Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Spirit of Music

On April 24, 1924, a memorial was unveiled in Grant Park honoring Theodore Thomas, founding music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.  Although designed as a lasting tribute to the man who established Chicago as a center for outstanding classical music, the monument itself has had a shaky history, and very nearly disappeared altogether.  In this article, we will explore the creation of the Theodore Thomas memorial and how it ended up at its current location just north of Balbo Drive.

The B. F. Ferguson Monument Fund
Benjamin Franklin Ferguson was a prominent Chicago lumber merchant.  His home, a massive brick Queen Anne style home completed in 1883, still stands in the West Jackson Boulevard landmark district.  When he died in 1905, Ferguson left a bequest of $1,000,000 for the establishment of a fund, the income of which was to be expended by the Board of Trustees of the Art Institute of Chicago (of which John Glessner was a member) to fund public monuments.  Specifically, the income was to be used “in the erection and maintenance of enduring statuary and monuments in the whole or in part of stone, granite or bronze, in the parks, along the boulevards or in other public places, within the city of Chicago, Illinois, commemorating worthy men or women of America or important events of American history.” 

The first monument to be erected by the fund was the Fountain of the Great Lakes by Lorado Taft, dedicated in 1913 on the south terrace of the Art Institute of Chicago.  By the early 1920s, additional monuments included:
-Statue of the Republic, Daniel Chester French, sculptor, 1918 (Jackson Park)
-Alexander Hamilton, Bela Lyon Pratt, sculptor, 1918 (Grant Park)
-Illinois Centennial Monument, Evelyn B. Longman, sculptor, 1918 (Logan Square)
-Eugene Field Monument, Edward McCartan, sculptor, 1922 (Lincoln Park)
-Fountain of Time, Lorado Taft, sculptor, 1922 (Washington Park, Midway)

Sculptor Albin Polasek
By the time the massive Fountain of Time was dedicated in late 1922, discussion was already underway for a permanent memorial to Theodore Thomas, who had died in 1905.  The site selected was a location just south of the Art Institute, facing Orchestra Hall (now Symphony Center).

Czech-American sculptor Albin Polasek (1879-1965) was commissioned to create the work, which was titled “The Spirit of Music.”  Polasek began his career as a wood carver in Vienna, immigrating to the United States in his early twenties and settling in Philadelphia.  In 1916, he was invited to head the department of sculpture at the Art Institute, where he remained for over 30 years.  He retired to Winter Park, Florida in 1950 and his home and studio are open to the public as the Albin Polasek Museum andSculpture Gardens.

Chicago Tribune, April 13, 1924

An article in the Chicago Tribune, dated April 13, 1924, noted the following:

“Albin Polasek, head of the sculpture department of the Art Institute, will soon have the satisfaction of seeing his beautiful monument to the memory of Theodore Thomas erected in bronze . . . ‘The Spirit of Music,’ Polasek has called his memorial.  The figure is of heroic size and stands thirteen feet high.  She holds a lyre in her arm, the strings of which she has just struck, the act being indicated by her uplifted right hand.  With its granite pedestal the bronze figure will of course stand several feet higher than its thirteen feet.  The great seat just to the east is a semi-circular affair about forty feet in length.  Upon it figures of the orchestra are carved.  Polasek has done in this a truly powerful and significant piece of sculpture.  It is effective, simple, striking, decorative, impressive, and artistic.”

As noted in A Guide to Chicago’s Public Sculpture by Ira J. Bach and Mary Lackritz Gray (The University of Chicago Press, 1983), the bronze figure, actually 15 feet in height, was “to have the grandeur of a Beethoven symphony and to be ‘feminine . . . but not too feminine.’”  The guide also describes the hemispherical base upon which the figure stands, featuring “low relief figures of Orpheus playing his lyre, Chibiabos, from Longfellow’s ‘Song of Hiawatha’ singing, and a group of animals listening.”  Polasek insisted that the face peering out from a small classical mask at the lower end of the lyre was his own.

Howard Van Doren Shaw
Architect Howard Van Doren Shaw (1869-1926) collaborated with Polasek on the memorial, designing the massive granite exedra and bench to display Polasek’s incised carving of the orchestra members being led by Thomas.  The back side of the exedra features a memorial panel with Thomas’ bust surrounded by the following inscription:

“Scarcely any many in any land has done so much for the musical education of the people as did Theodore Thomas in this country.  The nobility of his ideals with the magnitude of his achievement will assure him everlasting glory.  1835-1905.”

The bronze figure was completed in 1923, the date noted on its base, but was not set into place and unveiled until April 24, 1924.  The dedication ceremony began at 4:00pm with a program and concert in Orchestra Hall.  Thomas championed German music, so it is not surprising that the works performed that afternoon included the Chorale and Fugue by Bach-Albert, the first movement from Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony, and the Prelude to the Mastersingers of Nuremberg by Wagner.  Charles H. Hamill gave an address on the life and work of Theodore Thomas.  Charles L. Hutchinson, president of the Art Institute and the B. F. Ferguson Monument Fund, presented the memorial, which was accepted by Edward J. Kelly, president of the South Park Commissioners.  (The South Park District merged with others to form the Chicago Park District in 1934).

The assembled audience then adjourned to the location of the monument immediately south of the Art Institute.  Thomas’s daughter, Mrs. D. N. B. Sturgis, unveiled the memorial “while trumpets played a theme from the ninth symphony of Beethoven and crowds stood with bared heads.”

