Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Ladies, please remove your hats!

A century ago, Frances Glessner created quite a stir when she made a simple request to the members of her Monday Morning Reading Class – please remove your hats.  The request made the news, with the Chicago Tribune reporting that it was “one of the greatest sensations Prairie avenue has ever known.”  To further complicate matters for the well-dressed lady of the day, a similar order had been issued by the management of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. 

On February 20, 1915, the Tribune published an article entitled “Hats Off Edict Rules at Mrs. Glessner’s.”  The article reads as follows:

“The members of Mrs. John J. Glessner’s Monday morning reading class, which for twenty years has been a feature of south side society have met with a great adventure this winter.  It is needless perhaps to describe here the beatitudes of this Monday class, the smartly arranged women who file in from half past 10 onwards, the glossy furs, the becoming hats, the latest importation in work bags over the arm.

“Tout Prairie avenue” is present and not only is the latest reading provided by Mrs. Horace Kennedy, but a delightful informal luncheon is offered by the hospitable hostess, whose Prairie avenue mansion at Eighteenth street has the fine hardy lines of a Roman stronghold.

“The class, numbering about forty or fifty, sits around the long library.  This fall, simultaneously with the stirring order to unbonnet all patrons of the Symphony concert, came the request that members of the Monday class should remove their hats during the morning.

“This created one of the greatest sensations Prairie avenue has ever known, for the hat of the woman who has ordered her household, looked over her mail, telephoned several times, and been to market, all before 10 o’clock, usually covers a multitude of sins of omission.

“But, trying as it was, the ground rules have obtained, and careful observers say that the women of Prairie avenue are now much better coiffed than formerly.

“Although the unhatting rule does not extend to the boxes at the Friday concert – and how one does enjoy those women in the loges whose hats and hatpins are not dropping to the floor every few minutes – it is noticeable that Mrs. Glessner always sits hatless in her box, the center of the grand tier, and in no way profits by the immunity to which her location entitles her.”

The issue did not end there.  Two months later, the Tribune ran another article entitled “Unbonneting Rule at Symphony Irksome” written by a columnist identified only as “Cinderella.”  In this article, we learn a bit more about the impact of the order, the journalist vividly describing what a woman must go through to comply - the picture of which “would be enlivening in vaudeville.”

“The rule to unbonnet during the concerts grows more and more unpopular.  It is considered a very arbitrary ruling and rather inconsistent, as the box holders, who are amply supplied with hooks and chairs and mirrors and extra space, are outside the law and sit triumphantly in their most becoming hats looking down upon the sea of disordered hair and oddly variegated coiffures beneath them.

“Always excepting Mrs. Glessner, of course, who has the central box in the horseshoe and takes off her hat, presumably because she likes to.”

“The unhatting is especially irksome to certain elderly ladies who have been subscribers to the concerts ever since their beginning years ago.

“Their experience now at the erstwhile beloved symphony concert would be enlivening in vaudeville.”

“First comes the handbag, then the wraps folded across the knees, then a scarf, then a small knit jacket.  Piled on top of that a muff and fur stole and high on top of the pyramid the hat perched jauntily with its hatpins, effectually cutting off from its owner’s view the graceful and poetic evolutions of Mr. Stock leading the orchestra.

“The lady desires her handkerchief, pokes for it in her handbag, and, O, help! the whole thing slides off her lap into the aisle.

“Younger women do not wear so many wraps, but they positively hate going forth in the late afternoon gayeties with their hats on crooked.

“After all, this unhatting phase seems rather provincial, and more worthy of a small German town under military rule, than of a large city.  One hears that the back seats and the last row of side seats have suddenly become very popular because the women in them are permitted up to date to wear their hats.”

