Sunday, November 11, 2018

A Tale of Thirty-Five Tiles

On November 7, 2018, the master bedroom reopened to the public upon completion of an exciting restoration project.  For the first time in 80 years, the fireplace surround once again features the 35 tiles designed by William De Morgan that the Glessners had installed when the house was completed in 1887.   The project had been on the Glessner House wish list for more than twenty years and came to fruition through the generosity of long-time museum supporters and volunteers Steve and Marilyn Scott, and The Society for the Preservation of New Hampshire Forests, which returned the tiles to the House in 2017. 

As work was underway on the Glessners’ new house at 1800 Prairie Avenue in 1886 and 1887, they actively shopped for items to furnish and decorate their home.  Among the items selected were several sets of tiles for some of the eleven fireplaces in the house.  Two fireplaces – those in the master bedroom and the courtyard bedroom – received tiles designed by the well-known English designer and ceramicist William De Morgan.  De Morgan worked closely with William Morris, so the selection of his tiles fit nicely with the other Morris & Co. products the Glessners acquired, including wallpapers, textiles, rugs, and upholstery fabrics.

The tiles selected for the master bedroom were of two different designs which were installed in an alternate pattern across the face of the fireplace.  A total of thirty-five tiles, in vivid shades of blue and green resulted in the most vibrant of all the fireplaces in the house.  It appears from other decorating choices throughout the house that blue was clearly a favorite color of Frances Glessner, so it is no surprise that she would have selected the tiles for her most private space in the house. 

To finish off the fireplace, the Glessners selected an antique brass surround that probably dates to the mid- to late-18th century.  Frances Glessner noted in her journal that they visited numerous antique shops in Boston purchasing fireplace fittings for their new home, so that is most likely the origin of the surround they selected for this room.

After the death of Frances Glessner in 1932 and John Glessner in 1936, their daughter Frances Glessner Lee spent a year seeking out an organization or institution to which she could donate her parents’ home.  After reaching an agreement with the Armour Institute (now the Illinois Institute of Technology) to accept the building, she arranged for the removal of three sets of fireplace tiles, including those in the master bedroom.  She was in the process of building an addition to her cottage at The Rocks in New Hampshire and had three fireplaces designed specifically to accept these tiles.  Those from the master bedroom were placed in her library/office where she could enjoy them while sitting at her desk.

The master bedroom at Glessner House received new tiles made by the American Encaustic Tiling Company.  Featuring a very dark green matte glaze, they did nothing to indicate the vibrancy of the original tiles.  The firebox was also rebuilt to a different size at this time, and the brass surround was removed and shipped to The Rocks, although not used in Lee’s library/office with the De Morgan tiles.

Frances Glessner Lee died in 1962 and her family continued to occupy the cottage until the death of her daughter, Martha Lee Batchelder, in March 1994.  Batchelder had been instrumental in returning many of the original furnishings to Glessner House, and it was her desire that the fireplace tiles would eventually return to the House as well.  However, she died unexpectedly while vacationing in Bermuda, and that wish was never put down in writing.  The cottage was sold soon after, and through the years, attempts wee made to retrieve the tiles from the new owner, but all efforts were unsuccessful. 

In 2015, the cottage was purchased by the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forest, which had been gifted the adjoining property constituting the majority of the original The Rocks estate in the 1970s by Frances Glessner Lee’s children.  Knowing of the long interest we had in obtaining the tiles, the Society contacted us and offered the three sets of tiles as soon as they could be safely removed and transported back to Chicago.  The tiles were removed in late 2016 and were then driven back to Chicago in the spring of 2017. 

With the tiles safely back at Glessner House, work began in earnest on planning for their reinstallation.  Long time docent Marilyn Scott, and her husband Steve, an active volunteer at the house, provided funding for the project in recognition of their 50th wedding anniversary.  The Chicago Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution gave the house a grant to restore the 18th century brass fireplace surround. 

Amazingly, although the tiles had been installed and removed twice, only one had been lost.  Victorian Ceramics, a British company specializing in replicating De Morgan tiles, created the missing tile.  Berglund Construction was engaged to undertake the project which involved removing the tile installed in the late 1930s, rebuilding the firebox to the original size and reinstall the tiles.  The project was complex in that metal straps and flanges on the brass surround were meant to fit into the brickwork to secure it in place, so precise measurements were taken to ensure the rebuilt firebox would accommodate the surround.