Later History
In 1941, the monument was moved to the north end of Grant Park, very near to the original peristyle designed by Edward H. Bennett.  That structure was demolished in 1953 when the Grant Park underground parking garage was constructed, and The Spirit of Music was placed in storage.  When it was re-erected five years later near Buckingham Foundation, only the bronze figure was installed.

In the late 1980s, the original granite sections of the exedra were found along the edge of Lake Michigan where they had been dumped.  They were retrieved by the Chicago Park District and restored, and the present setting for the memorial was created at the northeast corner of Michigan Avenue and Balbo Drive.  The rededication of the monument took place on October 18, 1991, concluding the year long celebration of the CSO's centennial season.  Sir Georg Solti was joined by Rafael Kubelik and Daniel Barenboim for the ceremony, which was followed that evening by a concert recreating the very first performance of the orchestra in October 1891.  

The adjacent Spirit of Music Garden has for many years now been home to the popular Summer Dance, continuing, in a somewhat different vein, the legacy of music in the cultural fabric of the City of Chicago.

Statue Stories

In August 2015, The Spirit of Music was one of thirty statues in the city to be featured in “Statue Stories,” funded by the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation, and produced by Sing London.  At each of the thirty sites, visitors can swipe their smart phone and get a call back from a celebrity, telling the story of the monument.  The Spirit of Music story is read by soprano Renee Fleming, creative consultant with the Lyric Opera of Chicago.  For more information, visit Statue Stories Chicago.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Glessner House Museum celebrates 50 years

On April 16, 1966, twenty individuals signed a resolution creating the Chicago School of Architecture Foundation.  Out of that organization evolved both Glessner House Museum and the Chicago Architecture Foundation, entities that champion and celebrate the rich architectural tradition in Chicago, past and present.  As we commemorate the 50th anniversary of that milestone event this week, we pause to honor those individuals whose foresight and vision saved H. H. Richardson’s iconic Glessner house, launched the successful preservation movement in our city, and made Chicago a destination for architectural enthusiasts from around the world.

Glessner House is Threatened
For twenty years, Glessner house was occupied by the Lithographic Technical Foundation, but by early 1965 that organization had relocated to Pittsburgh and the building was put up for sale.  The early 1960s had been a period of extraordinary challenge and frustration for those attempting to preserve Chicago’s rich architectural heritage.   Among the chief losses was Adler & Sullivan’s Garrick Theater on Randolph Street, demolished in 1961. 

The fate of the Glessner house was known as early as November 1963, when several individuals met with representatives from the Foundation to discuss the future of the building.  Among those at the meeting were Wilbert Hasbrouck, chairman of the Preservation Committee of the Chicago Chapter of the American Institute of Architects (CCAIA); Joseph Benson, Secretary of the Commission on Chicago Architectural Landmarks; and Marian Despres, wife of Alderman Leon Despres, and the daughter of architect Alfred Alschuler.  Hasbrouck reported back to Jack Train, president of CCAIA:

“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.”

On January 31, 1965, the Chicago Tribune published an article noting that the future of the house was in jeopardy, but quoted several individuals who recognized that the house was simply too important to lose.  Wilbert Hasbrouck noted that the building would make a perfect museum of Chicago architecture.  Joseph Benson also expressed concern and noted that it was one of 38 buildings in the city to be designated a landmark.  But Marian Despres noted that the landmark designation was purely honorary, and did nothing to protect the building from demolition. 

Individuals Come Together
Many of those involved in saving Glessner house were well acquainted with each other by the time the house went up for sale.  Leon and Marian Despres and others had rallied together to save Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House when it came under threat of demolition in 1957.  That successful effort led to the formation of Chicago’s first preservation group, the Chicago Heritage Committee, co-founded by architect Ben Weese.  Soon after, Alderman Despres proposed an ordinance creating an historical and architectural landmark commission which awarded landmark status to 38 buildings in 1960, including Glessner house.

In 1960, Weese, Despres, and Hasbrouck joined others, including photographer Richard Nickel and architect John Vinci, to march together in a picket line to save the Garrick Theater.  Although their efforts proved unsuccessful, it brought these like-minded individuals together and the preservation movement gained momentum. 

Worthy of Architects’ Praise
Ben Weese recalled that in the early 1960s, he spent the day escorting the world famous architect Alvar Aalto around Chicago, showing him the buildings of Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright.  Aalto appeared only mildly interested.  But when the two pulled up in front of Glessner house, Aalto stepped out onto the sidewalk and stood transfixed, studying the building for over an hour.

In March 1965, Weese and his brother Harry took architect Philip Johnson to see Glessner house.  Johnson praised the building, and was especially taken by the floor plan which oriented the major rooms toward the private south-facing courtyard.  He offered to pay half of the purchase price of $70,000 if those in Chicago could raise the other half, but later rescinded the offer when “the horrid question of maintenance came up.”  In spite of that, however, Johnson was quoted in June 1966 as saying “Glessner House is the most important house in the country to me.”

The Weeses Search for Funds
Ben and Harry Weese continued to search for funds to purchase and maintain the house throughout 1965 and into early 1966.  In a letter to selected Chicago architects, Harry Weese laid out the purposes of the proposed organization that would acquire Glessner house:

“To establish the first architectural organization in the country, at the birthplace of modern architecture, in a historic and architecturally significant building.