All the while, Frances Glessner was sitting in Box M at Orchestra Hall, no doubt amused at all the fuss caused by a simple rule that she herself had been observing for years.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Miner T. Ames, coal merchant

On January 19, 1890, exactly 125 years ago today, Frances Glessner wrote the following in her journal, while recording the events of the past week, “Our neighbor, Mr. Ames, died early in the week.”  The reference was to Miner T. Ames of 1811 S. Prairie Avenue, who had died on January 13th

This was the second time in just over two years that the Glessners noted the passing of a resident of this particular house, built in 1886.  In early December 1887, the week that the Glessners moved into their new Prairie Avenue home, Mrs. Joseph Coleman, a daughter of Chicago pioneer Silas Cobb, died unexpectedly leaving a husband and three young children – Silas Cobb, Marie Louise, and Joseph Griswold Coleman.  In her will, she left the house to her children, and in August 1888 it was sold at auction to Miner T. Ames.  He made a $10,000 down payment and the balance of $40,000 was to be paid within five years through a series of eight promissory notes to the order of the three minor children.  Ames was living at 3815 S. Ellis Avenue at the time of the purchase.

Miner T. Ames was born in Becket, Massachusetts on July 20, 1839.  Raised on the family farm, he set out at the age of 16 to work as a travelling salesman and within a year obtained a position as a railroad brakeman in Akron, Ohio.  A hard worker, he was soon promoted to baggage master, a position he held for five years before saving enough money to relocate to Chicago in September 1862.  After a few years, he engaged in the coal business, and it was through this venture that he made his fortune, becoming the owner of a large coal mine in Minonk, near Peoria, Illinois, under the name of the Chicago & Minonk Coal & Coke Company. 

Coal mine at Minonk

An interesting story connected with the coal operation involves the installation of electric lights in Minonk.  An article, published years later in a Chicago newspaper noted:

“Knowlton L. Ames, prominent Chicagoan and head of the Booth Fisheries Company was born in Minonk.  It was through the efforts of his father, the late Miner T. Ames, that Minonk was the second town in the United States to have municipal electric lighting.

“A friend of his was working at the time for Thomas A. Edison in his electrical laboratories.  One day he came to visit Ames.  After he saw the mine he offered to install electric lights in the shaft more or less as an experiment.  That was in 1882.  It worked so well, Ames gathered a group of subscribers and had electric lights installed throughout the town.”

With his first wife Emily, Miner T. Ames had three children – Knowlton (who was in his final year at Princeton when his father died), and two daughters, Jane Rose and Harriet Chaffee.  His wife died in 1877, and six years later he married Irene Cowen, by whom he had two more children – Emily Faithful and Miner T. Jr. who were four and two respectively at the time of their father’s death. 

The funeral took place at the family home on Prairie Avenue on January 16th, as reported in the Chicago Tribune:

“The remains of Miner T. Ames were laid to rest yesterday afternoon in Graceland in the presence of his immediate relatives.  The services at the family residence, No. 1811 Prairie avenue, were short and simple.  The Rev. Dr. Simon J. McPherson of the Second Presbyterian Church read several consoling passages of Scripture and offered prayer.  The burial was private, only the relatives following the body to the cemetery.”

Ames had accumulated significant wealth in his lifetime, and on January 21st, the Tribune reported on the assets of the estate:

“Judge E. H. Gary granted to Mrs. Irene C. Ames letters of administration in the estate of her late husband, Miner T. Ames, the coal merchant.  The estate aggregates $560,384.  Mrs. Ames gave bonds in the sum of $200,000.  Mr. Ames left no will, and the property will be divided between the widow and children, Knowlton L. Ames, Jane Rose Ames, Harriett Chaffee Ames, Emily Faithfull Ames, and Minor T. Ames.  The schedule of property includes cash on hand and bills and notes receivable amounting to $37,390; household furniture, $3,100; store and office fixtures, cars and machinery, $42,124; the homestead at No. 1811 Prairie avenue, $90,000; a residence on De Kalk street, $5,000; coal lands at Braidwood, Ill., containing 469 acres, $4,000; about 1,953 acres of land in Woodford and Marshall Counties, Illinois, $175,770; the shaft and mine at Minonk, Ill., with 2,300 acres of coal land, $200,000.  The annual rental of the landed property is placed at $15,000.”

The home was the scene of a happy event when Jane Rose Ames was married to Walter W. Ross on May 14, 1891.  The evening ceremony was attended by 150 guests and “the rooms were profusely decorated with potted plants, roses, and violets, white and purple being the only colors used.”  The ceremony was performed by Rev. McPherson from Second Presbyterian Church.  Several hundred guests attended the reception following.