An interesting bit of information was uncovered during the project.  Many of the tiles had a notation on the reverse painted in black noting “TOP” followed by a number.  It was quickly determined that the notations were painted onto the tiles in 1887 to indicate their exact placement on the fireplace.  The notation was still visible on 25 of the tiles, resulting in those tiles going back in exactly the position where they had been installed 131 years earlier.

As work was underway on the fireplace itself, accessory items were acquired to replicate the appearance of the fireplace in historic photographs.  This included identifying the original brass jamb hook for holding the fireplace implements as well as the original brass coal tongs.  Modern brass tools including a broom, shovel, and poker, were acquired to match the originals.  Photos also revealed that the Glessners lined the coal basket with newspaper before filling it with cannel coal – a premium grade of coal that burned longer and brighter than regular coal.  A basket which sat on the hearth would have held newspapers waiting for use in the fireplace.  A splint wood basket of similar proportions was acquired, as was an 1889 Chicago Tribune, part of which was placed in the basket, and part of which was used to line the coal basket.

The results are absolutely stunning.  The tiles are as vibrant as they were the day they were installed in 1887.  Visitors to the House today would never know the long journey the tiles have experienced, were it not for the enthusiastic docents who greatly enjoy sharing the story!

The following article on the life of William De Morgan was written by Loyola University student Andrew Haberman, who worked as an intern at Glessner House in the fall of 2017. 

Early Life
William De Morgan was born in London in 1839, the second of seven children.  He came from an intellectual family, with both of his parents engaged in the social and academic atmosphere of the period.  At age 10, De Morgan attended University School, and he proceeded to University College at age 16.  Following this education, he enrolled at the Royal Academy as an art student in 1859, and by 1862 had his own studio. 

In 1863, De Morgan met the man who would become extremely important in his career as an artist: William Morris.  Morris was one of the leading minds of the Arts and Crafts movement.  This goal of this movement was to provide an alternative to industrialization and promote the value of work completed by the hand of an artist instead of an industrial machine.  Morris was a talented man, but his strength was not in ceramics, so he and De Morgan decided to collaborate.  De Morgan went to work for Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co., specializing in the ceramic production business, but also making designs for various works such as stained-glass windows.  By the late 1860s, De Morgan became interested specifically in tile making, and made enough tiles in his free time to show to his friends.  He would later claim that he only made three tiles for Morris’s company, but the beginning of his interest in tiles came during his time with the firm. 

Chelsea (1872-1881)
After the fire to his previous place of residence, William De Morgan moved into his new home in Chelsea, where he began to work under his own firm.  The firm specialized in decorated tiles and pots.  During this period De Morgan showed interest in sixteenth century pottery, especially coming out of Iznik, Turkey (the fireplace tiles in the dining room at the Glessner House are examples of this style).  He also gained wider recognition for his exact copies of sixteenth century tiles made to complete a set of originals for the influential Lord Leighton (pictured below).  After this commission earned him more recognition, De Morgan continued working in the “red luster” style, and gained several other influential clients, including Tsar Alexander II of Russia.

Merton Abbey (1882-1888)
De Morgan’s next home was in Merton Abbey, and he created many of his best-known works during this period.  In order to fund his growing business, De Morgan secured what would become a ten-year partnership with businessman Halsey Ricardo.  The tile designs produced during this period are notable for their increase in size (up to 8” per tile, the size of the master bedroom tiles at Glessner House), and more complex imagery.  De Morgan also began working on ship tiling, again completing commissions for Tsar Alexander II.  On a personal note, De Morgan married fellow artist Evelyn Pickering in 1887 (whose painting “Flora” is pictured below), and they remained together until his death.

Fulham and Florence (1888-1907)
In 1888, De Morgan moved to Fulham, where he was able to build his own factory for tile and ceramic production.  Unfortunately, the physical health of De Morgan deteriorated.  He was diagnosed with what was likely spinal tuberculosis, which made London winters especially difficult to bear.  For this reason, De Morgan and his wife spent their winters in Florence.  This made business difficult, but De Morgan used an inventive technique of transferring drawings onto tiles to continue business in the winter months.  Understandably, during this period De Morgan’s work shows a strong Renaissance influence, likely due to his winters being spent in the hub of Renaissance thought.  His panels kept growing larger, and he tended to create ships and animals for his tile designs.  However, the business struggled with the added strain of De Morgan’s frequent absence, and the company was liquidated in 1907.