“To create a unique institution to become the center of architectural history, a staging point for tours, a place to sell books and literature, a gallery, a museum for artifacts in the courtyard.”

Others Express Interest
At the same time that these architects and preservationists were attempting to raise the funds to purchase the house, four young men, working independently, had also learned of the house and decided to find a way to purchase it.  Richard Wintergreen and Jim Schultz were draftsmen in the office of Mies van der Rohe.  Wayne Benjamin, a businessman in finance, had met Wintergreen at the University of Illinois, and Paul Lurie, an attorney, became acquainted with Wintergreen through his fiancĂ©e.  The four men formulated their idea to save the house over dinner at Pizzeria Due, ironically housed in a late 19th century mansion.

CSAF meeting, August 18, 1966

The Chicago School of Architecture Foundation is Organized
On April 6, 1966, the Weese brothers announced publicly that they would pledge $10,000 toward the purchase of Glessner house.  The same day, Richard Wintergreen wrote to Philip Johnson alerting him to the fact that he and his three friends had formed a group to purchase the house.  Johnson suggested that Wintergreen’s group coordinate their plans with the Weeses, and from that point on, all those working to save Glessner house worked together.

On Saturday April 16, 1966, a resolution was signed by twenty individuals creating the Chicago School of Architecture Foundation.  Those signing were:  Carl Condit, Richard Nickel, Herman Pundt, Earl Reed, Wilbert Hasbrouck, James Speyer, Joseph Benson, Clement Sylvestro, George Danforth, Maurice English, Phyllis Lambert, Dirk Lohan, Paul Lurie, Wayne Benjamin, Richard Wintergreen, James Schultz, Dan Murphy, Ben Weese, Harry Weese, and Irving Berman. 

The first order of business was to raise the funds needed to purchase the Glessner house. 

Additional articles will be posted throughout our anniversary year highlighting the efforts of our founders in purchasing and preserving what survives today as Glessner House Museum.

Photos by Richard Nickel

Monday, April 4, 2016

William Morris 1883

The extensive use of wallpapers, textiles, and rugs by Morris & Co. in the Glessner house is well documented, and in recent years, many of these items have been faithfully reproduced and reinstalled.  H. H. Richardson, as a major proponent of Morris & Co. in the United States, certainly influenced the Glessners’ decision to acquire these items for their home.  In this article, however, we will see that Frances Glessner became well-acquainted with William Morris more than two years before she ever met Richardson.

Introduction to William Morris
The earliest mention of Morris in Frances Glessner’s journal occurs on Tuesday March 6, 1883, “I went to the Decorative Art Society.  Wm. Morris and his designs was the subject – it was very interesting.”  Frances Glessner was an early member of the Chicago Society of Decorative Art, founded in 1877 “to help impoverished women master the skills of an honorable trade particularly by training women artists and artisans in the applied arts.”  (The organization survives today as The Antiquarian Society at the Art Institute of Chicago).  It would have been the logical place for her to learn about Morris and his emerging impact on the decorative arts.

As was often the case with Frances Glessner, when a topic piqued her interest, she actively pursued it.  Less than a week later, she noted in her journal, “I am reading Morris’ Hopes and Fears for Art.”  By the following week, she had finished the book.

Hopes and Fears for Art
This volume, published in both the United Kingdom and the United States in 1882, was a collection of five lectures delivered by Morris in Birmingham, London, and Nottingham between 1878 and 1881, namely:
-The Lesser Arts
-The Art of the People
-The Beauty of Life
-Making the Best of it
-The Prospects of Architecture in Civilization

In the lectures, Morris states many of his widely known views, including the inherent value of handicraft, and the evils of industrialization.  The fifth chapter, for example, contains interesting views on architecture and how it relates to the other arts.  It also illuminates his thoughts on historic preservation, not surprising given that he was the founder of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings in 1877.  (That organization led indirectly to the founding of the National Trust).  He opens his lecture on architecture as follows:

“The word Architecture has, I suppose, to most of you the meaning of the art of building nobly and ornamentally.  Now, I believe the practice of this art to be one of the most important things which man can turn his hand to, and the consideration of it to be worth the attention of serious people, not for an hour only, but for a good part of their lives, even though they may not have to do with it professionally.

“But, noble as that art is by itself, and though it is specially the art of civilization, it neither ever has existed nor ever can exist alive and progressive by itself, but must cherish and be cherished by all the crafts whereby men make the things which they intend shall be beautiful, and shall last somewhat beyond the passing day.

“It is this union of the arts, mutually helpful and harmoniously subordinated one to another, which I have learned to think of as Architecture.”

John J. McGrath
Before the month of March 1883 had drawn to a close, Frances Glessner considered the purchase of Morris products for her summer home at The Rocks, then under construction.  On Friday March 23, she noted, “I took Mrs. Avery down to McGrath’s to see Wm. Morris designs in materials for furnishing.  We had a delightful morning.  I selected a lovely combination for The Rocks, but it is too expensive.”

Chicago Tribune, February 3, 1883

McGrath’s was a reference to the wholesale and retail establishments of John J. McGrath.  An article in the Chicago Tribune on January 1, 1883, noted that his firm sold more paper-hangings than any other firm on the continent.  In addition, a number of European manufacturers, “recognizing the advantages of Chicago as a distributing point,” made McGrath’s their exclusive agent in the United States, thus requiring Eastern buyers to purchase from him. 

