Monday, April 14, 2014

Knight, Death and the Devil

Glessner House Museum features a large collection of engravings collected by John and Frances Glessner during the last quarter of the 19th century.  One of these, Albrecht Dürer’s Knight, Death and the Devil, was recently put on permanent display as part of the reopening of the restored corner guestroom on April 9, 2014.  Donated to the museum by a great-grandson of the Glessners in 2010, this is the first time the piece has been on display in the house since the death of John Glessner in 1936.

Knight, Death and the Devil is one of the three “master prints” of Albrecht Dürer, a gifted and versatile German artist of the Renaissance period.  Executed in 1513, and titled simply the Reuter (Rider) by Dürer, the print depicts an armored Christian knight riding through a gorge with a pig-snouted devil behind and the figure of death holding an hourglass to the side. 

Albrecht Dürer was born in 1471 in Nuremberg, one of Europe’s most prominent artistic and commercial centers at the time.  A versatile artist, he was proficient as a painter, draftsman, and writer, but is most widely regarded for his impact on the medium of printmaking.  At an early age, he apprenticed with his father, a goldsmith, and with a local painter Michael Wolgemut, whose shop produced woodcut illustrations for books and publications.  Dürer became familiar with, and greatly admired, the work of Martin Schongauer, also considered a master of printmaking.  (One of Schongauer’s prints, a depiction of John the Baptist made about 1490, is also on display in the Glessners’ corner guestroom). 

Dürer truly revolutionized printmaking, making it an independent and well-respected art form.  His skills significantly expanded its tonal and dramatic range, as seen in the print on display at Glessner.  His two extended trips to Italy exposed him to the great works of the Italian Renaissance and the region’s classical heritage, and these important influences can be seen in his works.  He became the official court artist to Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I and his successor Charles V.

St. Jerome in His Study

In 1513 and 1514, Dürer completed a group of three images which have become known as his “Master Engravings.”  These include Knight, Death and the Devil, as well as Saint Jerome in His Study and Melencolia I.  These three were not specific commissions, but were intended more for collectors, and their technical virtuosity and depth of meaning were unmatched by any of his earlier works.  Dürer died in 1528.

The inspiration for the Christian knight is believed to be taken from an address by Erasmus in his Instructions for the Christian Soldier, published in 1504:

“ In order that you may not be deterred from the path of virtue because it seems rough and dreary . . . and because you must constantly fight three unfair enemies – the flesh, the devil, and the world – this third rule shall be proposed to you: all of those spooks and phantoms which come upon you as if you were in the very gorges of Hades must be deemed for naught after the example of Virgil’s Aeneas . . . Look not behind thee.” 

A second possible inspiration for the work is the familiar passage from Psalm 23, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.”

In this print, the knight rides past Death who is depicted on a pale horse, holding out an hourglass to remind the knight of the brevity of life.  The face of Death is shown with neither nose nor lips, and snakes surround his neck and crown.  

Another symbol of death, a skull, appears in the bottom left-hand corner of the print, directly above a plaque inscribed S. 1513 AD (in the year of grace 1513).  

The pig-snouted figure of the devil behind the knight features rams horns at the sides and a single large curving horn protruding from the top of his head.  Amidst this dark and complex Nordic gorge, the knight, modeled on the traditional heroic equestrian portraits that Dürer would have seen in Italy, is undistracted and true to his mission.  His apparent destination is a hilltop stronghold visible above the dark forest.

Impressions are held in several major galleries and museums, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the British Museum in London.  The posthumous impression in the Glessner collection, based on an analysis of the paper, is believed to have been made about 1600.  The Glessners purchased the piece from Frederick Keppel for $80.00 in November, 1880.  Keppel was an importer of rare engravings, with galleries in London and New York, and the primary supplier of engravings to the Glessners.

NOTE:  For more information on Keppel, see the blog article dated December 16, 2013 regarding the Glessners’ Gesu Bambino engraving.

Monday, April 7, 2014

A restored bathroom

The museum officially reopened the guest bathroom on Thursday April 3, 2014 after six weeks of work, and months more of planning.  It had last been remodeled in the early 1970s when large Formica countertops and chrome bar lights with vanity bulbs were all the rage.  Located off the main hall beneath the landing of the main stairs, it measures just 4 by 5-1/4 feet, but involved the work of numerous craftsmen to restore as closely as possible the original appearance of the room, while still making it fully functional for our visitors. 

