end be!”

Other letters reported the return of various members of the symphony, many of whom had travelled to Europe for the summer.  The good news of the safe return of Mrs. Stock and daughter Vera was conveyed to Mrs. Glessner in a letter from New York City dated October 3:

“Just a line or two to say that Mrs. Stock and Vera arrived yesterday from Rotterdam; they both look well, and of course are more than glad to be back again; both send their best wishes to you and Mr. Glessner and regret very much that the delayed arrival makes it impossible for them to pay you a visit at The Rocks, as they very much should like to do. . .  They suffered but very little inconveniences in Europe on account of the war, and could not tell me enough of the wonderful spirit among the German people in all the towns they passed through on their way to Rotterdam.  In Cologne, for instance, they were having concerts, opera, everything quite as usual, people crowded restaurants and cafes, and there was nothing else but the greatest confidence and enthusiasm for the German cause, and they were greatly surprised over the attitude of our American newspapers, which they cannot understand.  Let’s hope that the whole business soon will end, one way or the other, it’s a terrible strain on ones nerves.”

George B. Glessner

John Glessner’s brother, George, was staying at the Hotel Konigsvilla in Carlsbad, Austria when war broke out.  In a letter dated July 29, just one day after the war began, he reported:

“The announcement of Austria’s position towards Serbia, and the calling out of the Bohemian troops on Sunday last, together with Cook & Sons bulletin especially, Monday afternoon that trains for Berlin and Vienna would cease on Wednesday 29th, and for Paris and also to Ostend (the latter our route and for which our tickets have been purchased for leaving Aug. 6th to London), on Thursday the 30th, threw Frank into quite a panic and he was for immediately getting out of town, or into Germany, the very next day and out of this country, and to England as soon as possible.  My arguments to the contrary did not avail much . . . If matters came to the worst my suggestion was to get Mr. Chalmers to send us and our trunks in his automobile, if necessary, to Eger, 15 to 25 miles off – which is on the border and in Germany – where we get our through train anyhow, or hire a machine to do it.  It seems that, to mobilize the Austrian and Bohemian troops etc. it is necessary to annul the passenger trains for 2-3 or 4 days.”

George Glessner was still in Carlsbad as of August 12 when he wrote a letter to his other brother, William:

“We are still unable to leave here, and, if we could, would not know where to go for probably every seaport is now closed, or, would be, if we could reach any of them soon. . . Our present hope of leaving Europe and going home depends upon what arrangements the American Government can make with the different countries to open some free ports for ships to sail under the American flag – which ships it must send over for us – and also obtain railroad service and safe conduct of us Americans through to some open port to take us home.  For 10 days or more all the railroads have been used almost entirely for the mobilization of troops, but that must be nearly finished now.  Our Consul, the Ambassadors at Berlin and Vienna have tried, but, so far failed, to charter or get special trains to take the Americans to some open ports.  Pass this letter on to brother John when you have read it.”

A newspaper clipping from the Ohio newspaper, the Springfield Daily Sun, dated August 22, 1914, pasted into the journal, indicated that George Glessner was still in Carlsbad as of that date.  The headline of the article reads:

“GLESSNER – Safe in Carlsbad Reports Chicago Man – THOUSANDS ARE HELD – In Austrian Resort With No Means of Escape”

The report was provided by William J. Chalmers of Chicago, mentioned in George Glessner’s letter above, who arrived in London on August 21 after a sixteen day motor trip from Carlsbad to Buch.  After a lengthy description of his harrowing journey, the article concludes with the following:

“George Glessner, of this city, who is said to be in Carlsbad, according to William J. Chalmers, makes his home at the Arcade hotel.  At one time he was a member of the Warder, Bushnell and Glessner company.  For some time he has been travelling abroad.”

On August 27, John Glessner noted that “word came that my brother George had reached London.”  A letter sent from London September 1 provided additional details:

“This is the day we expected to arrive in Boston on the S.S. Amerika, but we now hope to sail next Saturday, the 5th, on the Menominee of the Atlantic Transport Line – a small 5800 ton steamer, slow, but considered a good, safe, smooth-sailing vessel – leaving Tillbury Docks on the Thames and landing in New York in about 10 days time.  All cabins are called first-class.  Most of the steamers of this line carry cattle, and consequently are steady, and have only first class cabins.”

Elizabeth Glessner (far right) with her siblings John, Frances, and Emily
and their maternal grandmother Elizabeth Hamlin, c. 1914

Violette Scharff's villa in Lausanne, Switzerland

Perhaps the Glessners’ greatest concern was for their 14-year-old granddaughter, Elizabeth Glessner, who had gone to spend the summer in Switzerland with Violette Scharff, Fanny's paid companion in the 1880s and 1890s.  Elizabeth and Miss Scharff sailed from New York on July 2, 1914.  There are no letters from Elizabeth, so not as much is known about how the war impacted her stay in Switzerland, but a journal entry dated August 27 indicated “Word came that Elizabeth would sail from Rotterdam for home on Saturday.”  On September 3, John Glessner noted “Alice and Mrs. Hamlin (her mother) went to New York by train to meet Elizabeth returning from Europe.”  The next day he wrote, “Wireless message came from Elizabeth that her steamer, Rotterdam, will dock in New York today.”