Although Frances Glessner did not purchase the Morris & Co. items she admired, she had been a customer of McGrath’s for several years, purchasing numerous wallpapers there for her home on West Washington Street.

Later History
Frances Glessner makes no further mentions of Morris in her journal until February 1887 when she began actively purchasing rugs, textiles and wallpapers for her new home being built on Prairie Avenue.  Many of these items, including a Hammersmith rug for the main hall, were purchased through Marshall Field & Co., which by that time, was offering a line of goods from the English firm.

Chicago Tribune, September 19, 1887

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The Glessner House School Room

Photo by Hedrich Blessing, 1987

The last stop on a tour of Glessner House Museum is the school room.  Situated at the southeast corner of the house, it is the only family space located at the basement level.  Although more simply finished than other spaces within the house, in some ways, the school room most effectively shows Richardson’s brilliance in executing the floor plan for the house, and how carefully he considered function and circulation.  In this article, we will examine those issues, as well as taking a look at the room as its function changed over the course of the last 129 years.


As originally designed, the room was to serve as the school room for the Glessners’ two children, George and Fanny, who were aged 16 and 9 respectively at the time the family moved into the house in December 1887.  It is the only room in the house to be finished in pine.  This does not reflect a desire to cut costs, for even the servants’ bedrooms are trimmed in quarter sawn oak.  The pine is more a reflection of the overall design of the room, which incorporates many features of the Colonial Revival that became popular following the centennial of the United States in 1876.  The room is dominated by a huge paneled fireplace faced in dark brick.  Dentil trim, a beamed ceiling, and fluted pilasters all reflect Richardson’s interest in using Colonial detailing, and pine was considered the most appropriate choice for these types of interior spaces.

What is most impressive about the room, however, is how it is accessed.  Located just inside the main entrance of the house, three doorways enable the room to function as an independent space within the larger house.  The entrance way leading from the main hall down six steps can be closed off with a paneled pocket door, making the doorway all but invisible to visitors going up and down the main stair case.  Having the room located at the front of the house allowed for the friends of the Glessner children to easily come and go without disrupting activity elsewhere in the house.

A second doorway, up two steps at the southwest corner of the room, leads to the entrance from the porte cochere.  In this way, the children and their friends would have had direct access to the courtyard when the weather was favorable for outdoor activities.  This doorway also opens to the base of the three-story spiral staircase, which allowed the children easy access to their bedrooms and bathrooms on the second floor. 

The third doorway, at the northwest corner of the room, leads into the basement, accessed by going up two stairs.  The floor level of the basement is 24” higher than in the schoolroom – which was dug deeper to permit greater ceiling height in the room.  The first room in the basement off of the school room was possibly used by George Glessner as a dark room.  It is known that he did develop some of his negatives at home, and the proximity of this space to the schoolroom, combined with the fact there is only one small window, would have made it an ideal space for this purpose.  Continuing through this room, one has access to the full basement and then the staircase leading to the kitchen.  In this way meals could easily be taken to the children and their tutor, again without disrupting other activities in the household.

It is interesting to note that all three doors in the room are solid oak.  In each case, however, the door has been faced in pine on the school room side – even the door leading into the basement has the more expensive oak on the basement side of the door – clearly a sign that pine was not used to save money!

The room had central heat, as did the rest of the house, but in this space, which is nearly 50% below ground level, a large radiator was hung on the north wall of the room, and then covered with a huge brass panel.  Presumably that system worked well.  The radiator has long since been disconnected, and, as a result, the room continues to be the coolest in the house during the winter months.

In addition to the large work table in the middle of the room (originally the dining room table in the Glessners’ previous home), ample bookshelves held the children’s books and other items related to their school work.  Numerous cardboard boxes, carefully numbered, held hundreds of George’s glass plate negatives.  Of particular interest, along the north wall beneath the radiator, was a table which held various pieces of George’s equipment including a telegraph that connected to several of his friends in the neighborhood, and a fire alarm that was connected directly to the Chicago Fire Department.  (For more information, see the blog article “George Glessner and His Love of Technology” dated January 2, 2012).

Not surprisingly, the room functioned as the center for Christmas celebrations when the children were young.  In December 1888, George photographed the small table-top tree displayed on the school room table, decorated by the children on Christmas Eve.


Both children married in 1898, at which time the Glessners made the decision to convert the school room into a sitting room.  The central table and its chairs were given to George and his wife Alice, who returned them to their originally intended use in their dining room.   Plans originally called for an extensive redecoration of the room, and in January 1899, Frances Glessner noted that Louis Comfort Tiffany had been consulted about ideas for the space; those plans were never executed.  

The Glessners commissioned A. H. Davenport, the Boston-based firm that had made numerous pieces of furniture for the house when they first moved in, to make new pieces for the room.  The furniture included a sofa and adjustable back chair, copies of pieces in their library, both covered in the same cut-velvet fabric, Utrecht, by Morris & Co.  A sofa table was designed with a removable panel on the top to hold books.

The Lithographic Technical Foundation occupied the house from 1946 until the mid-1960s.  Ironically, they returned the room to its original function as a class room.  In the image below, taken in 1946 by Hedrich Blessing, the room is furnished with a series of student desks, suitable for the seminars and other training sessions held in the house.

After the house was rescued from demolition in 1966, the school room took on a new use.  Given its proximity to the front door, it functioned perfectly as an office, the executive director and her assistant easily able to answer the door when visitors arrived, often for impromptu tours.