Work began last fall when research was undertaken to determine the original materials and finishes used in the room, since there are no known historic photographs of the space.  Original blueprints and building specifications provided valuable information verifying the use of quartersawn oak for the wainscoting and trim, and Knoxville marble for the base under the toilet.  

Oak low tank toilet and high tank enclosure 
in George's bathroom, 1966

Although the original high tank for the toilet remained in place, a 1966 photograph of an upstairs bathroom showed that the Glessners at some point switched to oak low tank models in at least some of the bathrooms.  That photograph also showed the original wood enclosure for the high tank. 

Toilet before (top) and after (bottom)

Once all the information was in place, the next step was to locate appropriate pieces.  Bathroom Machineries, a company in California which specializes in vintage and reproduction bathroom fixtures, proved to be the perfect source for several of the pieces.  This included the stunning quartersawn oak low tank (complete with seat bumper and side pull chain), circa 1916 toilet bowl (a rare piece 2 inches higher than normal bowls), and reproduction “cloak room” sink, as well as faucets and valves. 

Sink before (top) and after (bottom)

The sink is manufactured by Thomas Crapper & Co. Ltd. of England.  This company dates back to the 1860s when Crapper set up business as a plumber.  In time, he became a well-respected manufacturer and earned several royal warrants.   It is popularly held that Crapper was the inventor of the toilet (or W.C. as it is known in England) and that the term “crap” is derived from his name, but neither is true, although the term “crapper” for a toilet does have a more direct connection.  For more information on this history, visit the company website,

The company logo is prominently displayed in the bowl of the sink as well as on the two reproduction “W.C. paper” boxes sitting atop the tank of the toilet (used to store spare rolls).

High tank prior to construction of new enclosure

New enclosure for high tank

The original high tank was preserved and is once again encased in a wood enclosure identical to what would have been in the room when the house was first built.  One small change was the insertion of a small window on the front of the tank, so that the logo of the manufacturer, Meyer Sniffen Co., could still be seen.  (Meyer Sniffen fixtures were used throughout the house when first constructed). 

Top - original oak pull used on the toilet in the master bathroom
(the original rubber ring had been lost by the time of the photo, 1948)
Bottom - vintage oak pull in use in the restored guest bathroom

The original pull chain was still in place and a vintage oak pull was located in England that matched those used by the Glessners as seen in the two images above.  (The black band around the restored pull is a rubber ring to prevent damage to the wall when the pull chain swings and hits the wood).

The 1970s toilet had been set atop a one inch depression in the floor which always looked most unsightly.  Research uncovered the specifications for the original marble base which had a small depression cut into the top around the toilet bowl to collect water runoff or “sweat” to protect the surrounding oak floor.  Using original marble bases still in place at the Driehaus Museum as a guide, a new piece of marble was cut and set into the floor.

Most of the original oak wood wainscoting and top trim was missing and has been replicated exactly based on surviving pieces.  Original casing and jambs around the window and door, as well as the door itself, have been stripped of numerous layers of paint.  The floor, which had also been painted, proved to be a special challenge and it required extensive bleaching and sanding to remove decades of water stains.

The location of the original stiff-arm wall sconce was identified, and a vintage fixture was restored and silver-plated, just as the original would have been. 

Next to the sconce, the original mirror has been put back in place.  This was an exciting find.  Although the original mirror was in the museum collection, it was not known that the mirror had hung in this room.  When the large wall mirror, installed in the 1970s, was removed during renovation, a paint outline on the wall verified that the mirror had in fact been located in this bathroom.

John Glessner wrote that one of his few regrets about the design of the house was using silver-plated fixtures in the bathroom, due to the constant need for polishing.  This was at the recommendation of H. H. Richardson, who felt nickel was a cheap substitute for silver-plate.  Not wishing to burden our current staff with the job of polishing the bathroom fixtures all the time, we opted for period polished nickel pieces.  

These include an 18” glass shelf supported on nickel-plated brass brackets patented by The Brasscrafters Co. in 1906, and a nickel toilet tissue holder and cup holder (repurposed to hold a bottle of hand soap), both Wilwear, produced by the Novelty Manufacturing Company of Waterbury, Conn. in the early 1900s.