Monday, July 21, 2014

Maier and Pattison, the "Piano Twins"

As two of the most ardent supporters of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra from the times of its inception in 1891, John and Frances Glessner were afforded the privilege of meeting many of the greatest composers and performers of their day.  A tradition that evolved under the conductorship of Frederick Stock was for these musicians to dine with the Glessners on Friday evening, when in town performing with the Orchestra.  During the 1920s, the famous two-piano team of Maier and Pattison were invited guests at 1800 S. Prairie Avenue on at least three occasions. 

Lee Pattison was born on July 22, 1890 in Grand Rapids, Wisconsin and studied piano under Carl Baermann (a pupil of Franz Liszt) at the prestigious New England Conservatory of Music in Boston.  Upon his graduation in 1910, he was offered a position on the faculty.  Guy Maier was born on August 15, 1891 in Buffalo, New York.  Showing talent at an early age, he also enrolled at the New England Conservatory of Music where he, too, studied under Baermann, and became acquainted with Lee Pattison.  After his graduation in 1913, the two set out for Europe where they studied under the eminent pianist Arthur Schnabel in Berlin.  They returned to Boston in 1914, and Maier made his solo debut as a concert pianist soon after.

After hearing a two-piano performance by Harold Bauer and Ossip Gabrilowitsch (both of whom would also later be guests of the Glessners), Maier and Pattison began to perform together with two-piano compositions and arrangements.  During World War I, Maier volunteered with the YMCA as an entertainer and Pattison joined the infantry, and they continued to perform together, giving two-piano recitals for the American troops in Paris.  After the armistice in 1918, they performed at a recital in Paris that was attended by both President Woodrow Wilson and the French Premier Georges Clemenceau.  They returned to the United States and began concertizing extensively across the country playing classical works written for two pianos as well as writing two-piano arrangements of other works.  Pioneers in acoustic recording, they produced numerous popular recordings for the Victor Talking Machine Company.  Their reputation grew through the 1920s and they were dubbed the “Piano Twins.”

Chicago Tribune, February 10, 1924

Frances Glessner recorded that Guy Maier and Lee Pattison were guests for dinner in their Prairie Avenue home on February 15, 1924.  The Piano Twins were in Chicago to perform Bach’s Concerto for three pianos with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the third pianist being Arthur Shattuck (also a frequent guest at the Glessner home).  It was the first performance of the Bach concerto by the symphony.  In addition, Maier and Pattison performed another work, Carl Philip Emanuel Bach’s Concerto for two pianos, the score of which they were said to have discovered in the basement of a Chicago music store the previous fall.  They also performed a new work, “King Estmere,” by Leo Sowerby, based on an old English ballad of the same name. 

On February 16, 1924, the Chicago Tribune music critic Edward Moore wrote the following about Maier and Pattison’s performance:

“Out of a considerable cargo of two and three piano music of the oldest and newest composers, each item a first performance on the Chicago Symphony orchestra programs, two facts swung into plain view at Orchestra hall yesterday afternoon.  One is that Leo Sowerby belongs in the front row of modern composers.  The other is that Guy Maier and Lee Pattison in conjunction with Frederick Stock and the orchestra make an ideal combination to show where he is.”

Maier and Pattison were guests of the Glessners again on May 13, 1925.  Although they were not performing with the orchestra at the time, they were in Chicago as Pattison was teaching masters classes at the Gunn School of Music, located in the Fine Arts Building, 410 S. Michigan Avenue.

The “Piano Twins” returned to Chicago in March 1928 as part of a national tour, performing a recital at the Studebaker Theater on March 11 and then with the Chicago Symphony later in the month.  Of the Studebaker recital, Tribune music critic Hazel Moore wrote:

“Maier and Pattison, those famous duo artists of the piano, timed their recital at the Studebaker theater yesterday afternoon to ride in on the pianistic wave of the last few days.  That the wave had not subsided was amply shown by the large audience that greeted their coming.

“Excepting for the presence of Belle Tannenbaum Friedman, who ably assisted from a third piano the Bach concerto in D minor for three pianos, their program was of the general variety and quality that these artists always choose.

“The familiar Mozart sonata in D major sparkled lightly on its way, the Bach already mentioned was clearly welcome, and the Stravinsky ‘Three Little Pieces,’ written for teacher and pupil, in which Mr. Pattison would impersonate the teacher and Mr. Maier the pupil, were entirely amusing.  Mr. Pattison was an exacting teacher and Mr. Maier a pat pupil.  Certainly they were Stravinsky in facetious mood.

“Quite another mood was that of Henry Eichheim’s ‘Siamese Sketch,’ written for this pair of seekers for the light of new music.  Perhaps it was a little long, but the mood and the bells, no clear, now blurred and mingled with other sounds of the orient, were there.  Mr. Maier’s clever arrangement of the two Chopin etudes, the familiar ‘Butterfly’ and ‘Black Key’ etudes, was received with the delighted applause that it deserves.  The wave of the Maier and Pattison popularity is a long one, with no rocks ahead.”