By the mid-1970s, significant work was needed in the room, including the floor which was badly rotted due to there being only a dirt floor beneath.  The entire maple floor and chestnut sleepers beneath were removed, concrete poured, and a new maple floor installed.  

Missing sections of bookcases were recreated, and repairs were made to the staircase and fireplace. 

Eventually, the offices were moved elsewhere in the building, and the room was restored to its original appearance as the school room.  Many of the original items, including a Morris Sussex chair, vases, pictures frames, and numerous books, were returned to the museum by the Glessner family and were put back into the room, based on the historic photos taken by George Glessner.

Today, the school room, with its books and writing tablets spread across the table, gives the appearance George and Fanny have just stepped out for a few minutes.  The space is of special interest to the many children who visit the house – unable to imagine the idea of their teacher coming to them, and having a classroom in their own home.  It reinforces the importance of education that the Glessners placed on their children, prompting John Glessner to recall:

“Over the threshold of this has passed a regular procession of teachers for you – in literature, languages, classical and modern, mathematics, chemistry, art, and the whole gamut of the humanities and the practical, considerably beyond the curricula of the High Schools. . . Of this I am sure, that it gave to each of you a great fund of general information, a power of observation and of reasoning, an ability and desire for study, and to be thoroughly proficient in what you might undertake.  If ever there was a royal road for that, you had it . . .”

Monday, March 21, 2016

Rose Fay Thomas

On March 29, 2016, music historian Joan Bentley Hoffman will present a lecture on the life and accomplishments of Rose Fay Thomas, the first is a series of three spring lectures exploring women prominent in the advancement of classical music at the turn of the 20th century.  (Additional lectures will examine Frances Glessner on April 28 and Fannie Bloomfield Zeisler on May 24.  For more information, or to reserve tickets, visit www.glessnerhouse.org/events/).   In this article, we will look briefly at the life of Rose Fay Thomas.

Rose Fay arrived in Chicago in 1878, taking up residence with her brother Charles.  She became acquainted with Frances Glessner through her sister Amy, an accomplished pianist, and one of the first women to study in Europe.  In May of 1890, Rose married Theodore Thomas, the nationally-recognized music director who had brought his celebrated orchestra to Chicago annually since 1869.  Soon after, Thomas accepted the position to establish a permanent orchestra in Chicago, the present day Chicago Symphony Orchestra, now celebrating its 125th anniversary season.

Rose Thomas became her husband’s able help mate and most ardent supporter.  In a letter to Frances Glessner dated May 3, 1892, she noted in part:

“I want to tell Mr. Glessner how much pleasure his letter gave to Mr. Thomas.  He has worked himself almost to death this winter to bring the orchestra up to the highest standard, and make the concerts as perfect as possible. . . “

Regarding the criticisms he was receiving, she went on to acknowledge the Glessners:

‘for the generous sympathy, and support of those far seeing, and noble minded men and women, like yourself and Mr. Glessner, who can grasp the situation, and understand that Mr. Thomas is here to establish a great Art Work, and to make Chicago one of the first musical centers of the world.”

During the World’s Columbian Exposition, for which Theodore Thomas was placed in charge of the extensive musical program, Rose Thomas organized the music clubs of the country into the National Federation of Music Clubs.  She served as the first president and was later appointed honorary president, a position she held until her death.

In August 1894, the Thomases visited the Glessners at their summer estate, The Rocks, in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.  While driving through the surrounding countryside:

“Mrs. Thomas was in raptures over one of the views and locations and came back thoroughly in love with it . . . The Thomases went to Bethlehem and bought about fourteen acres out of Whitcomb’s farm – for which they paid $800.  They have been wild with enthusiasm and interest ever since.”

Two years later, the Thomases completed their home, Felsengarten, on the property, with Rose Thomas personally supervising much of the work.  From this point forward, they spent their summers at their beloved summer estate, as neighbors of the Glessners.  Rose Thomas became an accomplished gardener, frequently sharing plants with Frances Glessner, and in 1904 Rose Thomas published an account of her estate, entitled Our Mountain Garden, a copy of which she presented to Frances Glessner for Christmas.

Rose Thomas was passionate about the abolition of cruelty toward animals.  In January 1899, she convened a small group of ladies to organize what evolved into the Anti-Cruelty Society.  Two months later, by-laws were adopted, and Rose Thomas was appointed president, one of the first women to head a Humane Society in the country.
(Today, the Rose Fay Thomas Society recognizes those individuals who have made planned gifts for the ongoing support of the Anti-Cruelty Society). 

Theodore Thomas died of pneumonia on January 4, 1905, just two weeks after the official opening of Orchestra Hall.  His widow soon gave up their home at 43 Bellevue Place, moving to an apartment at 2000 S. Indiana Avenue, just a few blocks from the Glessners.  Before the move, she came to stay with the Glessners for much needed rest, Frances Glessner noting:

“Mrs. Thomas came in the afternoon to stay with us.  She brought her little dog.  She was perfectly worn out with all the hard work and anxiety she has gone through.  I gave her the big corner room with a bright fire in it – and have left her alone as much as possible.  She says it is the first rest she has had since October and has visibly improved since coming.”

She remained a champion of her husband’s work and in 1911 published Memoirs of Theodore Thomas, dedicating the volume to her brother Charles Norman Fay, “the best and truest friend of Theodore Thomas and the chief promoter of his art.” 

