Monday, September 15, 2014

A Home for the Servants

The Glessner house was home to four members of the Glessner family, but also their live-in servants.  Situated on a large corner lot, the design of the house provided for separate entrances for family and servants, and furthermore, separate entrances for the female and male servants.  The servants even had their own separate address.

The photograph shown above, taken about 1890 by the Glessners’ son George, depicts the female servants’ entrance facing 18th Street.  The entrance, set within a dramatic arch and concealing the doorway at far left, is one of the most distinctive and most photographed features of the exterior of the house.  Visitors to this day, especially those travelling from the west, often stop at the entrance, assuming it must be the main entrance to the house.

The image is interesting for two reasons.  For one, George carefully posed the photograph to capture the silhouette of the cook in the kitchen window set within the arch.  The shade is pulled down and the cook is illuminated from behind, giving a clear silhouette of her head.  Additionally, a bronze plaque mounted on to the granite clearly indicates the address used by the servants – 35 Eighteenth Street.

Early addresses for east-west streets in the city did not use State Street as a dividing line, and as such addresses did not include “East” or “West.”  The system was to start the numbering at the lake and then proceed west.  The shoreline of Lake Michigan was much closer to Glessner house than it is today, as indicated by the low number of the address.  When these streets were renumbered in 1909, State Street became the zero mark, and the address of the servants’ entrance became 225 E. 18th Street.

The original “35” address plaque, with its distinctive font, was replaced, and the new “225” plaque remained in place for the remainder of the Glessners’ lives.  At some point after the house passed to the Armour Institute, the plaque was removed, and the fact that the servants had their own address was all but forgotten.  During the 125th anniversary of the house in 2012, docents Jackie Walker Dunscomb and Joan Stinton generously funded the creation of a new “35” address plaque, as a way to help interpret the lives of the many servants who called the house home through the decades.  The plaque was installed during the last week of August 2014.

In consultation with master metal smith John LaMonica, Alice Melita Steffen was engaged to design and craft the new plaque.  Steffen, shown above with the new plaque, is a graduate of the Glasgow School of Art, where she received a First Class Honors Degree in Sculpture and Environmental Art.  She also studied at the London City and Guilds Art School and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, which is what brought her to the United States from Great Britain.  She was delighted to have the opportunity to work on Glessner House, given her long interest in the Arts and Crafts Movement, which she considers to be a major influence in her work.

The plaque was cast in bronze using the “lost wax process.”  The process begins by making a replica of the plaque in wood, from which a plaster mold was produced.  The historic photograph of the plaque was used to determine the overall size, and the design of the numbers.  Hot wax was then poured into the plaster mold and then “chased” to remove imperfections in the wax replica.  The replica was then “sprued,” which involves the addition of a tree-like structure that allows the molten bronze to flow into the mold and the air to escape.

The sprued wax plaque was then dipped into a slurry of silica repeatedly to create a ceramic shell around the mold.  The shell was then placed into a kiln allowing the wax to melt (flow out) leaving a hollow mold, hence the name “lost wax process.”  Bronze was melted in a furnace and then carefully poured into the mold.  The shell mold was then allowed to cool before sand blasting to reveal the rough bronze cast.  The sprues were cut off and the plaque was finished by hand to remove any imperfections and polished. 

Liver of sulfur was rubbed into the numbers to give them a dark cast, and then a patina was applied to the bronze to provide a protective coating and to inhibit corrosion and weathering.  Finally, the plaque was installed using epoxies to attach it permanently to the granite, in exactly the same place as the original.

Today, the plaque is a visible reminder of the many men and women who called the house at the southwest corner of Prairie Avenue and 18th Street home from 1887 until 1936. 

Monday, September 1, 2014

Tableaux Vivants

Fanny Glessner as Yum Yum

Exactly 125 years, on August 31, 1889, Frances Glessner noted in her journal, “Isa (Coolidge) went to town with George to buy some articles for the evening – they were getting up some tableaux.”  The family was in residence at their summer home, The Rocks, in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, and the tableaux were to provide the evening entertainment.