Chicago Tribune, March 24, 1928

They dined with the Glessners on March 23, 1928, the same date they began their weekend performances with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.  Those concerts included a performance of Mozart’s E flat concerto and a reprise of the Sowerby “King Estmere” that they had first performed with the orchestra four years earlier.

In 1931, the pair embarked on a farewell tour of the United States and pursued separate careers, although they did appear together again March 1937 during a reunion concert on the stage of the Works Progress Administration Theatre of Music in New York.

Maier gave recitals for children at schools, coupled with his “musical travelogues,” sometimes as a soloist, and at times with his wife, Lois, also a talented pianist.  Of these concerts, the Los Angeles Times reported, “He is not only clever as a pianist, but the way he keeps the attention of a grammar-school audience of squirming, tired-at-the-end-of-the-day youngsters is nothing short of miraculous.  It is all fun to him and he makes the children ‘see into’ the music he plays with brief and witty words.”  He taught at the University of Michigan for ten years beginning in 1921, and later taught at the Juilliard School in New York, and the University of California at Los Angeles, also writing regular monthly columns for the musical publication The Etude.  In 1937, he was appointed the regional director of the WPA music project in New York, a position held by Pattison two years earlier.  The Sherwood Music School in Chicago awarded him an honorary doctorate in 1940.  He died in Santa Monica, California on September 24, 1956.

Pattison performed as a soloist and also with the violinist Jacques Gordon and the Gordon String Quartet.  In addition to composing and arranging classical works for piano, two pianos, voice, and choral groups, he taught at Sarah Lawrence College and Columbia University.  In New York, he also served as the General Director of the American Lyric Theatre and as manager of the spring 1937 season of the Metropolitan Opera.  In 1941, he was appointed Professor of Music at Scripps College in Claremont, California, a position he held until he retirement in 1962.  The trustees later named the Lee Pattison Recital Hall in his honor.  He died on December 22, 1966 in Claremont.

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Second Chicago Fire - July 14, 1874

Aerial view of Chicago in 1874
Burnt district shown left of center

Today marks the 140th anniversary of the forgotten second Chicago Fire of 1874.  That fire began about 3:30pm on Tuesday, July 14th with the first alarm raised near the northeast corner of Clark and 12th Street (now Roosevelt Road).  The point of origin was a small wooden shanty and barn occupied by a Jewish immigrant, Nathan Isaacson, located next to an oil factory.  By the time the fire stopped around 10:00pm, approximately 60 acres in the “South Division” of downtown, which had escaped the Fire of 1871, had been totally destroyed, causing nearly $5 million in damage. 

The “Great Fire” was still fresh in people’s minds, and this second fire was a reminder that the threat of fire was very real.  At the same time, there was a general feeling that, although the fire brought hardship for many, it also rid the city of a section that would continue to be susceptible to fire.  The account of the 1874 fire in the Chicago Tribune stated in part:

“It has come to complete in part the work left undone in 1871, and to scoop out of existence another broad belt of wooden buildings which menaced the new structures which have sprung up in the business quarter of the South Division.  It has shaken hands with the fire of 1871, and reaching the ground its predecessor conquered, has stopped, not satiate, and yet satisfied.  Well it may be for the palaces that line Madison street that yet another strip of brick and stone is to be piled up between them and the menacing frame structures that lie beyond, and yet we cannot help reflecting that this security of the future has brought by too great a sacrifice in the present.

“Nature said to us, ‘Beware of the repetition of 1871;’ but man, so cautioned just after a fire, is brutally heedless when its memory has faded away.  Even the insurance men, of all others most sensitive to the approach of such a calamity, seemed to have no forebodings that there was no special vigilance, no particular care, against possible disaster.”

The circumstances surrounding the 1874 fire were similar to the first – dry conditions, a “fatal southwest wind,” and an abundance of wooden buildings to fuel the conflagration.   The 1871 fire resulted in new regulations being implemented which prohibited the construction of any wooden buildings in the area bounded by 22nd Street on the south, the Chicago River on the north, Halsted Street on the west, and Lake Michigan on the east.  However, wooden buildings standing within those boundaries at the time were, of course, allowed to remain, and temporary wooden structures could be built until more permanent structures were completed.  The “temporary” buildings were to be razed within a year of construction, but they often remained standing much longer.

The section of the city burned in the 1874 fire was immediately south of the downtown core rebuilt after the earlier fire but could not have been more different in character.  A Tribune described a portion of the area as follows:

“The fire commenced in that portion of the city known as Cheyenne, between Taylor and Twelfth and Clark street, and Fourth avenue (now Federal).  This part of the city consists of the worst rookeries imaginable, most of which are occupied as houses of ill-fame.”