After extensive replastering of the ceiling and upper half of the wall, the room was repainted using the original colors – a very light green on the ceiling and a medium olive green on the walls and high tank enclosure.  A simple curtain, made from an historically appropriate white striped dimity, covers the window.

A final touch was the installation of two hooks on the door.  The bronze hooks are original to the house and were removed from a female servant’s closet, stripped and polished.  

This project, funded by a generous anonymous gift to our 125th anniversary fund, has resulted in the complete transformation of one of our least impressive spaces in the museum into a true showpiece.  As the only restored bathroom in the house, it provides visitors with an accurate view of how these rooms appeared at the turn of the 20th century.  

Monday, March 31, 2014

A Frankenstein painting

The museum recently placed a gouache painting on display that has been in storage since it was donated by the Glessners’ granddaughter Martha Batchelder in 1989.  The painting, showing a scene in the Alps, was created by Gustavus Frankenstein, an Ohio artist and friend of Frances Glessner’s family, the Macbeths.  It now occupies a place of honor in the courtyard bedroom.

Gustavus Frankenstein, was born Gustav Ludwig Tracht on January 23, 1828 in Hesse-Darmstadt, Germany, the fifth of six children of Johannes and Anna Tracht.  In 1831, the family immigrated to the United States and the story nearly ended there for they were shipwrecked off of the coast of Virginia.  They survived and were fortunate in being able to save nearly all of their valuables.  An “exceedingly kind and wealthy family” took in the family, but later in the year they continued their journey west to their future home, Cincinnati, Ohio.  The father, who changed the family name to Frankenstein upon arriving in the United States, was a teacher and professor of languages, and later became a talented cabinetmaker. 

Godfrey Frankenstein at Niagara Falls

As the children grew to adulthood, they all showed significant artistic talent, the most prominent artist being Gustavus’ older brother Godfrey.  In 1844 Godfrey visited Niagara Falls for the first time and was so moved by the grandeur and beauty of the place that he spent much of the next 22 years depicting the falls during every season of the year on huge canvases.  During the early 1850s, Gustavus assisted his brother in this undertaking.  These paintings were eventually formed into an immense panorama which was rolled from one spindle to another while a lecture was read, and exhibitions were held in Cincinnati, New York, and Philadelphia.

Frankenstein Home in Springfield, Ohio

The family moved to Springfield, Ohio in 1849 and by May 1853 Gustavus had moved there as well, where he and his brother taught art classes at the Springfield Female Seminary.  One of Gustavus’ students was Helen Macbeth, Frances Glessner’s older sister.   (A number of her canvases, including several depicting the Glessner summer estate, The Rocks, in New Hampshire, will go on permanent exhibit at the museum on April 9, 2014).

Milky Lake, Alps (1867-1869); The back reads:
Painted originally from Nature by Gustavus Frankenstein
and Given to Miss Helen Macbeth (private collection)

In 1867, the two brothers traveled to Europe, spending a season in England painting scenes of the countryside.  They then travelled through the Alps creating numerous canvases including the one now in the collection of Glessner House Museum.  Upon their return to London, “it was acknowledged that Mont Blanc and Chamouni Valley had never before been painted with such power and beauty.”  They returned to the United States in 1869, and Godfrey died four years later. 

Gustavus Frankenstein is best remembered today for his contributions to the field of mathematics.  In 1875, he discovered a perfect magic cube of order 8, which was announced in the March 11, 1875 edition of the Cincinnati Commercial in an article entitled “A Big Puzzle: New and Marvelous – Magic Cubes – A Great Curiosity – Magic Cubes of 8 – Composed of 512 Numbers, Including Every Number from 1 to 512, and Consisting of Thirty Different Equal Squares and 244 Different Equal Rows – Common Sum 2,052.”  That same year, he published a book about his discoveries entitled Magic Reciprocals: Involving a New, Wonderful and Beautiful Theorem.

By the late 1870s, Gustavus left Ohio for Bermuda (or the Bahamas, or the Sandwich Islands, accounts are not consistent), but returned to Springfield in 1880, where he wrote numerous stories, including several for St. Nicholas, An Illustrated Magazine for Young Folk.  One of his articles was “TheLittle Boy and the Elephant” considered by some to be an inspiration for Edgar Rice Burroughs character of Tarzan.  Gustavus also became adept at the repair of clocks and watches, and called himself a “horologist.”  