The term tableau vivant (tableaux vivants plural) means “living picture” in French, and refers to amateurs or professionals dressed and posed to represent works of art or other scenes.  During each tableau, the people on display do not speak or move.  This form of entertainment became very popular in the 19th century, before the widespread availability of color reproductions of artwork.  The tableaux might be presented in a drawing room following dinner, as a sideshow at a county fair, or elaborately staged in a theatre, one following another to tell a story.  The idea was similar to the “magic lantern shows” that became popular during the Victorian era.

The tableaux vivants to be presented at The Rocks were announced by a formal notice, as indicated in the journal:

“We found a notice put up in the hall that an entertainment would be given for the benefit of The Rocks.  John pinned another one above it saying the proceeds would be used to provide water for the great unwashed heathen visiting The Rocks.”

The latter reference being a humorous acknowledgement of the house guests then in residence, a few of whom were forced into participating.  Elizabeth Sprague and Caroline Kirkland both “rebelled strongly at being put on exhibition” but only Miss Kirkland was able to get out of it. 

The tableaux drew upon characters ranging from opera to ancient civilizations.  Fanny portrayed two characters – Yum Yum from Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado, and Brunhilde from Richard Wagner’s opera cycle, The Ring of the Nibelung.

Fanny Glessner as Brunhilde

The entertainment proceeded thusly:

“The first tableau was of Fanny as Yum Yum – bound up in a window curtain and bed quilt.  Then Miss Coolidge as an Indian with a drawn bow made of a barrel hoop.  This one they called a truthful savage.  Then Elizabeth in a white Grecian costume (cheese cloth), “the modern liar,” all to illustrate something I said about civilization making people lie.  Then Miss Scharff was an Egyptian princess – then all four together.  Then came Fanny as Brunhilde stretched out on the lounge which was covered with my shawl – her dress was of cheese cloth – both arms bare – hair down – a wing affair on her head (turkey wings) a spear of paste board and the Brown’s boiler cover laid over her dear little stomach and lungs.  George stood by her – with a bare arm, one of the fur rugs bound over him, a blonde wig, made of rope, on his head.  He awakened Fanny with a kiss – we pelted them with flowers which had been thrown out in the afternoon.”

And thus drew to a close a charming evening of entertainment, forever preserved in Frances Glessner’s journal and in these two photographs taken by her son George.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Pullman may soon be our newest National Park

Administration and Factory buildings

On Thursday, August 21, 2014, more than 300 people crowded into the Pullman Administration Building on Chicago’s far South Side to show their support for the designation of the landmark Town of Pullman as a National Park.  Jonathan Jarvis, Director of the National Park Service, was at the meeting to hear the overwhelming show of support from residents, preservationists, historians, and politicians on the importance of the Pullman community in American history.

Alderman Anthony Beale and U. S. Representative Robin Kelly both spoke.  Senators Dick Durbin and Mark Kirk, who earlier this year introduced bill S.1962 to designate Pullman as a National Park, sent representatives, as did Governor Quinn.   Mayor Rahm Emanuel had met with Director Jarvis earlier in the day, but upon hearing of the large crowd in attendance, made a last minute appearance.

Arcade Row, built for Pullman management,
 with the Greenstone Church in the distance

The bipartisan bill introduced by Durbin and Kirk has not moved forward, typical of most bills introduced into Congress.  The best chance for the designation to occur anytime soon would be for President Barack Obama to use his power under the Antiquities Act to designate Pullman as National Park 402.  Emanuel, Obama’s former Chief of Staff, promised at the meeting to make the call and ask the President to exercise his power.

When one thinks of a National Park, images of Yellowstone and Yosemite come to mind.  But in the past 25 years, the National Park Service has made a concerted effort to embrace sites that tell the whole American experience – including the stories of immigrants, laborers, women, African-Americans, and more.  Pullman has the potential to tell all of these stories, and would also be the only National Park in the greater Chicagoland area.

Looking east from atop the Arcade Building

The model factory town of Pullman was developed in the early 1880s by George Pullman for his Pullman Palace Car Company.  Pullman (who was a neighbor of the Glessners, residing at 1729 S. Prairie Avenue) envisioned a utopian community with good housing and other amenities to improve the quality of life for his workers (and, as a direct result, a happy workforce).  Architect Solon S. Beman used locally made brick to design the factory and public buildings, and housing in a pleasing Queen Anne style.  Landscape architect Nathan F. Barrett designed the parks, streetscapes and overall plan, creating a unified appearance for the town. 