When she died in 1929, she was given a military funeral in recognition of her significant service assisting enlisted men as a director of the Soldiers and Sailors Club.  She was the first woman in New England and only the fourth in the United States to be accorded a military funeral up to that time.  She was interred beside her husband at Mt. Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Today, the Anti-Cruelty Society and the National Federation of Music Clubs serve as the enduring legacy of this fascinating and inspiring individual.

Monday, March 14, 2016

The Mikado

On March 14, 1885, the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company premiered Gilbert and Sullivan’s operetta, The Mikado, at the Savoy Theatre in London.  Cleverly satirizing British politics and institutions by disguising them as Japanese, the production also reflected the growing interest and influence of Japanese art, fashion and aesthetics on western culture.  

The original "Three Little Maids"

Enjoying enormous popularity, The Mikado ran for 672 performances, the second longest run of any musical theater production up to that time.  By the end of the year, it was estimated that 150 companies in Europe and America had staged the production.

The authorized American production opened at the Fifth Avenue Theatre on August 19, 1885.  In the late 1870s, theater manager John T. Ford had entered into an agreement with the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company to stage the official productions of Gilbert and Sullivan operettas, beginning with H. M. S. Pinafore.  The world premiere of The Pirates of Penzance took place there in 1879.  The theatre also gained distinction as being the first in the world to offer air conditioning, produced by blowing air over huge blocks of ice.

The Glessners stopped in New York while returning from their summer estate, The Rocks, in late September 1885.  Frances Glessner noted in her journal on September 30th, “In the evening we went to the 5th Ave. theatre to hear and see the Mikado – excellent.”

Not surprisingly, The Mikado made its way to Chicago soon after.  Less than two months after seeing it in New York, Frances Glessner noted in her journal on Thanksgiving Day, November 26, 1885, “I took the children to McVicker’s to see the Mikado.”

McVicker’s Theatre was one of the oldest in Chicago, dating back to 1857, and rebuilt after the Great Chicago Fire.  It had been extensively remodeled by Adler & Sullivan in 1883 as seen in the image above.  It burned in 1891, but was rebuilt twice, finally being torn down in 1985, after declining into a third-rate movie house.

The most legendary social event ever held on Prairie Avenue was the Mikado Ball, held at the home of Marshall Field on New Year’s Day 1886.  Designed as a party for Marshall Field II and his sister Ethel, aged 17 and 12 respectively, the party reportedly cost their father $75,000.  Sherry's, the exclusive catering firm in New York, provided two private railroad cars full of silver, china, linen, and food.  Special calcium-vapor lights were installed to illuminate the exterior of the Field House, as well as several blocks of Prairie Avenue.  The Chicago Tribune carried an extensive account of the elaborate decoration of the house:

“Mr. Marshall Field’s residence at No. 1905 Prairie avenue was the scene last evening of the first complete ‘Mikado’ ball yet given in America.  It has been the custom of Mrs. Field to have a Christmas-tree party for her children and their little friends, but her son having reached the age of 17 she determined to celebrate it by giving an entertainment of a more mature character than a tree party.  Accordingly the idea of a Mikado ball was conceived and brilliantly executed. 

“Of course everything was purely Japanese.  There was such a bewildering mass of rich and costly stuffs that no detailed description could be well given.  The front entrance was closed and hidden by a large copy of the landscape background of the second set of the Mikado as presented by the original Mikado company at the Fifth Avenue Theatre.  Other scenery and borders divided the hall at the centre into an octagonal Japanese court.  Upon one side of this court was erected a miniature pagoda which was occupied by the musicians – Johnny Hand’s orchestra. 

“In front of the winding stairway at the extreme rear end of the hall stood an enormous bronze stork with uplifted beak.  Before the stork stood a screen in variegated colors.  The stairway banisters and railing were obscured by hangings.  Above all was an enormous Japanese parasol and swinging paper lanterns, together with a number of film silk lanterns containing electric lights. 

“All of the doors had been taken off their hinges and in their place were hung the swinging fringe curtains of beaded wood, ivory, and glass used for doors by the wealthy of Japan.  The walls of the halls were hung thickly with satin and bamboo screens.  The ceilings, like the ceilings of all the rooms, were nearly concealed from view by lanterns of every possible color and design. 

“The walls of the octagonal reception-room were entirely covered with Japanese tapestries in imperial black and gold, while here and there stood bronzes and porcelains.  The walls and ceiling of the yellow room were almost hidden by screens, and banners, and festoonings of stuffs in silk and satin.  There were also in this room three superb screens, one in inlaid wood and ivory representing the god of children.  Another was of bronze and the other was of varied colors. 

“To the rear of the yellow room and connected with it by a large open arch was the ball-room.  At one end, beneath another immense parasol, stood two immense Japanese flower trees in full bloom, made by a Japanese artist.  They were the first of the kind executed in the country.  The flowers were distributed as a portion of favors at the german.  There were heaps of favors of other descriptions.  There were toy animals, lanterns, parasols, slippers, storks, etc.  Two of the favors were especially rich.  One was of peacock feathers and a satin sash, the other a flower and lantern.  These were especially designed for Mrs. Field by Whistler, the London artist. 

“The conservatory had been emptied of its plants and flowers and in their place were lanterns, screens, vases, etc.  The floors were heaped with Oriental rugs.  The fountain had been removed and upon its site stood a table bearing a mammoth punch-bowl, and silver urn, and cups.”