It was estimated that nearly 500 prostitutes were left homeless as a result of the fire.  In addition to the “houses of ill-fame” which quickly reestablished themselves south of 18th Street (in the area that would soon evolve into the infamous Levee), the neighborhood was home to many poor immigrants, including Eastern Europeans and Jews, and was also the center of a small but growing community of African-Americans.  Wabash Avenue had been a fine upper-class residential street, and many larger homes and churches remained, but the character of the street was changing rapidly as the original residents and congregations moved to the district farther to the south in and around Prairie Avenue.

The First Baptist Church on Wabash Avenue was the most prominent building
destroyed in the 1874 fire; although the building was only ten years old,
the congregation was already considering a move farther south

Wabash Avenue north from Peck Court (now 8th Street)
This section of the avenue was destroyed in the fire

Wabash Avenue south from Eldredge Court (now 9th Street)
This section was spared in the fire

The Church of the Messiah on Wabash Avenue had been converted to a
carriage shop by the time it was destroyed in the fire of 1874

Map showing the 1874 burnt district in yellow
Area burnt in the 1871 fire shown in gray

The fire proceeded in a generally northeast direction from its point of origin to State Street where it continued north to three doors north of Van Buren.  (The fire stopped at this point, not because of the efforts of the Fire Department, but rather because it had reached the rebuilt section of the city, and the new stone and brick structures did not burn).  It extended as far east as Michigan Avenue for the half block north of Congress, but otherwise did not extend east beyond the alley between Michigan and Wabash Avenues as far south as Peck Court (now 8th Street).  From there the southern border of the burnt district followed a line heading southwest back to the point of origin, just missing St. Mary’s Catholic Church at Wabash and Eldredge Court (now 9th Street).

The former Wabash Avenue Methodist Episcopal Church 
at Harrison and State was used as the main post office after the fire in 1871;
it was destroyed in the 1874 fire

In the aftermath of the fire, there was a demand for additional reform to prevent another calamity of this scale from occurring again.  The Citizens’ Association of Chicago was formally chartered later that month with a Constitution that stated their purpose in part “to insure a most perfect administration in our municipal affairs; to promote the general welfare and prosperity of the city.”  The Association was largely responsible for revisions to the Fire Limits Ordinance which was expanded to encompass the entire city, and also worked closely with insurance companies to expedite settlements with property owners.

Chicago Fire Department officials, 1874

The Fire Department was highly criticized during the 1874 fire and there had been unresolved issues ever since the Great Fire three years earlier.  The Citizens’ Association brought General Alexander Shaler to Chicago to aid in remedying this situation.  Shaler, a decorated Civil War veteran, had served as the head of the New York City Fire Department from 1867 to 1873, and his visit to Chicago brought about important reforms in the management of the Department as well as restoring public confidence.

NOTE:  Nathan Isaacson, the “Mrs. O’Leary” of the 1874 fire was arrested and charged with arson, but was never found guilty.  The account of his trial would seem to indicate that he was the innocent victim of racial prejudice against the Jewish residents of the neighborhood.

Monday, July 7, 2014

The Chicago Museum, Part II

In our article from June 23, 2014 we examined the history of the first “Chicago Museum” which opened in December 1874.  In this installment, we shall examine the career of its architect, Thomas Tilley, as well as the second Chicago Museum.

Architect Thomas Tilley was born in Cambridgshire, England in 1834 and came to Chicago at the age of three in 1837 with his mother, who had been recently widowed.  She remarried, and Tilley grew to adulthood on a farm at Northfield.  By 1856, he had established himself as a carpenter and builder, headquartered on Fulton Street.  He travelled extensively in the South teaching architectural drawing and stair building until the start of the Civil War when he returned to Chicago.

In 1862 he enlisted in the Third Board of Trade Regiment, and as a result of severe exposure suffered months of illness, which resulted in paralysis and his subsequent discharge and return to Chicago.  After he recovered, he resumed his building business, forming a partnership with J. M. Armstrong known as Tilley and Armstrong.  By 1866, he abandoned building and focused solely on architecture.  He entered several prominent competitions including those for the War Department building in Washington D.C., the State Capitols in Illinois and Iowa, and for the wings of the County Courthouse in Chicago.  Among his early works was the Dearborn Street Theatre, which was lost in the fire of 1871.  Tilley formed a new partnership with William Longhurst in the spring of 1871; they lost everything in the Chicago Fire.  Immediately they moved into the Nixon building, the only building remaining standing in downtown, and they were quickly inundated with business.  They designed many buildings constructed in the burnt district prior to the dissolution of the partnership in 1872.

Late in 1872, Tilley began to work on his design for the new County Courthouse which was submitted in March 1873 as part of a major competition.  Nearly twenty plans were submitted including those by Burling and Adler, William LeBaron Jenney, Henry Lord Gay, Wheelock and Thomas, and Armstrong and Egan.  Tilley’s plan, known as the Eureka plan and illustrated above, won third prize in the competition and Tilley was given the commission over Otto Matz, who had submitted the winning design.  Tilley however was asked to make significant modifications to his design, which he estimated would cost $2.8 million.  He drew up specifications for the excavation and supervised the beginning of construction.