Pullman strikers outside the Arcade Building, 1894

During the 1880s and early 1890s, people came from around the world to visit the Town of Pullman and marvel at its appearance and success.  It became one of the sites that many people visited when coming to Chicago for the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893.  But all of that changed the next year, when an economic downturn led to Pullman lowering the wages for his workers, but not the rents they paid back to the company for their homes.  The result was the infamous Pullman Strike of 1894, when company workers walked off the job, and members of the American Railway Union boycotted Pullman cars, paralyzing rail traffic across the country.  The National Guard was brought in to restore order, and ultimately the labor action was defeated, but the strike left permanent scars.

Pullman porters

The company was forced to sell off all of its property not used directly in the manufacture of its railroad cars, and in time, the housing was all transferred into private ownership.  In 1937, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the first African-American union in the country founded in 1925 by A. Philip Randolph, was formally recognized by the company. 

Hotel Florence; Administration building at far left

In 1970, the Pullman Historic District, which covers approximately 300 acres, was designated a National Historic Landmark in recognition of its importance in social history, architecture, and urban planning.  The Illinois Historic Preservation Agency manages the Administration and Factory complex and the Hotel Florence as an historic site.  The Historic Pullman Foundation operates a visitor center for the many thousands of people who visit annually, and co-sponsors an annual tour of homes each October with the Pullman Civic Organization.

Today, Pullman stands poised and ready to be recognized as the newest national park.  To read the bill introduced by Senators Durbin and Kirk, and to voice your support for the designation, visit

Monday, August 18, 2014

House Moving Part III: Clarke House, 1977

Last week, we looked at the first move of Chicago’s historic Clarke house in 1872.  This week we will examine the second move of the house in 1977.

After the 1872 move, the house continued to serve as a private family residence for generations of the Chrimes and Walters families.  In 1941, it was sold to Bishop Louis Henry Ford and the St. Paul Church of God in Christ.  They used the building for church purposes and the Bishop’s residence for the next 35 years.  Respectful of its history, they celebrated the birthday of the house each year.

Discussions surrounding the creation of the Prairie Avenue Historic District were underway by 1970 when both the Clarke and Glessner houses were designated landmarks by the city of Chicago.  Within two years, the city began negotiations to purchase the Clarke house from the church and move it from its location at 4526 S. Wabash Avenue, where it had stood for 100 years, back to its original neighborhood.

The move almost stopped before it started.  On Monday January 31, 1977, fire broke out in the basement of the building.  Fortunately there was no major structural damage, and the many layers of paint on the interior moldings protected them from the blaze.  Three days later, an article in the Chicago Tribune announced that the city was continuing its negotiations to purchase and move the house, in spite of the fire.

In late August, detailed plans were announced for the move of the house later in the year.  Wilbert Hasbrouck, a respected preservation architect was retained by the city to oversee the move and the restoration of the house at its new site at 1827 S. Indiana Avenue.  He undertook an extensive analysis of the house and its structure, to determine exactly how the house could be moved, and how it would be restored to its original 1836 appearance. 

Ironically, the 1977 move proved much more difficult that the earlier move, due to the presence of power lines, street lights, and most significantly the elevated train tracks.  The tracks of the Englewood-Jackson Park L (a.k.a. the Green Line) stood a few blocks east of the house and would have to be crossed.  Numerous moving techniques were considered and dismissed – dismantling the building into three layers; utilizing the railroad rights-of-way; and using a barge on Lake Michigan for part of the move.

Ultimately it was decided to raise the house 25 feet and slide it above the el tracks using an elaborate combination of jacks and support cribbing.  The diagrams above, which appeared in the Chicago Tribune on August 20, 1977 showed the basic steps:
-remove the cupola, porches and other small parts of the house;
-place the house onto a 64-wheel trailer, pulled by a 1-1/2 ton truck;
-move the house onto jacks and support cribbing on the west side of the el tracks which crossed 44th Street between Prairie and Calumet avenues and raise it a foot at a time to a height of 25 feet;
-winch the house across the tracks on rollers along steel I-beams to the support cribbing on the east side of the tracks, and then lower the house a foot at a time back down to the ground and onto the 64-wheel trailer;
-complete the move via trailer to the new site.