Chicago Tribune, May 27, 1894

Within a couple of years, the Ames family moved and, being unsuccessful at selling the home, opted to lease it out to a series of tenants.  The widow moved to 2108 S. Prairie Avenue, and Ames’ eldest son Knowlton moved to 2412 S. Prairie Avenue.  Occupants of the house included attorney William B. Keep, fire adjuster Joseph Fish, and David Mayer, a partner in the firm of Schlesinger & Mayer.

LATER HISTORY:  Knowlton L. Ames, known as “Snake Ames” during his time as an all-American football fullback at Princeton, later served as chairman of the board of Booth Fisheries and publisher of the Chicago Journal of Commerce.  He committed suicide in December 1931 while despondent over ill-health and financial reverses.  His son John Dawes Ames, took over as publisher of the Chicago Journal of Commerce, which was eventually sold to Dow Jones & Co., publisher of the Wall Street Journal.  John D. Ames was a colonel in World War II and served as military governor of Rome after it occupation in 1944.  A long-time Lake Forest resident, he died in 1987.

Monday, January 12, 2015

George Glessner, photographer

Waterfall at Franconia Notch, Lincoln, New Hampshire, 1889

George Glessner (October 2, 1871 – January 10, 1929) was a highly talented amateur photographer, beginning his serious hobby when he was just a teenager.  During his lifetime he took thousands of images ranging from the documentary to the artistic.  Surviving photographs and negatives from the 1880s and 1890s indicate that he owned at least three separate cameras, utilizing “dry plate” glass negatives in 4”x5”, 5”x7”, and 8”x10” sizes.  

Self-portrait taken at The Rocks, age 16, 1888

Development of the negatives as well as printing and mounting of the photographs was frequently done in his “chemical laboratory,” a basement level space located directly off of the schoolroom.  He also sent his negatives out for professional processing as indicated by a quote from a letter to his mother in March 1889:

“I got the last lot of photographs last night and all I am afraid of now is the bill, but I guess papa will help me out on that, he always has before."

Dresser in George Glessner's bedroom, c. 1888

The Glessners’ Prairie Avenue home was extensively documented by George and his camera within a year of their moving in.  These photos in particular have been invaluable in revealing the appearance of the house at the time, assisting in the placement of original furniture and decorative objects, and in identifying original wallpapers, textiles, and carpets.

Unidentifed fire scene, c. 1890

Additional subjects that were captured through his lens in the last decades of the 19th century include fire scenes and equipment, the World’s Columbian Exposition, trains, Chicago buildings and street scenes, and hundreds of views of the family’s summer estate, The Rocks, in New Hampshire.  By the early 1900s, he began using a film negative camera, and many of these candid shots feature his children and other family members, especially during their annual summer stay at The Rocks.

George Glessner's wife Alice with their daughter
Elizabeth (at left); George's sister Frances with
her son John (at right), 1900

Glessner was meticulous in the way in which he organized and cataloged his photographs.  Virtually all photographs are labeled with subject and date, and all carry the corresponding negative number.  

Typical photo label

Labels, pre-printed with his name and address, were affixed to the back side of the mounted photos, and the front side of the mounts was stamped with his name, often with the word “Amateur” added.  Glass negatives were similarly numbered and stored sequentially in boxes (still housed on the shelves in the schoolroom).

Marine Cafe, World's Columbian Exposition, 1893

George Glessner’s photographs are a valuable part of the Glessner House Museum collection, not only as beautiful examples of the art of photography in the late 19th century, but as visual documentation of the places and events which shaped the lives of the members of the Glessner family.

Hotel Florence, Town of Pullman

Illinois Central train approaching 18th Street

Homes for George Glessner and Frances Glessner Lee,
1700-1706 S. Prairie Avenue, under construction, 1901

Female servants' entrance at Glessner House,
note silhouette of cook in window

"The Ledge Hawk" at The Rocks

Monday, December 29, 2014

Ringing in the New Year - 1900

In a few days, the world will bid farewell to another year and usher in 2015.  In celebration, we take a brief look back at how the Glessners and a few of their fellow Chicagoans welcomed in the year 1900.