In August 1873, the Chicago City Council adopted Tilley’s plan for their half of the new complex.  In what became a very complicated ordeal, Tilley was ultimately removed as architect for both halves of the building.  James J. Egan, whose design did not win a prize in the County competition, was named architect for the county building, and John Van Osdel was hired as architect of the new City Hall, which was designed to match Egan’s building.  By the time the entire building was complete, the cost surpassed $4 million.  Tilley sued the city in 1880 and was awarded one-third of his total fees, amounting to $13,000.

It was in 1874 that Tilley was given the commission for the first Chicago Museum.  Tilley remained active as an architect for several years following, and in spite of his considerable output, no buildings of his are known to be standing today.  He died in 1908 just before his 74th birthday.

The new Chicago Museum was announced in an article in the Chicago Tribune on November 18, 1883.  No indication was given that it was connected with the first Chicago Museum in any way other than in a common name.  The opening was scheduled for November 26th, with the enterprise located in McCormick Hall.  That building was constructed in 1873 from plans by W. W. Boyington and stood at the northeast corner of Clark Street and Kinzie Street.  The frame structure measured 80 by 120 feet and was four stories in height, with full basement.  (Although it was built after the Fire, it was a frame structure as the new fire regulations forbidding frame construction did not extend north of the river until 1874).

The article announcing the opening provided potential visitors with a view of what they might expect when they visited:

“The new museum which is to open Monday, Nov. 26, at McCormick Hall, will occupy nearly all of the building, with the main entrance on the ground floor.  It seems that it is not be a low-priced institution, but a regular legitimate museum, with its own dramatic company and orchestra, and two regular performances daily.  The auditorium as remodeled is one of the largest and most commodious of any museum in the world, containing about 1,800 folding opera-chairs, elegant stage appointments, etc.  The means of exit in case of fire are excellent.  The company has already been secured, the orchestra engaged, and many of the curiosities are already here, rendering it certain that the opening will positively take place Monday evening, Nov. 26.  The main entrance is being beautifully decorated.  Sixteen electric lights are being placed in position inside and outside the building, and large pictorial signs will nearly cover the whole outside of the building within a day or two.  Mr. W. C. Coup, who built the hippodrome and aquarium in New York, and has an established reputation as a circus-owner and manager, has never been connected with anything but large enterprises, and his name at the head of the venture indicates that Chicago will have in the new museum one of character and magnitude.” 

A second article, which appeared in the Tribune the day before the opening provided further information:

“Those people who have visited old McCormick Hall will be greatly surprised at the change it has undergone if they visit it when it is reopened as the Chicago Museum by Messrs. Coup & Uffner. . . The front of this store has been torn out and the entrance partition set back about twenty feet, while the rotunda thus formed has been tastefully decorated.  In the centre of the entrance partition is the box-office, and on either side are swinging double doors leading into the first exhibition hall, which occupies the entire length of the store and is filled with glass cases of various things belonging to the collection of Prof. Worth. 

“Leading up from this is a wide is a wide stairway into the second exhibition hall, on the second floor, where the human curiosities will be shown and the lectures delivered.  Off from this are two other exhibition halls, a chamber of horrors, and the museum offices.  The museum occupies the entire second floor with the exception of two or three offices on the Clark street side, which will be acquired in time.

“Two wide stairways, one on either side of the building, lead up to the auditorium, and here the changes made are most apparent.  The shallow platform from which local orators have been used to spout politics has been changed into a roomy stage, fitted up with well-painted scenery and accessories.  A neat proscenium area has been erected, and on either side of the stage are five dressing-rooms, fitted up with all conveniences. 

“It is proposed to put upon the Clark-street front of the building a sign, bearing the word ‘Museum,’ which occupies 3,000 square feet of canvas, and to put between the windows all around the building immense pictures of curiosities.”

The museum was well received by the public, and over 10,000 people attended performances there during the first week.  The newspapers were filled with regular advertisements for various performances and “curiosities.”  An example is the illustration above depicting “Sir Alex. Cooper, The Great English Giant” with the challenge “Here I stand, the tallest man on Earth!  The $100 bill is yours if you can reach it.”

In March 1884, one particular curiosity attracted a great deal of attention:

“Barnum’s Old Woolly Horse – Manager W. C. Coup, of the Chicago Museum, has secured what is claimed to be the original woolly horse which did a great deal to build up Barnum’s reputation as a showman.  The animal is said to be 43 years of age, and certainly looks it.  Of a light bay, the horse’s hair all over his body is from three to seven inches in length, and it curls in a manner which gives the brute a very bulky appearance.  His mane and tail will be decked out with colored ribbons, and he will be placed on exhibition at the museum today.  This is the same horse so well advertised and exhibited by Barnum many years ago.”

Other attractions during 1884 included a baby show, where babies were put on display and visitors could vote in many different categories.  A “Bazaar of Nations” featured people from remote corners of the world placed on display in native costume for all to see.  Advertisements for the Museum continued on a regular basis through 1885 but it closed soon after and by mid-1886, the building was occupied by the Casino Theater.  In October 1889, H. R. Jacobs' Clark Street Theater opened in the building.  It was subsequently known as the Kinzie, Star, Victoria, and American Theater, and final Sid Euson's Burlesque House.  Euson closed the theater in 1910 at which time he became a Christian Science practitioner.  The building was subsequently torn down and replaced with a parking lot.