The proposed route for the move, as shown in the map above, covered 32 blocks:
-north on Wabash to 44th Street;
-east on 44th Street to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive;
-north on King Drive to 31st Street;
-west on 31st Street to Michigan Avenue;
-north on Michigan Avenue to Cermak Road;
-east on Cermak Road to Indiana Avenue;
-north on Indiana Avenue.

It was anticipated that the move would take approximately 12 days.  On the first day, the building, which weighed 120 tons, would be placed on the trailer and moved at a walking speed to the west side of the tracks.  Five days would then be needed to jack up the house to a height of 25 feet – one foot higher than the tracks.  The next day, the house would be winched across the tracks, a move that would only take about 30 minutes.  Then five more days to move the house back down to the ground, and finally one more day to complete the move onto extra-wide footings at its new location.

November 18: Removal of the cupola

The move began on Wednesday November 23, 1977, the day before Thanksgiving, at which time the house was moved as far as the tracks on 44th Street.  Everything proceeded accordingly to plan (although small pieces fell off the house at various points along route) and the structure was ready to be winched across the tracks.  At one minute after midnight early on Sunday December 4th, the electric power was shut off on the el tracks and the house was slowly pulled across the tracks.  A crowd of 2,000 people gathered to watch the event, despite the bitter cold temperatures.

December 4: The move over the Green Line tracks

The temperature created a problem.  After the house was move onto the cribbing on the east side of the tracks, it was discovered that the hydraulic jacks had frozen.  The house would sit suspended in mid-air for the next two weeks, surprising commuters who encountered the house at eye level as they crossed the bridge at 44th Street.

December 12:  Trimming trees on 44th Street

December 18:  On King Drive at 41st Street

December 18: Crossing the Michigan Avenue bridge
over I-55 at 25th Street

Finally, on Sunday December 18th, the house was moved the last leg of its journey and placed on to its new foundation.  The final cost of the move was $410,000.  An extensive restoration was undertaken over the next 4-1/2 years, in a partnership between the City of Chicago which owned the building, The National Society of The Colonial Dames of America in the State of Illinois which agreed to furnish the house to the time period, and the Chicago Architecture Foundation which would operate the tours in conjunction with Glessner House Museum, which they owned and operated at the time.  Robert Furhoff undertook an extensive analysis of the interior of the house, uncovering original paint layers and wallpapers which were replicated in the restoration.  One of the most significant projects was the recreation of the east portico, based on the one historic photograph that survived showing the house during the occupancy of the Clarke family, dating to the mid-1860s.

The house opened to the public as an historic house museum in 1982.  In 2004, additional restoration work was completed including the recreation of the matching portico on the west side of the house.

Photos courtesy of Clarke House Museum.

Monday, August 11, 2014

House Moving Part II: Clarke House, 1872

Clarke House at its original location on the east side
of Michigan Avenue in the 1860s
(Courtesy of Clarke House Museum)

The move of the Clarke House to its current location in 1977 is well documented.  This, of course, was the second time the house had been moved.  In this article, we will examine the first move of the house in the spring of 1872.

After the death of Caroline Clarke in January 1860, her children continued to reside in the house.  This included daughter Mary, and her husband Frank Williams, who moved back into the house so that Mary could care for her younger siblings.  The Great Chicago Fire in October 1871 spared the house and surrounding neighborhood, but within months, the family decided to sell the family homestead.

The three acres of land on the east side of Michigan Avenue south of 16th Street on which the house stood were sold to St. Paul’s Universalist Church.  Their building had been lost in the Fire, and like many congregations, they were looking to rebuild farther from downtown and within the growing residential district on the south side.  The house itself was sold to John Chrimes, a tailor, who also purchased an empty lot nearly four miles to the south at 4526 S. Wabash Avenue on to which he would move his house.

St. Paul's Universalist Church, built on the
original site of Clarke House

The house had been a prominent and familiar landmark in Chicago since the time it was built in 1836.  As such, its relocation was the source of great interest, and the Chicago Tribune published a lengthy article about the history of the house and the period in which it was built.  Excerpts of that article entitled “The Clarke House.  Another Old Landmark About to Pass Away,” published May 26, 1872 follow.

“Thirty-six years ago Henry B. Clarke was building a $10,000 house on the southern lake shore.  It was a great feather in the cap of the South Division, then very much crowed over and overslaughed by the domineering North Side.