The party began at 6:00pm, with 200 friends of Marshall Field II and an equal number of friends of sister Ethel, all of whom arrived in full Japanese costume.  In addition to Chicago friends, children travelled from Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Cincinnati, and elsewhere to participate and “do honor to their hosts.”  

Grace Woodhouse of New York

Notables, as recorded in the Tribune, included Mr. Richardson of Boston, Miss Woodhouse of New York, and Miss Pendleton of Cincinnati.

Ethel Field (at center) with friends Alice Keith
and Florence Otis, as the "Three Little Maids"

After the children had all arrived, they were posed in tableaux before the pagoda and were photographed.  Then followed hours of dancing to music from The Mikado, as well as all of the other Gilbert and Sullivan productions.  It was well after midnight before the party concluded and the children “sought rest in good American beds.” 

Mrs. Field held a reception the next day from 4:00 to 8:00pm for the parents and other friends, all of the decorations remaining in place until that event had concluded.

On August 31, 1889, the Glessner children staged tableaux vivants at The Rocks.  (See blog article dated September 1, 2014 for a full account).  The continuing popularity of The Mikado is reinforced by the fact that one of the tableaux featured Fanny dressed as Yum-Yum, one of the “three little maids” from The Mikado.  Frances Glessner noted in her journal, “The first tableau was of Fanny as Yum-Yum – bound up in a window curtain and bed quilt.”

The Mikado is still frequently performed, and it remains the most popular of Gilbert and Sullivan’s fourteen operettas.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Julia Ward Howe

Exactly 125 years ago this week, Julia Ward Howe, best remembered today as the author of the “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” was a house guest of John and Frances Glessner.  In this article, we will look briefly at Julia Ward Howe’s life and then focus on her frequent interactions with the Glessners during a friendship that lasted over twenty years.

Julia Ward was born in New York City on May 27, 1819, the daughter of a successful banker and stock broker.  Well-educated and extremely intelligent, she began writing essays, plays, and dramas.  In 1841, she married Samuel Gridley Howe, a reformer and founder of the Perkins School for the Blind; he was 18 years her senior.  Her husband in general did not approve of her writing, especially since it often focused on the rights and roles of women in society. 

In November 1861, the Howes were invited to meet President Abraham Lincoln at the White House.  During that trip she wrote new words to the popular song “John Brown’s Body” and the new version was published in the Atlantic Monthly in February 1862.  It became one of the most popular songs of the Union during the Civil War and remains so to this day.

The popularity of the Battle Hymn raised her profile in the public eye, and she continued to write and publish extensively, on topics ranging from literature and her travels to pacifism and women’s suffrage.  In 1868, she was a co-founder of the New England Women’s Club, the first women’s club in the United States, and later served as its president.  She was also a founder and long-time president of the New England Woman Suffrage Association and later, the Association of American Women, and served in a leadership position in numerous other organizations advocating for suffrage and women’s rights.  In 1908, she became the first woman to be elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

The Glessners came to know Julia Ward Howe through her daughter, the author Maud Howe Elliott (see blog article November 16, 2015), whom they first met at a tea given by the English artist William Pretyman at his studio in April 1888.  (Four years later, the Glessners would commission Pretyman to design and execute the hand-painted burlap wallcovering in their parlor).

Just one year later, on April 16, 1889, Frances Glessner noted in her journal, “Had calls all the afternoon.  Mrs. Julia Ward Howe one of my callers.”  The following Monday she hosted a small luncheon in honor of Mrs. Howe to which twelve ladies were invited.  Following luncheon, Mrs. Howe and Mrs. Carpenter (one of the guests) sang, much to the delighted of the party.

Two days later, Frances Glessner attended another luncheon for Mrs. Howe, this time given by Mrs. Franklin MacVeagh (owner of the other H. H. Richardson designed house in Chicago).  She remained in the city for several more days, as indicated by the entry Frances Glessner made in her journal on May 3rd:

“Friday I went to the Fortnightly and heard Mrs. Julia Ward Howe read a paper on Dante and Beatrice, I also heard some wonderful eulogies pronounced upon her by Mrs. Dexter, Mrs. Donelson, and Dr. Stevenson – who left no words in the language unused to heap praise upon Mrs. Howe.”

During a trip to Boston in February 1891 to visit their son George, the Glessners paid a call on Julia Ward Howe at her home, 241 Beacon Street.  She returned the call the following week, and invited them to breakfast at her home the next morning.  Of the breakfast, Frances Glessner wrote:

“Thursday we went to Mrs. Howe’s to breakfast where we met Mrs. Laura E. Richards, Miss Amy Richards, General Walker, Mr. and Mrs. Jack Gardner – the much talked of.  It was very pleasant.”

(Notes:  Laura E. Richards was a daughter of Mrs. Howe.  General Walker was president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  “The much talked of” Mrs. Jack Gardner was the art patron and collector Isabella Stewart Gardner, creator of Fenway Court – now the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston).