Monday, June 30, 2014

The Glorious Fourth of July

The Fourth of July was celebrated in grand style at the Glessners’ summer estate, The Rocks, in 1911.  The event included a parade in which the Glessners’ seven grandchildren and their friends participated, along with their horses and ponies – a total of 17 children and 13 horses.  A grand stand was erected in front of the farm house, where lemonade was served following the spectacle.  John Glessner served as the master of ceremonies and orator of the day, delivering the following speech to explain the holiday to his grandchildren:

“My dear children – I wonder if you know just what the 4th of July means.  More than 135 years ago this country was a colony of Great Britain and all the laws were made in England, and a large amount of the taxes collected here were spent there.  This was so unjust and burdensome that the people here determined to change it and make a new nation and choose their own rulers to make their laws and collect and spend their taxes here at home.  And they resolved to do this even if it meant a long and bloody war, which it did.  So on July 4, 1776 they made their Declaration of Independence and it is this that we now celebrate every July 4th.  For a great many years the celebration was largely in fireworks and shooting guns and cannon.  I don’t know why this way was chosen unless because people like the blaze of fire, the smell of gunpowder and the noise of explosion, but a great many persons were hurt by it and some were killed every 4th of July and a great deal of property was burned up, until now in many places fireworks etc. are prohibited by law and this is why we have our pleasant little celebration.”

A program was printed giving the details of the parade, with the various grandchildren and their horses assuming the roles of characters from mythology, fairy tales, and literature.  Isaac Scott and Helen Macbeth (Frances Glessner’s sister) made the banner which read, “THE ROCKS, JULY 4th.”  Frances Glessner Lee, in her usual highly efficient manner, served as “stage manager,” coordinating and the details of timing, props, etc.  Following a variety of races and another parade, this time on bicycles, John Glessner awarded prizes to the participants.  Not surprisingly, every child won a prize – a crisp new $1.00 bill.

The printed program, entitled “THE GLORIOUS FOURTH OF JULY, Patriotic Celebration at THE ROCKS 1911,”  announced the following participants and activities:


Grand Marshal on Horseback
Which is Mrs. George Glessner on Dixie Crow

Herald riding Boabdil and carrying Banner
Frances Glessner and Bob

Queen Mab bestriding Pegasus
Emily Glessner on Queen

Cobweb and Mustardseed
Diminutive fairy princesses, drawn by miniature horses in midget jaunting car
Frances and Martha Lee with ponies

Queen Elizabeth in Chariot of State
Drawn by black charger Bucephalus
Elizabeth Glessner in cart with Harry

Titania, Queen of Fairies
Mounted on Firefly
Frances Sullivan on Bessie

Cinderella, escorting Prince Charming in Pumpkin Coach
Drawn by Æsculapius
Barbara Beattie and John Glessner with Doe

Oberon, driving Ginger and Blue Blazes in Carriole
With Hyacinth and Squash Blossom in back seat
John Lee and Florence and Loyal Betts, with Ruby and Belle in pony wagon

Mercury on a Heaven-kissing Hill
Togo in solitary grandeur

Flower and Other Fairies with the horses of Helios
Driven by Phaethon in the Chariot of the Sun
Sam and Topsy in Charibanc, driven by Charlie Green, and containing the three Maxners and three Greens

Exhibition of Lady Equestriennes
(Excuse the Tantalogy)
Barbara Beattie on Doc
Frances Sullivan on Dandy
Frances Lee on Buster
Frances Glessner on Queen

RACES—Open to All
Marathon—Prize for Fastest Runner—No Handicap
Sack Race
Uni-legged Contest
Bi-legged Competition
Tri-legged Struggle
Quadrupedal Effort



It sounds as though it was a glorious Fourth of July indeed!

Next week:  The Chicago Museum, Part II

Monday, June 23, 2014

A Forgotten Chicago Museum, Part I

Chicago is known for its world-class museums.  People travel from across the globe to visit the Field Museum, the Art Institute, the Museum of Science and Industry, and of course, Glessner House Museum.  Very few people, however, are aware of the short-lived “Chicago Museum” that opened here 140 years ago.  In this article, we will explore that museum.  Next week, we will discuss the architect, Thomas Tilley, as well as the second “Chicago Museum.”

The city recovered rapidly from the devastating fire of 1871.  By 1874, the downtown area had been largely rebuilt, and the population of the city was growing.  This provided the perfect opportunity for entrepreneurs to open businesses that would provide recreational activities for residents and visitors alike. 