Later Life and Accomplishments
After the closing of De Morgan’s business, he was able to continue his artistic pursuits through another medium.  By 1910 the illness had worn off, and De Morgan and his wife were able to move back to London.  There, De Morgan reinvented himself as a fiction author.  While historically he is known for his incredible work in ceramics and tiles, the business was never extremely successful financially.  De Morgan’s later literary career brought him the financial stability that he had not experienced in his previous career.  De Morgan’s books were known for their accurate depiction of what life was like in Victorian London, exemplified by his novel Joseph Vance.  William De Morgan died in 1917 of an infection, leaving behind an astounding legacy.

The accomplishments of William De Morgan are numerous and extend beyond the reach of his most known artistic outputs.  He was arguably the most important ceramics designer of his era, and his works contributed significantly to the popularity of the Arts and Crafts movement.  His work on tiles was innovative in style and content.  He was known for creating animals that had an appealing quality while refraining from looking like human features.  The ways in which he produced tiles, specifically the drawing transfer technique that he used during his stay in Florence, also changed how tiles were produced.  The use of the lusterware style also became revived due to De Morgan’s work, as it had most recently been popularized in the sixteenth century. This technique can be seen in most of De Morgan’s works, with a thin metal film covering the surface and creating a shimmering look that is unmistakable.  Outside of ceramics and literature, De Morgan was also a casual chemist, bicycle designer, telegraph code writer, and World War I defense strategist.

Glessner House is privileged to house multiple objects made by William De Morgan.  The most prominent objects are the tiles in the master bedroom and courtyard bedrooms.  The House also contains a colorful loop-handled vase (shown above) in the parlor depicting birds and ships on the ocean, and two large chargers in the main hall, one depicting a dragon, the other two Pan figures surrounded by various animals. 

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

75 Years Ago, Frances Glessner Lee Appointed State Police Captain

October 27, 2018 will mark the 75th anniversary of Frances Glessner Lee’s appointment as a captain with the New Hampshire State Police, the first female in the country to achieve the rank.  She is best remembered today for the creation of her Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death, a series of miniature dioramas depicting death scenes that were used by state police to hone their skills at observing, interpreting, evaluating, and reporting.  Often overlooked, however, are the incredible contributions she made to professionalizing the fields of forensics and police science.  As Perry Mason author Erle Stanley Gardner wrote in the foreword to his novel, The Case of the Dubious Bridegroom (dedicated to Lee): “She has brought into existence the over-all plan of a course in training that is helping to make the competent state police official as much a professional man as the doctor or lawyer.” 

Following, we reprint the article that appeared in The Manchester Union on November 20, 1943 regarding her appointment.

“Mrs. Frances Glessner Lee of Littleton has been appointed a captain of State Police by Col. Ralph W. Caswell, superintendent of the department, in recognition of her work in promotion of scientific crime investigation, it was disclosed today as nearly 150 county solicitors, medical referees, sheriffs and local police chiefs gathered here for the second seminar on collection and preservation of scientific evidence in cases of violent death.

“Mrs. Lee, who sponsored the founding of the department of legal medicine at Harvard Medical school, and whose work has been recognized by many states and several foreign countries, has been collaborating with the New Hampshire State Police for about two years and is one of the sponsors of the annual seminars, the first of which was held in December 1942.

“A native of Chicago, she is the daughter of the late John J. Glessner, long time Littleton resident, and a sister of John G. M. Glessner, who was representative from that town.  She has been a legal resident of Littleton for over 15 years.

“Besides the founding of the department of legal medicine at Harvard, Mrs. Lee established the George Burgess Magrath library of legal medicine there in honor of a college classmate of her brother and long prominent medical examiner.

“From the study and advancement of legal medicine, Mrs. Lee became interested in and made exhaustive studies of police work generally, both in the United States and abroad, and for the past two years has been actively interested in and has cooperated with the New Hampshire State Police, which, she declared today, she considered to be unexcelled in the country.

“Colonel Caswell, in disclosing the appointment of Mrs. Lee to a captaincy, announced that she will serve as a volunteer consultant.  He paid his tribute to the new officer for her work in the advancement of scientific investigation and asserted that the department is extremely fortunate to have her help.

“Speakers at the seminar today, which was preceded Thursday evening by classes held for members of the state police, were Dr. Alan R. Moritz and Dr. Joseph T. Walker of the department of legal medicine of Harvard Medical school, who also are attached to the Massachusetts Department of Public Safety.

“Lectures and discussions of various phases of scientific investigation were capped by a demonstration of typical evidence to be found at the scene of a death, from the reconstruction of past cases on miniature stage settings arranged by Colonel Caswell and Captain Lee.”