The Glessners celebrated with a small gathering in their home which was greatly enhanced by the arrival of their dear friend, Theodore Thomas, conductor of the symphony orchestra, and a few of his musicians.  Frances Glessner related the following in her journal for Sunday December 31, 1899:

“Mr. & Mrs. Philo Otis, Miss Hutchinson, Frances, Mr. Badger, Mr. Hendricks, Mr. Hendrickson came to supper.  Mr. Hendricks and Mr. Hendrickson left at 10.  Mr. Thomas came in between eleven and twelve.  At twelve we were congratulating each other when the most beautiful music seemed to fill the whole house.  Mr. Thomas had brought in eight or more members of the orchestra into the dining room.  The doors were shut into the dining room, and the whole house seemed filled with harmony.  The men played German chorales.  Then the doors were opened, we went out and wished every one a happy new year, after that the men played burlesques on a German street band.  We were moved to tears in the first part, and nearly hurt ourselves laughing over the other part.  We had some sandwiches, champagne, and mulled wine – and a very delightful time.”

Theodore Thomas

From the Chicago Tribune we get a glimpse of how others in Chicago were celebrating.   Midnight masses and “watch night” services were common in many of the churches as indicated below:

“The dawn of the ‘holy year’ in Chicago found the many churches where midnight mass was sung surrounded by great throngs of people.  Every edifice was crowded, the aisles were filled, and many stood in the vestibules, but could hear or see little of the services.  At the Cathedral of the Holy Name, North State and Superior streets, and at the Holy Family Church, May and Twelfth streets, the crowds were greatest.  At both these were special details of police and detectives.

“At the North Side Cathedral the crowd began to gather soon after 8 p.m.  By 11:30 there was a crowd of 2,000 people around the church.  Shortly before midnight a small door was opened, and through this the crowd filed slowly till the church was filled.  Hundreds were turned away disappointed.

Holy Family Church and St. Ignatius

“The Holy Family Church, Twelfth and May streets, which has the largest congregation of any Catholic Church in the city, was crowded long before midnight.  Solemn high mass was sung, and the music and floral decorations were fitting for the celebration.”

Cycling clubs, extremely popular at the turn of the last century, provided appropriate entertainment and activity.  The Board of Trade Cycling Club gave an annual entertainment, consisting of a minstrel show with club members taking all of the roles.  T. J. Cannon, the master of ceremonies for the show, was in Colonial costume and powdered wig; others performers were in black face.

Cyclists on the porch of a Pullman home

The Chicago Cycling Club continued their annual tradition of a ride to Pullman:

“Members of the Chicago Cycling club having an authenticated record of 2:50 for a mile unpaced will start at 10 o’clock this forenoon on their fourteenth annual New Year’s day run to Pullman. . . The annual run has been held in all sorts and kinds of weather in the thirteen years in which it has flourished.  Roads from the consistency of mush to the frozen pathway which will be found today have been religiously whirled over by the pioneers of Chicago cycling every year.  Sometimes they rode in snow, sometimes in rain, sometimes in a combination of rain and snow; but they have always ridden the course and finished up with a big dinner at Pullman . . . Twenty-five or thirty riders have signified their intention of taking the run today.  Probably not more than fifteen will turn out, but these will be the oldest riders of the lot.  The younger generation do not take as kindly to the hardships of the task as do those who first burned the pathway for the bicycle in Chicago.”

The holiday was also celebrated with many parties and receptions including these two on the South Side:

“Two entertainments with which the week closed were given by Mrs. Chauncey Blair and Mrs. Arthur Caton last evening (December 31).  Mrs. Blair gave an old-fashioned farm supper and dance for the young people.  Pumpkins, jack-o’-lanterns, and other novel features were used in decoration.  Mrs. Caton gave a dinner for nearly fifty guests, followed by a vaudeville entertainment.  The program was supplied entirely by amateurs.”

Caton dining room, 1910 S. Calumet Ave.

NOTE:  The Chauncey Blair residence was at 4830 S. Drexel Boulevard.

Regardless of how you choose to ring in 2015, we wish our readers a happy, healthy, and prosperous New Year!

Monday, December 22, 2014

The Christmas Pie

With Christmas just three days away, we take a look at a Glessner Christmas tradition that delighted George and Fanny in the first years they lived in their home on Prairie Avenue.  The custom was known as the “Christmas pie.”