Work on a new museum building was announced in an article in the Chicago Tribune dated May 5, 1874:

“A new theatre and museum, talked of for some months, is to be commenced immediately.  Mr. Thomas Tilley, author of the now famous ‘Eureka’ plan for the Court-House, has submitted designs for the building, which have been adopted, and the work will proceed without delay.  The theatre is to be a credit to the city, and will cost $250,000 in all.  The projectors of the enterprise are Messrs. E. F. Runyan and R. T. Race, the former of the law-firm of Runyan, Avery & Comstock, the latter of Irving Park.  The lessee of the theatre is W. Van Fleet, formerly manager of the Dearborn Street Theatre.”

The building was situated on the north side of Monroe mid-way between Dearborn and Clark.  Immediately to the east stood Haverly’s Theatre on a site occupied by the U.S. Post Office and Custom House prior to the Fire.  The museum had a frontage of 102 feet on Monroe and extended back 190 feet.  A desirable feature of the site was that a 40 foot wide court known as “Custom House Place” ran along the east side of the building and another 40 foot wide court ran along the backside of the building back toward Dearborn.  In a city where the fire was still very much on peoples’ minds, this had a great advantage:

“The arrangements for emptying the building is unequaled in this city, as it can be cleared in a little more than one minute, all doors opening on open thoroughfares.”

The overall style of the building, as shown in the illustration at the top of the article, taken from the June 1874 issue of The Land Owner, is clearly Second Empire.  The Tribune article gave specifics on its exterior design:

“The elevation of the principal façade on Monroe street shows a high style of French renaissance.  It presents a front divided into four stories above the basement to the main cornice, and a picturesque and artistic Mansard roof surmounting the whole.

“The main and second stories are treated in Doric, the third in Ionic, and the fourth in Corinthian, all enriched with ornamentation.  Each order carries its own entablature on each story, and the main cornice – in Corinthian – is worked up in detail in the most artistic manner.  On the cornice will be lettered ‘Chicago Museum’ – the name of the building.

“The treatment of the Mansard is in full accord and unison with the elevation, and with its corner and central domical towers, will be an elegant crown of the whole front of the structure.  As a whole, the façade is rich, both in design and decoration, and will be, when erected, second to none of its kind in Chicago.  The side, or eastern elevation on Custom-House place, as well as the rear elevation on the court on the north, are treated in a manner becoming the principal front, and are tastefully arranged in brick and stone trimmings.

“The principal entrance is on Monroe street, and is of a design unsurpassed for elegance of style in this city.  Projecting from the main building on each side of the entrance hall, are clusters of columns fluted and enriched in pure Roman-Corinthian style.  The columns carry Persian caryatides which support an ornate entablature on circular pediment.  From the entablature of these columns springs an elliptic arch, beautifully lined and molded.

“Back some few feet from these columns are similar ones, carrying another elliptic arch chastely enriched.  The keystones of these two arches will bear faces in relief representing Tragedy and Comedy.  Twenty feet back from the latter columns are placed their like, and the space between is devoted to a grand vestibule.  Another entrance will be placed on Custom-House place, leading direct from Dearborn street, which will be of an ornate design.”

Due to the depth of the building and the ability to access it from three sides, the arrangement of the interior provided for stores along the Monroe side at ground level and basement with offices above.  The museum and the theatre occupied the back half of the building on all floors, but could be accessed from Monroe as well as Custom House Place.  The Tribune article continued with a description of the ornate interior:

“Entering from Monroe street, and through the magnificent portico and vestibule, a person will find himself in a beautiful decorated hallway, eighteen feet wide and eighteen high, and mounting evenly-dispersed and easily-rising steps, will bring one to the doors of the Floral Hall. 

“This is an entirely new and original conception of Mr. Tilley’s.  It will be eight-six feet long and forty-two feet wide, and will run parallel with the Lecture-Room.  It will occupy the eastern portion of the rear of the lot.  As its name implies, it will be a conservatory.  In the centre will be placed a magnificent fountain, sixteen feet in diameter, and twenty feet high.  It will be of a rich floral design, exposing to the view half-screened naiads, etc.  The basin of the fountain will be circular; but, equi-distant from each other, will be built in it six beautiful urns, placed on tripods and pedestals, bearing fragrant flowers.

“The hall itself will be divided up into promenades, floral grottos, parterres, and pyramidal mounts of sweet-scented flowers, tropical plants, vernal shrubs, dwarf trees, and choice ferns.  This hall will be on a level with the parquet and dress-circle of the Lecture-Room, and two sets of wide double doors will communicate direct therewith.  At each end of this hall will be a grand staircase, wide and easy, the ascent of which will terminate in the Museum proper.

“This will be of the same dimensions as the Floral Hall, but will have an opening in the floor in the centre, looking down on the latter through which the waters of the fountain will play.  This opening will be guarded by an ornamental iron railing.

“From the Floral Hall, half screened by flowers and vines, a stairway will lead below into the labyrinths of an Arcadian Grotto, whose openings, twisting, and turnings will exhibit, through their fissures, distant sea and mountainous views of a novel and unprecedented character.  At the end of the Grotto will be placed an aquarium divided up into reservoirs, in which will be exposed to view members of the finny tribe foreign to the waters of our lake.