NOTE:  From March 23 to 30, 2019, Glessner House will host a series of special events honoring Frances Glessner Lee in conjunction with the official opening of her restored bedroom.  Events include a black-tie gala, a birthday party (Lee was born March 25, 1878), a screening of the 1950 MGM film Mystery Street (featuring the Department of Legal Medicine at Harvard), a lecture “Anatomy of a Restoration” focusing on the process of restoring her bedroom, and a presentation “Murder in a Nutshell” where audience members delve inside for of her Nutshell Studies to try and determine – was it suicide, accidental death, or murder?  Look for more information on these events in early 2019 at 

Thursday, April 5, 2018

RMS Titanic - Chicago Connections

At 3:00pm on Sunday April 15, 2018, Glessner House will host a special program commemorating the 106th anniversary of the sinking of RMS Titanic.  Being held in partnership with Friends of Historic Second Church and the Greater Chicago Chapter of the Victorian Society in America, the program will take place at Second Presbyterian Church, where organist John Sherer will perform music from 1912, music performed aboard the Titanic, and music written to honor those who perished in the disaster.  Stories of some of the more than 1,500 victims will be shared, including those with a connection to Chicago.  Tours of the National Historic Landmark sanctuary and a reception featuring dessert items from the last dinner menu served to first-class passengers will begin at 2:00pm.  Tickets are $25.00 and can be purchased by clicking here. 

In the early hours of April 15, 1912, the RMS Titanic, the pride of the White Star Line and the largest ship afloat at the time, sank in the North Atlantic Ocean after hitting an iceberg 2-1/2 hours earlier.  Of the 2,224 passengers and crew on board, more than 1,500 perished, making it one of the deadliest peacetime maritime disasters in history.  The RMS Carpathia arrived about two hours after the ship went down, rescuing the survivors.  The Titanic was hailed as one of the safest ships ever built, but the severe shortage of lifeboats was the major factor in the enormous loss of life.  Significant improvements in maritime safety resulted from the investigation which followed.

The disaster was featured in headlines around the world.  Early reports had incomplete information on survivors, so many family members and friends had to wait days to learn the fate of their loved ones.  The death toll increased as more information became available.  The first headline in the Chicago Tribune from April 16 (shown above) showed 866 survivors; the final count was just over 700.

In the weekly society column in the Chicago Tribune dated April 18, written by “Madame X” (in reality Caroline Kirkland, a friend of Frances Glessner), she began by noting why the disaster had had such an impact on the residents of the city:

“In what smug, complacent security we face each day – those of us who are wrapped and cradled in all the comforts and safeguards of our twentieth century civilization!  The Chinese may perish by the thousands of starvation; we have plenty to eat.  The Italians and Turks may lose lives and property in their Tripolitan battles; we are at peace.  Aviators may dash headlong from the skies to death and destruction; they do not fall on us.  And nowhere do we feel more protected, more secure, more capably cared for than at sea on board one of those monster steamships which modern navigators, with insolent arrogance, pronounced superior to any possible destructive force of nature.  Then comes such a disaster as that of the Titanic and the foundations of our faith in our imperturbable security totter.” 

In the Glessner journal, by this time being written by John Glessner, the following notation was made on April 23, “In the terrible disaster a week ago Sunday to White Star steam Titanic, Lizzie Isham was lost and Arthur Ryerson of our friends.”

Ann Isham was born in January 1862.  Her father, Edward Swift Isham, was a prominent Chicago attorney and was a partner with Robert Todd Lincoln in the firm of Lincoln, Isham, and Beale.  She joined Second Presbyterian Church in 1883 and was an active member of Chicago society for twenty years, being a member of both the Friday and Scribblers’ clubs.  In 1903, she moved to Europe where she spent most of her time living with her sister Frances (Mrs. Harry Shelton) in Paris.  On April 10, 1912, she boarded the Titanic at Cherbourg, France, traveling to the United States to spend the summer with her brother Edward “Ned” Isham in New York City. 

Isham was one of 144 first-class women aboard the Titanic and one of only four to perish.  The fact that space on the lifeboats was given first to women and children has led to speculation as to why Isham did not survive.  Although it has not been proven, it is believed that she refused to leave her beloved Great Dane behind.  One account stated that she had already boarded a lifeboat and when she was told she would have to leave her pet behind, she jumped back on to the Titanic.  A female victim was observed to have her arms frozen around her dog in the water following the sinking, but it is not known if the woman was Ann Isham.  Her body, if recovered, was never identified.  The family erected a memorial to her in Manchester, Vermont, where they maintained their summer estate, Ormsby Hill.