Glessner house tree, 1888

Frances Glessner references the pie in her entry for Christmas 1888:
“We all hung up our stockings and trimmed our pretty little tree just three feet high.  It stands on the table in the school room.  I filled the stockings.  Christmas morning we were roused by Fanny bringing in our stockings . . . We had a lovely Xmas pie covered with holly and smilax.  The presents were buried in the tin pan in rice.  We had a great deal of sport pulling them out, the labels hung out.  There were rhymes on each one.”

The idea of a Christmas pie was not unique to the Glessners.  The tradition dates back to the early 1700s if not earlier as referenced in the well known English nursery rhyme “Jack Horner’s Christmas Pie”:
Little Jack Horner
Sat in the corner,
Eating a Christmas pie;
He put in his thumb,
And he took out a plum,
And said,
What a good boy am I!

Mother Goose, 1901

The idea was further popularized in a book entitled “Christmas Pie” published in 1879 by Ella Maria Baker.  Many of the references to other Christmas pies indicate that it was a more traditional pie made to be eaten, with toys baked inside.   A story by Mrs. Etta Austin Blaisdell McDonald published in “Rhyme and Story Primer” in 1916 indicates that the main purpose of the pie may have actually been the toys inside, and not so much as a dessert.  She wrote:
“Jack Horner’s grandmother made a big pie for him.  It was a Christmas pie.  She put the pie on the table.  The pie was not good to eat.  It was in a big dish.  Jack’s grandmother put toys in the Christmas pie for the children.”

Some pies were clearly made not to be eaten.  In 1908, the educational guide “Primary Plans” published ideas for a Christmas pageant in which it was suggested that a Christmas pie be made in a large washtub and filled with toys, fruit, and candies.  It was large enough to hold a small child, dressed as a fairy, who would pop out at the appropriate moment.  The pie was covered with heavy brown paper painted to look like the actual top of a pie. 

In 1889, John Glessner wrote a poem about the Christmas pie:
“Dear Christmas pie –
The pie’s the thing
Its praises sing
All you and I.

And song birds in pride overweening
Their poetical plumage are preening
There’s Browning and Whiting and Blueing and Greening –

In depths of rice
Are many things nice
Pray put in your thumb
And pull out a plum
And read what is writ without changing its meaning.”

Glessner cleverly included the names of two poets in his poem.  Browning is a reference to the great English poet Robert Browning (1812-1889) who had died just days earlier.  Whiting is a reference to William Whiting (1825-1878), an English writer and hymnist, who also published two collections of poetry.  He is best remembered today for his 1860 hymn “Eternal Father, Strong to Save” which in the late 1870s was adopted by the U.S. Navy as their official hymn.  Blueing and Greening were simply added in humor as the names of the two poets were also the names of colors.

Today, a recreated Christmas pie occupies a place of honor every year in front of the small table top Christmas tree in the Glessner schoolroom.  Next time you visit the museum, be sure to notice it and reflect on this charming custom from Christmas past.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Frances Glessner Lee and World War I

Great Lakes Naval Training Station

Both today and in 1918, Great Lakes Naval Training Station sailors like to visit Chicago while on leave. During World War I, the number of sailors at Great Lakes increased dramatically. Many of these sailors were young and far from home, some for the first time. Frances Glessner Lee recognized the morale raising potential of entertainment in a private home. With her friends Henry E. Voegeli, Assistant Manager of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and his wife, Mrs. Lee invited sailors to her home at 1700 S. Prairie Avenue on Sunday evenings for a good meal, music or lecture, and friendship.

In order to assist the sailors as best she could, Mrs. Lee created a file for each sailor that she entertained. The files recorded the dates of their visits, dates of correspondence sent and received, gifts she sent, a physical description, their mother’s address, and her overall impression of the young man. Mrs. Lee also attached letters, postcards, and photos she received from the sailors and their families to her records and marked the records of the sailors she liked best with gold star stickers. Given the large number of gold star records, Mrs. Lee seemed to greatly enjoy her evenings with the Great Lakes sailors.

Notes on Roy Cotterill

After leaving Great Lakes, Mrs. Lee’s sailors scattered across the United States and Europe. Many of the sailors wrote to Mrs. Lee after leaving Great Lakes, but five sailors were particularly devoted correspondents. Charles Young and Talmage Wilson both belonged to the Great Lakes band. After Great Lakes, the Navy assigned Talmage Wilson to play with the U.S.S. Alabama band. 