“So it was timely and helpful, from a South Side point of view, that Henry B. Clarke commenced his ten thousand dollar house on the lake shore.  The house, so long a landmark is now being removed to give place to a stylish city church, that of St. Paul’s Universalist Society, which is to adorn the east side of Michigan avenue, in the block between Sixteenth and Eighteenth streets.

“The Clarke homestead originally fronted east, looking out on the lake.  A picket fence and a cordon of tall poplars made the inclosure, of which the entrance was near what would now be the extension of Prairie avenue.

“And now the Clarke home is to be replaced by the Universalist Church, that twenty years ago was in the residence suburbs of the city on Washington street, between Dearborn and Clark.”

In the mid-1850s, when improvements were made to the house, the west facing side of the house became the main entrance to face Michigan Avenue, and a large portico, to match the original east facing portico, was constructed.  In preparation for the move, both of these porticos were removed.  A second lengthy article in the Chicago Tribune dated June 9, 1872 and entitled “The Clarke House. Discovery of Interesting Papers” detailed the discovery of a time capsule Henry B. Clarke had placed inside one of the columns as the east portico was being completed in January 1839.  The article read in part:

“When Henry B. Clarke was building the Clarke House, the well-known landmark, now on its way to Forty-seventh street from its site, since 1836, on Michigan avenue, at Eighteenth street, it will be remembered, from our recent sketch, that the crash of 1837 had some influence in the way of postponing the completion of the structure, and it was not until the winter of 1838-9 that Mr. Clarke finished the handsome full portico on his east front.  It was not for many years later, until Michigan avenue was opened in the rear of the house, that this portico was exactly repeated on the west, and, as it proved subsequently, principal front.

“Upon the sustaining core timber of one of the large fluted columns, it has, within a few days past, been discovered that Mr. Clarke spiked solidly, with two tenpenny nails driven straight through the package, a bundle of papers that now, for the first time in over thirty-three years, has seen the light of day.  The location was high and dry, and all the papers are as bright and clear as on the day they were wrapped up in this memorial.  It may be readily imagined that the Clarke family opened these papers with a vast deal of interest.  The packet consists of manuscript, currency, a tax-receipt, family memoranda, a memorial to Martin Van Buren, and a selection of newspapers of the day.

“In Chicago, since these tenpenny nails were driven, on a prairie, with scarcely 2,000 inhabitants, the children named in the Clarke family memoranda have lived to see a city of 300,000 send its outposts six miles below their once isolated suburban home.  Why will not the house-builders of to-day imitate the excellent example of Henry B. Clarke, and seek some means for the preservation of our current memoranda? . . . Mr. Clarke’s package has taken its place in the family archives as a relic it will not be easy to equal in interest or value.”

The items enclosed included a letter recommending Clarke’s appointment for the office of “receiver of Public Monies at the Land Office in Chicago, in the event of a vacancy occurring in that office.”  Clarke also included a tax receipt showing that he had paid his taxes in the amount of $7.50 for the year 1838.  A handwritten memorandum listed the members of the Clarke family along with a notation “My dislike for paper-promises to pay, I desire to be known.  I inclose one of the coots.” 

This latter statement referred to a $5.00 paper bank note issued by the Kirkland Safety Society of Kirkland, Ohio – the Mormon financial institution of Joseph Smith.  The notes had been issued in connection with the construction of the Mormon’s $60,000 Kirkland temple, but not being backed by hard currency, were rejected by Chicago banks and merchants. 

The house after its move to 4526 S. Wabash Avenue
with members of the Chrimes family in the foreground
(Courtesy of Clarke House Museum)

The house was placed on its new foundation in June 1872.  There were a few significant changes to the house as a result of the move.  The new foundation was a bit taller than the original, as indicated by the fact that the front entrance was reached by a flight of eleven steps, as opposed to eight as originally built.  In addition, the two porticoes were not rebuilt at the new site; they were replaced by open porches, and small entry vestibules were constructed at both ends of the main hall.  And the house was painted brown.  The most interesting change involved the orientation of the house.  Since it now sat on the west side of the street, the original east facade once again became the main front entrance for the house.  Three generations of the Chrimes family occupied the house until it was sold in 1941.