The story of Arthur Ryerson was a double tragedy.  Ryerson, who was 61 at the time he went down with the Titanic, was born and raised in Chicago, the son of Joseph T. Ryerson, founder of the iron and steel company of J. T. Ryerson & Co.  Arthur Ryerson had served for many years as the president of St. Luke’s Hospital.  The Ryersons left Chicago about 1905 on account of Arthur’s health, residing in a country home at Otsego Lake in New York.  They maintained close ties to Chicago, visiting frequently. 

In the spring of 1912, Arthur Ryerson, his wife Emily, and three of their children traveled to Europe and by early April had taken a house at Versailles for two months.  No sooner had the family settled in then they received word that Arthur Ryerson, Jr. had been killed in an auto accident in Philadelphia.  The Ryerson’s son was just 20 years old and a student at Yale.  Anxious to return to the United States as soon as possible, they made arrangements for passage on the first American bound liner leaving France – the Titanic – which was set to sail from Cherbourg on April 10. 

As Madame X noted in her column:

“Now we have learned that Mr. Arthur Ryerson was one of that never to be forgotten band of brave men whose lives were sacrificed to secure those of the women and children.  The position of those among the small group of men who were saved is not an enviable one . . .”

NOTE:  Ryerson’s wife and children survived and soon moved back to Chicago.  Emily Ryerson, who was described as having a “resilient character,” purchased property on North Lakeview Avenue and constructed one of a series of four elegant Georgian townhouses designed by David Adler and Henry Dangler.  She moved into her home at 2700 N. Lakeview Avenue in early 1917, soon after converting the large elegant rooms to a convalescent home for Children’s Memorial Hospital during World War I.  In 1927 she married Forsythe Sherfesse; she died in 1939.  The grouping of row houses, of which hers served as the southern anchor, was designated a Chicago landmark - the Lakeview Avenue Row House District – in 2016. 

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Wilbert R. Hasbrouck - A Tribute

Wilbert Hasbrouck at Glessner House, 1970s

On February 10, 2018, Chicago preservation architect Wilbert R. Hasbrouck passed away at the age of 86.  Considered one of the “founding fathers” of the preservation movement in Chicago, his projects included some of the most recognizable buildings in Chicago and the Midwest including Frank Lloyd Wright’s Dana-Thomas House in Springfield, Louis Sullivan’s Peoples Savings Bank in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and William Le Baron Jenney’s Manhattan Building.  As co-editor and co-publisher of the Prairie School Review with his wife Marilyn, and as author of the monumental volume The Chicago Architectural Club: Prelude to the Modern, his scholarship helped generations of architects and preservationists to understand and interpret the buildings he fought so hard to save.  In this article, we will look at his significant work in preserving Glessner House and the surrounding Prairie Avenue neighborhood.

Hasbrouck’s involvement with Glessner House began in November 1963, at a time when he was serving as chairman of the preservation committee of the Chicago Chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA).  He learned that the current owner of the house, the Lithographic Technical Foundation, planned to move to Pittsburgh and put the house up for sale.  A meeting was arranged between Foundation executives and Hasbrouck, along with Joseph Benson (secretary of the Commission on Chicago Landmarks), and Marian Despres, wife of Alderman Leon Despres. 

Soon after the meeting, Hasbrouck prepared a report which he submitted to the AIA, stating in part, “Regardless of what final use is made of this building, I feel the AIA must take a major advisory role in its disposition.  The Glessner House is too important a structure to go the way of the Garrick.”  The reference was to Adler & Sullivan’s Garrick Theater, which had been razed in early 1961.  Hasbrouck was among a small group of preservationists, including Richard Nickel, John Vinci, Ben Weese, Tom Stauffer and Alderman Leon Despres, who had fought unsuccessfully to save what was considered one of Sullivan’s masterpieces. 

Hasbrouck and others continued to monitor the Glessner House, and when it was put up for sale in early 1965, he was quick to voice his concern over its future.  The first article about the fate of the house appeared in the Chicago Tribune on January 31, 1965.  In the article, ominously titled “Old Show Place on Prairie Avenue Haunted By Shaky Future; Now For Sale,” Hasbrouck was quoted as saying the house was “a choice piece of property” and must be adaptively reused and preserved. 