U.S.S. Alabama band on deck

Talmage Wilson

Charles Young remained at Great Lakes for most of the war as a member of a touring naval band led by John Philip Sousa. He sent Mrs. Lee letters and postcards from the band’s Midwestern Liberty Loan tour stops. 

Charles Young

Herbert Wilson (no relation to Talmage Wilson) sent lighthearted letters from the Naval Radio School at Harvard University. He and Mrs. Lee penned a series of humorous exchanges between “I.M.A. Fish,” “Ananias Johnson,” and “Captain Blowhard.” Joseph McCarthy’s letters were far more serious than the other sailors. McCarthy frequently declared that he loved Mrs. Lee as much as his own mother. He sailed with the U.S.S. Kentucky and wrote Mrs. Lee dozens of letters, several of which detailed the dangers of German U-Boats to Allied Atlantic convoys.

U.S.S. Kentucky

Joseph McCarthy

Fred. M. Wolfe was a particular favorite of Mrs. Lee’s. A Colorado Springs native, Wolfe’s heart trouble and shy nature also concerned Mrs. Lee when they met in 1918. Mrs. Lee corresponded both with Wolfe’s mother and his younger brother Lawrence, a soldier in France. According to the letters, Mrs. Wolfe even visited Mrs. Lee in Chicago in 1918. After Great Lakes, the Navy sent Wolfe to the radio training school at Harvard University. Unlike the other Great Lakes sailors, Wolfe continued his friendship with Mrs. Lee after the war and visited her often at Wendell House in Boston.

Fred Wolfe

Mrs. Lee fell out of touch with many of her sailors during the fall of 1918. Several of her correspondents worried that Mrs. Lee was a victim of the flu epidemic. Mrs. Lee was not ill, but busy with a new endeavor in Boston.

Mrs. Lee wanted to do more for sailors than simply provide them dinner and an evening’s entertainment. She wanted to give them a home away from home. As early as February 1918, Mrs. Lee’s letters expressed an interest in starting a dormitory for servicemen on leave. In November, 1918, this dormitory became a reality. Mrs. Lee accepted the position of Resident Manager at Wendell House, a home for enlisted men and non-commissioned officers in adjoining houses at 31 Mt. Vernon St. and 75 Hancock St. in Boston’s Beacon Hill neighborhood. The Massachusetts Branch for Women of the Special Aid Society for American Preparedness funded Wendell House. Though other servicemen’s homes operated in Beacon Hill at the time, Wendell House was unique as Mrs. Lee actually lived at Wendell House and conducted the house less like a servicemen’s club and more like a private home. The Special Aid Society even furnished Wendell House with used, donated furniture in order to achieve a “lived in” atmosphere. According to Mrs. Lee, the servicemen approved of Wendell House. On December 14, 1918 she wrote to her mother's Monday Morning Reading Class that “the boys all say ‘well ma’am, this is the only place we have ever struck that is just like home.’ They settle down as contentedly as cats.”

Wendell House parlor

Wendell House offered servicemen lodging in dormitories or a private room. A bed in a private room cost $0.50 per night and a bed in a dormitory room cost $0.35 a night. Each bed, dormitory room, or private room was sponsored by an individual donor or branch of the Special Aid Society. Though Wendell House had a capacity for one hundred men, the couches were sometimes rented out and cots put up to accommodate as many servicemen as possible. Breakfast was available for a nominal fee in the Wendell House cafeteria. Mrs. Glessner and the Monday Morning Reading Class provided the necessary funds to outfit this cafeteria. By April 17, 1919, Wendell House hosted 1,212 different servicemen since opening in December 1918. Wendell House had a high number of repeat or long-term guests as 7,733 beds were occupied in this same period.  