Next week:  The second move of the Clarke House in 1977

Monday, August 4, 2014

Moving a House on Prairie Avenue - 1891

The subject house where it was stopped on
Prairie Avenue just south of Twenty-first Street

The landmark Harriet F. Rees house, designed by Cobb & Frost, was built at 2110 S. Prairie Avenue in 1888.  Later this month, plans call for lifting the four-story masonry structure off of its original foundation and relocating it one block to the north where a new foundation will be prepared at 2017 S. Prairie Avenue.  All of this is being done in preparation for construction of the new DePaul Arena which will occupy the entire block on which the house currently sits.

Although the idea of moving a house is intimidating, the practice was actually quite common in the late 19th century.   In 1891, another house was moved along the 2100 block of Prairie Avenue and the episode created quite a stir amongst the residents at the time.  The long forgotten controversy is recorded for posterity in two articles published in the Chicago Tribune that year.

On September 14, 1891, the Tribune reported the situation in an article entitled “Prairie Avenue Residents Up In Arms – A House-Mover’s Disrespect for Stately Old Elm Trees.”  In this particular situation, Prairie Avenue was merely being used as the route between the original site of the house on Michigan Avenue and its new site at 46th Street and Indiana Avenue.  The article read:

“A dilapidated wreck of an old frame house completely blockades Prairie avenue, so far as traffic concerned, just south of Twenty-first street.  It has been standing there, covered with dirt and cobwebs, a very beggar of a house among the handsome residences of John B. Sherman, P. D. Armour, Eugene S. Pike, R. W. Roloson, M. M. Rothschild, and Mrs. E. J. Kimball, for the last three days.  It would have been out of this neighborhood long ago, but Mr. Armour, Mr. Pike, et al. will not permit it.  Not that they admire the old hulk, but they do not desire to have the stately old elms in front of their homes ruined.

“It had hardly passed Twenty-first street before a number of branches of the trees in front of Mr. Pike’s residence, No. 2101 Prairie Avenue, were broken off.  It is still jammed hard against the limb of another of Mr. Pike’s trees, where it was stopped by order of the Street Department in response to angry remonstrances of Phillip D. Armour of No. 2115.  Mr. Armour didn’t want to have his trees torn down by the building and he called on Commissioner Aldrich to protest against the further progress of the house in that direction.  Superintendent of Street Obstructions Bell ordered the house-mover to take the house down Twenty-first street to some street where it will cause less trouble.

“The building is owned by Tim Keefe, and was being taken from No. 1833 Michigan avenue by Building Mover William Kruger.  The permit was issued Aug. 15 to expire Aug. 31 and he did not secure its renewal until Sept. 11, a day after the injury to Mr. Pike’s trees was done.  The permit was for a house twenty-two feet wide, but one of the residents of the avenue who went to the trouble of measuring the building found that it is twenty-nine feet four inches wide, while the street is but thirty-two feet from curb to curb.

“’The City of Chicago,’ he declared, ‘had grown so large that we should no longer permit the removal of frame buildings over our streets.’” 

This photograph shows where the house was stopped during its move.  Shown from left to right are the houses of Max Rothschild (2112), Harriet Rees (2110), Mark Kimball (2108), John B. Sherman (2100) and Ebenezer Buckingham (2036).  The image dates to the early 1890s, so may well show the trees after they were damaged by the house move.

Troubles continued for Mr. Keefe, the owner of the house in question, as indicated by a second article entitled “Objects to Official Interference” which appeared six weeks later on October 27, 1891:

“Thomas H. Keefe bought a frame house at No. 1833 Michigan avenue, and hired William Kruger, a house mover, to transfer the building to Forty-sixth street and Indiana avenue.  The Street Department gave permission to move the house along Prairie avenue, but at Twenty-sixth street objections were made, and the building was turned back and sent down a side street.  Since then Keefe says progress has been stopped every few blocks by either the police or other city officers, and the building now blocks traffic on Forty-sixth street within a stone’s throw of its destination.  Yesterday Keefe and Kruger went into the Superior Court and sought to restrain further interference by asking an injunction against J. Frank Aldrich, Hempstead Washburne, Richard W. McClaughry, Nicholas Hunt, James E. Burke, and the city.”

No further information appears in the Tribune about the house, but presumably it was soon after moved the last few feet to its new location on Indiana Avenue, and the matter was finally put to rest.   

Next week:  The first move of the Henry B. Clarke house in 1872

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.”

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...