Over the next several months, Hasbrouck, and several others, worked hard to find a way to save the house and build a financially sustainable plan for its preservation.  On April 16, 1966, Hasbrouck was among 20 individuals who organized the Chicago School of Architecture Foundation with the specific goal of purchasing and maintaining Glessner House.  In December 1966, the Foundation purchased the house for $35,000 and its future was secured.  That same month, Hasbrouck was appointed president of the board, serving for four years.

In those first few years, he helped to bring additional support to the house through his connections in the architectural community, participated in planning and executing exhibitions, and overall raising the profile of the house.  In 1971, he was one of several architects selected to provide training to the first class of docents, and he continued to do so for several years.

With Glessner House secure, the Foundation turned its attention to the surrounding community and the small number of historic houses still standing on Prairie Avenue.  Concern for the neighboring houses was heightened when the company that owned three of the structures (the Kimball, Colman, and Keith houses) put them up for sale.  Although there had been some discussion with the City of Chicago regarding the creation of an historic district, nothing had been formalized, so the buildings were still vulnerable.  

Marilyn Hasbrouck in front of the Prairie Avenue Bookshop

Hasbrouck and his wife went so far as to purchase the Keith house at 1900 S. Prairie Ave. to ensure its protection until the district could be officially designated.  Having started their publication, Prairie School Review, a decade earlier, they moved its operation into the house, and Marilyn opened her Prairie Avenue Bookshop, which went on to become a leading architectural bookstore in the United States.  The Hasbroucks sold the building in 1978, once its landmark designation was assured, and the Bookshop relocated downtown.


Two views of the kitchen prior to restoration 

As a preservation architect, Hasbrouck was also involved in the first major interior restoration project at Glessner House.  In 1974, he received the contract to undertake the restoration of the kitchen wing, including the main kitchen, butler’s pantry, dry pantry, cold closet, and servants’ dining hall.  Extensive research was undertaken to determine the features that had been lost, and a detailed plan was drafted for its full restoration.  

Restored kitchen

The restored spaces gave visitors an accurate glimpse into the servants’ portion of the house during the Glessner occupancy.  Shortly after, additional documentation, including original building specifications, were obtained, verifying that the project was accurate down to the smallest detail.


 Removal of cupola, November 1977

In 1975, Hasbrouck received another commission that would have a profound effect on the surrounding historic district.  His firm was hired to move the Clarke House, Chicago’s oldest surviving structure, from its location at 4526 S. Wabash Avenue, back into the neighborhood in which it had been constructed in 1836.  The project was complex – moving a 120-ton structure nearly 3-1/2 miles, and most significantly, over the Green Line elevated tracks at 44th Street.  

Clarke House in transit at Michigan Avenue and 25th Street,
December 18, 1977

The house was successfully moved in December 1977 and following extensive restoration, opened as a house museum in 1982.

On April 16, 2016, Glessner House celebrated its 50th anniversary with a 1960s-themed celebration entitled Peace, Love, and Presentation.  The highlight of the evening was to honor five of the surviving individuals who had labored long and hard to save the house – Wilbert Hasbrouck, Ben Weese, Dirk Lohan, Wayne Benjamin, and Paul Lurie.  Each was presented with a framed certificate that included a picture of the house as it appeared in 1966, and a modern photo, showing the dramatic change from a soot-covered threatened building to a Chicago treasure, beautifully restored and accessible to visitors from around the world.  

Wilbert and Marilyn Hasbrouck with their sons John and Charlie,
at Peace, Love and Preservation, April 16, 2016

It was a fitting way to thank Wilbert Hasbrouck and the others for the profound impact they had on Glessner House and the preservation movement in Chicago.

Glessner House is very pleased to announce the creation of the Wilbert R. Hasbrouck Historic Preservation Lecture Series to both honor his years of dedicated service to the organization, and to continue to educate future audiences about the importance and impact of historic preservation on our communities.  The series will consist of an annual lecture presented by an expert in the field who will speak on some aspect of preservation – past, present, or future.  

John Vinci: Life and Landmarks
Text by Robert Sharoff, photography by William Zbaren
Northwestern University Press

The first lecture, to take place on Wednesday May 16, 2018, will focus on the career of John Vinci, who worked beside Hasbrouck in saving Glessner House.  Vinci is the subject of an impressive and beautifully illustrated new book released in 2017, and he and the authors will be present for this inaugural lecture in the series.  We are deeply grateful to Paul and Margaret Lurie, long-time friends of the Hasbroucks, for providing initial funding for the first several years of the series.  Additional gifts are being sought to continue the series so that it can become a permanent fixture in our offerings to the preservation community.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Time Travelers Program Resumes for Second Year

On Tuesday March 6, 2018, Glessner House Museum launched the second year of its popular Time Travelers program.  Funded by a generous grant from the Society of Architectural Historians American Architecture and Landscape Field Trip Program, Time Travelers provides an opportunity for third grade student “detectives” from underserved neighborhoods on Chicago’s South Side to explore how architecture and design impact their everyday lives.  Students were divided into three groups appropriately named Sherlock Holmes, Encyclopedia Brown, and Scooby-Doo.