“The Lecture-Room will occupy the western portion of the rear of the lot, the stage being at the northern end, and the southern being devoted to the auditorium, which will include parquet, dress-circle, balcony, and family-circle, embraced in three floors.

“Two massive columns will be placed on each side of the stage.  These will be of an order of a new ‘Tilley’ creation, being molded, fluted, and wreathed, ornamented with bas-reliefs and statuettes in full relief, and capped and corniced in a manner hitherto unknown.  There will be two boxes on each side of the stage, one above the other, between these columns, and will be treated in the richness the design affords, and in full accordance with the columns.  Above the boxes will be niches in which statues of Terpsichore and Euterpe will be placed.  Above the entablature, over the outer two of the four columns, will be two large caryatides, representing the muses Melpomene and Thalia, helping to carry an enriched cornice running around the entire girt of the Lecture-Room.  Springing from the entablature of these columns will be the proscenium arch, molded and paneled in an ornate manner.”

The richness of the interior merely served as a backdrop for the collections to be displayed within the Museum portion of the building:

“The contents of the Museum will embrace specimens and curiosities in botany, geology, mineralogy, zoology, etc.  These will be collected from all parts of the world, and Mr. Van Fleet will start at once for Europe to obtain specimens for the Museum, while others will search the Southern Continent of America and other climes to bring back objects for this institution.

“By like stairways as from the Floral Hall an ascent will be gained to the Art-Gallery above the Museum. This gallery will have a similar opening in the floor, and will be filled with the choicest works of art in painting and sculpture.  At one end of this gallery will be erected an elegant stage of moderate proportions, which will be devoted to the use of lectures and other scientific entertainments that are intended to be given.

“Among the many things to be contained in the Museum, will be a ‘Chamber of Horrors,’ in which will be collected such instruments of torture and death in different countries of the present and bygone ages.  As a complement to this will be added life-size casts of the heads of different noted criminals.”

Considering the size and ornateness of the building, it was constructed extremely fast.   Newspapers announced the grand opening of the Museum during the week of December 17, 1874, just a little over seven months after it was announced construction would commence.  Attractions during the opening week included not only the curiosities, but Blaisdell’s Museum Company with John Dillon, Mrs. Mary Myers, and a host of “old favorites” in John Brougham’s comedy of “Romance and Reality.”  Matinees were offered Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, and promenade concerts were held in the large halls on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.  The cost of admission was 30 cents.

Advertisement for December 25, 1874

The offerings of the museum and a display depicting the devil were the subject of an editorial in the Chicago Tribune, published on January 3, 1875.  Entitled “A Pleasant Pandemonium – The Curiosities at the Museum,” the writer stated in part:

“The Chicago Museum, like all other such institutions, possesses some features of a highly ludicrous description.  It is richer in curiosities than most museums in the country, having a better collection of living and stuffed animals than can be often found. 

“The modern Museum contains something choice in the way of a glimpse into Tophet.  And it is not in a spirit of irreverence or levity that we remark that hell as there represented is a delightfully absurd institution.  It is hardly possible that the brain which emanated this sublime idea of eternal fire intended to show us the whole of that bad place at one glimpse.  The designer evidently meant to give us a peep, thinking that hell, like Cayenne pepper, must be partaken of but sparingly.  Limited as this lurid corner of the Inferno is, it contains the most interested and interesting person connected with the institution, to wit:  the proprietor, who is a bow-legged and sawdusty individual clothed in red tights.  Evidently he has been long troubled with rheumatism.  His joints bulge out with abnormal angularity, and his trident looks like a worn-out walking-cane, repaired with a toasting fork.  He is thin, - lamentably lean, in fact, - and if, as is supposed, he fees upon the souls of departed Aldermen, his supply of provender must have been short indeed. . . Before this macerated monarch of darkness, whose countenance, claws, and cow-heels express the most determined ferocity, bend in supplication the whitened wax-work spirits of two bad human beings.  One is a man, the other a woman.  Kneeling, they stretch themselves out toward the bandy-legged Beelzebub, and, doubtless, appeal for mercy. . . The wall of this compartment is skirted with little devils of grotesque shape and mischievous tendency.”

It is not clear exactly how long the Museum operated.  In June, 1876, the Tribune announced that a Col. Wood, who by this time owned a half-interest in the Museum, was bankrupt and had lost $40,000 in another museum in Philadelphia.  However, the owners of the Chicago Museum wished to make clear that business would not be interrupted by this “unforeseen event” and that in fact the Chicago Museum had been making money since it had opened.  The other two partners, Messrs. Van Vleet and Marsh were expected to buy Col. Wood’s shares in the operation.

Montauk Block

What is known is that the building housing the Chicago Museum was demolished in 1881, having stood for just seven years.  In its place the next year rose the Montauk Block, designed by Burnham and Root, and, at ten stories in height, generally regarded as the first tall building or “skyscraper” in Chicago and possibly the United States.  That building lasted only twenty years, and was razed in 1902 to make way for a larger building for First National Bank.  Today the site forms part of the large plaza in front of the present First National Bank building. 

Next week:  Architect Thomas Tulley, and the second “Chicago Museum”
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