During the breakfast there was apparently some discussion that Mrs. Howe would be visiting Chicago in early March.  Soon after, Frances Glessner wrote to her inviting her to stay with the Glessners during her time in Chicago.  On March 4th, Howe quickly penned a note to Frances Glessner:

“My dear Mrs. Glessner,
I am much concerned to have left your kind letter so long unanswered.  The rush and strain of ten days of almost constant sitting in Convention must be my excuse,  the fatigue of the meetings, pleasant as they were, incapacitating me from doing anything outside of them.  Without further preamble, let me say that I have arranged to leave this place tomorrow, Mar. 5th at 3.30 p.m. by what is called the Pennsylvania Route, reaching Chicago some time on Friday.  I am sorry to say that my stay with you can only be until Monday, as I have a lecture in Hinsdale on Monday evening, another in Rockford on Tuesday evening, and one in Dubuque on Thursday, 12th.  This, you see, will not allow me to attend the Fortnightly on the 13th.  I am so tired just now that the prospect of two quiet days with you is delightful, but I shall of course be glad to meet any friends whom you might wish to invite.  My dear Maud is intruding, I know, to profit by your very kind invitation to her.  Hoping to reach you safely on Friday, and not at some unearthly hour, believe me, dear Mrs. Glessner, cordially and gratefully
Mrs. Julia W. Howe.”


Mrs. Howe arrived at the Glessner home on Friday afternoon.  In the evening, the Glessners took her to Hooley’s Theatre to see The Silver Shield, starring Rosina Vokes and Courtenay Thorpe.  Frances Glessner noted in her journal that “Courtenay Thorpe recognized Mrs. Howe and looked hard at her.”  The next day, Frances Glessner, daughter Fanny, and her companion Violette Scharff accompanied Mrs. Howe to the Columbia Theatre to see the Lilliputians “a company of German dwarfs” that the party found clever and amusing. 

Autographed photo of Courtenay Thorpe,
presented to Frances Glessner

Mrs. Howe’s daughter Maud Howe Elliott and her husband, the English artist John Elliott, arrived from St. Paul on Sunday.  Frances Glessner noted that “Courtenay Thorpe called on Mrs. Howe and Mrs. Elliott in the afternoon – he was very pleasant.”

On Monday, Mrs. Howe travelled to Hinsdale to give a lecture.  The next day, she and her daughter left for Denver where she was to give additional lectures.  They returned at the end of the month, staying in the Glessner home for one additional night before returning to Boston.

In October 1891, Mrs. Howe was back in Chicago and Frances Glessner saw her at an informal tea given by Bertha Palmer.  In early December, the Glessners were back in Boston, and Mrs. Howe invited Frances Glessner to attend a meeting of the New England Women’s Club.  She sent over her personal card in a note which read:

“Dear Mrs. Glessner,
The enclosed card will admit you to the Club session this afternoon.  You should be a 5 Park St., up one flight, by 3:15 p.m.
Cordially and in great haste,
Julia W. Howe”

Park Street, Boston; the New England Women's Club
met in the building at the far left

The Glessners were invited to lunch at Mrs. Elliott’s home later that week, and Mrs. Howe was present.  Frances Glessner noted that:

“There we met Augustus St. Gaudens – who came in for a few minutes with Mr. Elliott.  After luncheon Mr. Elliott took us over to see the new public library.  We went all over the building.”

(Note:  In 1901, John Elliott painted a large two-panel mural entitled “Triumph of Time” on the ceiling of the library.)

Mrs. Howe paid yet another visit on the Glessners when she was back in Chicago in May 1892.  And the Glessners lunched with Mrs. Howe when they were in Boston the following March.


In May 1893, both Julia Ward Howe and her daughter Maud came to Chicago to participate in the Congress of Women at the World’s Columbian Exposition, staying at the Glessner home.  Frances Glessner noted in her journal that “Maud Howe Elliott has been here for two weeks.  Mrs. Julia Ward Howe has been here a week. . . Mrs. Howe and Mrs. Elliott have been going to the Women’s Congress this week.”

The Congress of Women, held in the Woman’s Building on the fairgrounds, consisted of a series of more than 80 meetings held over the course of a week.  Nearly 500 women from 27 countries spoke on a broad range of topics regarding women’s concerns, and it was estimated than more than 150,000 people listened to the speeches.  Julia Ward Howe spoke on the topic “Women in the Greek Drama.” 

The journal records several additional visits over the course of the next fifteen years in both Boston and Chicago.  In March 1902, Mrs. Florence Howe Hall, a daughter of Julia Ward Howe, presented a paper to Frances Glessner’s Monday Morning Reading Class entitled “Personal Reminiscences of Distinguished People” discussing Longfellow, Emerson, Lowell, Holmes, Agassiz, and others.

The last recorded visit with Mrs. Howe took place in May 1909, when the Glessners were passing through Boston on the way to their summer estate, The Rocks. 

In later years, John Glessner was persuaded by his children to write a manuscript entitled “Ghosts of Yesterday” where he discussed various prominent friends who visited the Glessner home on Prairie Avenue.  Of Julia Ward Howe, he wrote:

“Mrs. Julia Ward Howe and her daughter Maud Howe Elliott were with us many times, and Mrs. Howe delighted in her favorite stunt – reading her Battle Hymn and telling how she was inspired to write it.  She was really a great lady, with her excusable and generally admirable peculiarities – deeply interested in the Sanitary Commission during and after the Civil War.  And her daughter Maud’s filial love and admiration would inspire all observers.”

Julia Ward Howe died on October 17, 1910 at her home in Portsmouth, Rhode Island at the age of 91.  She was interred at Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  At her memorial service, more than 4,000 people sang the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” as a sign of respect.
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