The program also encourages observation and analysis of buildings and furnishings; compares late 19th- and early 20th-century life with today; and demonstrates what the students have learned through a variety of hands-on activities.  A PowerPoint presentation sent to the teacher ahead of time prepares students with background on the house and the various people connected with it, including Glessner family members, the architect Henry Hobson Richardson, and members of the live-in staff.

Students walked around the exterior of the building noting such details as building materials (granite, limestone, brick, clay tile roof tiles, etc.), placement and number of windows and doors, and thinking about why the house looked so different from others on Prairie Avenue at the time.  They looked for details including the pair of carved granite ouroboros on the fa├žade and where the architect’s monogram can be found.  The carriage drive introduced the eight servants who lived in the house, and how their living and working spaces were separated from those of the family.

A favorite room in the house was the schoolroom designed for the Glessners’ two children, George and Fanny.  Students indicated whether or not they would like to be homeschooled.  They had the opportunity here for a few hands-on activities including tapping a telegraph (just like one George kept in the room), hearing it buzz and learning how Morse code allowed George to send messages to his friends – an early form of texting as they said!  Students were also able to use stereoscopes to see 3-D images on antique stereoview cards.

Coming into the main hall, students had the opportunity to explore the many types of objects the family collected including ceramics and glass, as well as carved furniture, and textiles with a variety of patterns including dragons.  They enjoyed hearing how the Glessner grandchildren would slide down the bannister of the main staircase and try to land on the main hall carpet in the center medallion, which they referred to as the “blueberry pie.”  Many of the students quickly recognized the portrait of the “big” architect – H. H. Richardson – that the Glessners always displayed in the main hall.

In the master bedroom they saw several pieces of hand-carved furniture made the Glessners’ good friend Isaac Scott.  They asked about the fireplace and why there was coal in this fireplace, as opposed to wood in the main hall fireplace. 

The library introduced students to the Glessners’ large collection of books of which nearly 3,000 are still on the shelves today.  They learned how important learning was to the family, and how Frances Glessner held a weekly Monday Morning Reading Class for her friends in the room for over 35 years.  All agreed that the enormous partner’s desk in the middle of the room was the biggest desk they had ever seen, and there were mixed reactions to the bronze life mask and hands of Abraham Lincoln.

Upon reaching the parlor, students “found” the large Steinway piano they had seen in the PowerPoint presentation in class and marveled at the intricately detailed birds on the hand-painted canvas wallcovering.  The dining room introduced the idea of the extension table and how the room was shaped to accommodate it when fully opened.  They were able to peak inside the silver closet to see pieces that Frances Glessner made by hand, and they learned about the dinner parties where it took nearly three hours to serve and consume the eight-course meal.

The kitchen proved to be one of the most popular spaces in the house (and not just because of all the fake food).  Students were asked why the specific materials on the floor and walls were used, and what items were absent that they have in their kitchen at home.  They also enjoyed seeing the annunciator and learned how family and guests could call for a servant from anywhere in the house.  In returning to the coach house, they had the opportunity to walk through the large cold closet or icebox and see how the Glessners had a window put in there to help keep food cold in the winter.

Returning to the coach house, where the tour began, students were directed to several options for hands-on activities.  At the journaling table, they were given a series of questions, and they could record their favorite memories of the tours in writing or by drawing pictures.  A second table showed floorplans and using graph paper, the students were able to sketch out the configuration and types of rooms they would like to have in their own dream house.  

The most popular activity involved brightly-colored straws and connectors to create inventive structures. 

Before departing for the day, the students gathered on and around the curved porch in the courtyard, recreating the famous 1902 picture of Frances Glessner’s Monday Morning Reading Class.  A folder of materials provided further activities once back in the classroom including a word search and crossword puzzle containing terms learned during the tour, a floor plan of the house, and a Morse code message to decipher. 

An enjoyable time was had by all – students, teacher, chaperones, docents, and staff!