A dance at Wendell House

Mrs. Lee corresponded with fewer Wendell House servicemen, but still took an interest and tried to help them when she could. Several letters indicate she counseled soldier Joseph Hemmes throughout his court-martial and helped unemployed veterans secure jobs. In April 1919, Mrs. Lee described the appreciation of a down and out veteran to the Monday Morning Reading Class:
“His clothes were so forlorn & he had such a hopeless, lost-dog sort of look that we decided he would never get a job so long as he looked that way. I have a little fund of $10.00 a month given by the Winchester Branch to relieve any cases of financial distress. So I took a $10.00 bill and gave it to Charlie (one of our guard) & told him to take this boy out & get him new clothes…Then I gave him a dollar & sent him forth for a job. Wednesday he got one & has gone there today. He said ‘I was ashamed to look anyone in the face, but now I’m all right. I’m going to pay you for all dem tings soon’s I get some pay. I don’t see how you done all dis fer me. It sure wuz my lucky day win I come here.’” Mrs. Lee received similarly warm and appreciative thanks in letters from many Wendell House servicemen and their families.

Soldiers in front of Wendell House

According to Mrs. Lee, “Wendell House has the reputation throughout this naval district of being ‘the best place in Boston’ and all the canteens and service houses and hostess rooms know ‘Wendell House Boys’ to be the pick of the three services.” Wendell House was a great success. By July 1919, Mrs. Lee resigned from her position as Resident Manager and returned to The Rocks. Though gone, Mrs. Lee’s hospitality and kindness were not forgotten by the soldiers and sailors she befriended from Great Lakes and Wendell House.

Siobhan Heraty was an intern this fall at Glessner House Museum. She is a master’s student in the public history program at Loyola University Chicago. Siobhan developed an interest in World War I as an undergraduate history major and continues to explore this interest as a graduate student through research projects related to American memory of World War I. Given her research interests, working with the Great Lakes and Wendell House collection was an interesting and enjoyable experience for Siobhan.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Fire damages Chicago Firehouse Restaurant

Chicago Tribune photo

Fire tore through the landmark structure housing the Chicago Firehouse Restaurant at 1401 S. Michigan Avenue in the South Loop on Wednesday December 10, 2014.  The fire began accidentally about 10:20am by workmen making repairs to the roof.  It quickly spread and the roof eventually caved in.  Everyone was safely evacuated from the building.

Exterior in 1912

The structure was built in 1905-1906 to house Engine Company 104 of the Chicago Fire Department.  Architect Charles F. Hermann designed the distinctive structure in the Romanesque Revival style, utilizing yellow brick and limestone in its construction.   Two bays facing Michigan Avenue accommodated the horse-drawn equipment, and the large second floor provided living quarters for the firefighters on duty.   

Interior circa 1948

The back portion of the second floor was used as a hayloft for the horses.  After motorized equipment was introduced, that space was converted to a handball court.  Portions of the 1991 movie Backdraft, directed by Ron Howard, were filmed in the structure.

The fire house operated until 1999 when the property was sold to investor Matthew O’Malley, who opened the restaurant the following year.  Careful attention was paid to preserving many of the original details of the building.  The restaurant interior retained the tin ceiling, glazed brick walls, and two brass fire poles.  The metal spiral staircase up to the living quarters was removed and reinstalled in the new courtyard, created from the space formerly occupied by the horse stables.  

Simmerling paintings being removed from the building

The sense of history was enhanced by artist Jack Simmerling who created several large watercolor paintings to decorate the dining room.  These included scenes of nearby Prairie Avenue, as well as the Potter Palmer “castle” and the Cyrus McCormick mansion on the city’s north side. 

On October 1, 2003, the building was designated a Chicago Landmark.  The plaque installed on the front of the building reads:

“The design of this firehouse incorporated many innovations aimed at achieving quick departures and providing more comfortable quarters for firefighters.  Its Romanesque Revival-style details also make it one of the more distinctive and handsome firehouses in the City.  Through their history and architecture, Chicago’s historic firehouses show how ideas about fire protection and the firehouse itself evolved over time.”

After the fire had been extinguished

The restaurant was a favorite of former Mayor Richard M. Daley, who lived nearby on Indiana Avenue.  In July 2006, he hosted a dinner for then President George W. Bush, who celebrated his 60th birthday in the private banquet room on the second floor.  

The owners announced almost immediately their intentions to rebuild and reopen as soon as possible.

NOTE:  Historic images from "History of Chicago Fire Houses of the 20th Century 1901-1925" by Ken Little and John McNalis, published in 2000.

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