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

The Glessners Venture Across the Atlantic - 1890

Photo by G. Sommer of Naples, Italy

In February of 1890, the Glessner family embarked on their first overseas journey. For the next three months the Chicago aristocrats travelled to Paris and around Italy, Frances Glessner (and occasionally her husband John) recording the details of each day’s outing in her meticulous journal. Somewhere along the way several photograph panels were purchased and made into four rather large albums depicting various European scenes. It is impossible to determine if these photographs of scenery and artwork were taken while the Glessners themselves were present, or whether the family purchased memorabilia of the sites they had seen after their excursions. It is evident however, that a large number of the photos in the albums correlate with the places and artwork the Glessners recorded seeing in the journal, specifically within the cities of Paris, Rome, Naples, and Florence.

Their trip began and ended with time spent in Paris, allowing for thorough exploration of the city and its treasures. John Glessner was immensely fond of the Louvre Museum, visiting several times during his Parisian experience. On the family’s first visit on February 24, Frances Glessner remarked “the Venus [of Milo] is larger than we had expected, & most beautiful from every view.”

Photo of the Venus de Milo at the Louvre, Paris, France

The Glessners, having always had a great appreciation for the arts, were especially impressed by the famous works of the great masters they were able to view in person. The search for artistic masterpieces continued in Rome at the Vatican Museum and Chapel and in Florence. John Glessner was particularly captivated by the Apollo Belvidere, calling it a “gem” in comparison to other great artistic feats. The works of Michelangelo, Raphael, and Titian (among others) dominate portions of the photo albums and the Glessners’ fine art itinerary.

A sizable number of the photographs were captured by none other than Giorgio Sommer (1834-1914). Sommer was one of the most famous and popular European photographers in the nineteenth century, along with his partner Edmund Behles. Born in modern-day Germany, he began his photographic career in Switzerland but eventually moved to Naples in 1856 where he produced his most famous images.

Photo by G. Sommer – self-portrait with son Edmondo, 1864, Public Domain,

He became known for recording important ruins and artifacts, such as those at Pompeii and within the Vatican and National Archeological Museum at Naples. He even managed to capture the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in April 1872 but this image is not part of the Glessners’ collection.  Unfortunately, there is no record of whether or not the Glessners visited Sommer’s Naples studio, however his fame and popularity would have certainly made him recognizable among the well-to-do American travelers in Europe. 

Photo by G. Sommer of the ruins of Pompeii

About 25 of the photos (of which there are over 200 spanning the four total albums) are of the magnificent glaciers and quaint villages found along the Swiss Alps. These were likely taken by Sommer in the early years of his career, before establishing himself in Naples. While the Glessners did not travel to the Alpine region, one of their traveling companions, Violette Scharff (paid companion to their daughter Fanny), rejoined her mother in Lucerne, Switzerland after leaving the family in Paris. Letters between the two mothers detail the affection Frances Glessner held for Miss Scharff and how she must have enjoyed spending time traveling through Italy with the family. At the encouragement of her mother, Miss Scharff extended her stay with the Glessners until after sharing Easter mass with them at the Notre Dame de Paris. She was often referred to as having the superior French among the group and was an asset as well as desirable company.  Having grown quite close to the family throughout their Italian adventure, it is entirely possible that Miss Scharff selected a few of Sommer's photographs of her Swiss destination to share with the family. 

Photo by G. Sommer of Lucerne, Switzerland
The handful of snapshots of London, Bedford and Warwickshire were most likely from R. Burnham Moffat, a young attorney from Brooklyn whom the Glessners befriended during their voyage across the Atlantic (and possibly presented to Fanny Glessner on her 12th birthday celebrated in Rome).  It is also interesting to note the photograph of a sketch of the Blue Grotto of Capri, quite similar to a watercolor print of the same scene Fanny had given to her father as a birthday gift in 1885.

Frances Glessner never mentions collecting photograph panels to create an album nor does she comment on them being a gift or delivery. The accumulation of the photos is unfortunately, mostly speculation. Likely the albums grew over time and various picture collections and gifts were merged to create these four books. However, as these albums came to be assembled they certainly preserved many of the Glessner family’s fond memories of adventure and European travel.

About the Author
Cecilia Ringo is a History and Women, Gender and Sexuality double major at Kalamazoo College in Michigan. She has enjoyed being a collections intern at Glessner House Museum during the Winter of 2018 and hopes to pursue a career in preservation, archival science or museum management. She also recently returned from a study abroad program that allowed her to delight in visiting many of the Glessners’ European destinations.

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