View from Mitchell Hill Looking Towards Lagonda Village, 1891
(Springfield Museum of Art)

His last paintings were a series of three of the nearby countryside for Ross Mitchell, a Springfield businessman, completed in 1891.

Frankenstein family plot, Spring Grove Cemetery

In 1893, Gustavus and his two sisters moved to Cincinnati where he died on December 11, 1893 after suffering a paralytic stroke.  He was buried at Spring Grove Cemetery. 

The painting on display at Glessner House Museum was executed between 1867 and 1869 when Gustavus and Godfrey Frankenstein were traveling through the Alps.  An inscription on the backside of the board explains the scene:

“Mer de Glace.  Chamonix Valley.  Alps.  Painted from Nature.  By Gustavus Frankenstein.  The View is taken from the Flegere, directly opposite the Mer de Glace, and 6000 feet above the Sea.  The Mer de Glace cuts the Mont Blanc Chain deeply in two.”

NOTE:  The Mer de Glace (Sea of Ice) is a glacier on the northern slopes of the Mont Blanc massif in the Alps.  It is the longest glacier in France, measuring nearly 4.3 miles long and 660 feet deep.

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Glessners Visit Cuba, Part II

Port at Matanzas

Monday we had early coffee, walked to the station about 6:30 and went by rail to Matanzas, about 80 miles.  Matanzas means slaughter houses.

Volante (at right) at Bellamar Caves

Found volantes waiting for us – a cart with two high wheels and long shafts, with the body hung on leather springs and entirely in front of the axle, so that they ride airy, smoothly and easy.   One horse is between the shafts, and the driver rides the other hose and leads the first.  It was a pleasant sensation, this volante ride.

Church at Montserrat

Yumuri Valley

We had a delicious and apparently clean breakfast at the hotel El Louvre.  Then we drove to the church of Montserrat and saw from the mountain the beautiful valley of Yumuri.  The little church was presented to this community by four provinces of Spain and contained at the altar a representation in cork of the mountain in Spain, all very crude.  Outside were four wooden statues representing the four provinces and when we remarked how unsubstantial, our guide said “when these decay they will be replaced.”

After that we drove back through the town, past the seashore to the caves of Bellamore, where there were beautiful stalactites and stalagmites, but in other ways and in extent it was not nearly so impressive as our Mammoth Cave, and the temperature inside was very warm.

Bellamar Caves

NOTE:  The Caves at Bellamar are one of the oldest tourist attractions on the island of Cuba, and are estimated to be 300,000 years old.  They were discovered in 1861 by a slave who lost a tool between the rocks.  One of the feature attractions at the caves is a rock formation known as the Mantle of Columbus with a stalagmite 40 feet long.

Tuesday morning we left Fanny and Emma in the hotel and with a guide to ourselves went shopping again, but again found the attempt unsatisfactory – we couldn’t find anything to buy.  Apparently the manufacturers of the place are Panama hats and cigars, and we didn’t want either.  Went through the market and saw all sorts of fruits, vegetables and articles for sale.  There was a tasteless sort of fruit called sapodilla, about as large as our walnut, with two seeds.  Saw some beautiful tiles, mostly white with blue figures, but these were in buildings, and all we could find for sale were weak in design.

At 3 p.m. Dr. Vigil called to take us to Morro Castle – we three and the Doctor.  Took us across the bay in one of the officer’s boats, manned by six oarsmen and the man at rudder, besides the Doctor’s “soldier” or servant, who was constantly in call for orders.

Morro Castle

NOTE:  Morro Castle, the full name of which is Castillo de los Tres Reyes Magos del Morro, is named for the three magi, and was built in 1589 by Spain to guard the entrance to the bay at Havana. 

He first took us to call on the wife of the Captain of the Artillery.  Her house was interesting, but with little furniture and none of that upholstered.  She had two very fine Chinese jars and two large blue jars, besides table china and silver in large quantity and beautiful, and she took great pride in showing it.  The Captain was a pure Spaniard and the wife a Cuban from one of the wealthiest families.  Her baby was brought in for us to see while she put on her lace mantilla and black gloves to walk with us to the Castle.

The Doctor showed us the Castle, the light house tower, telegraph and signal office etc. and brought us back.  During dinner and through the afternoon we had great sport making ourselves understood through a little French and English and an occasional Spanish word, and the telegraph officer suggested we were speaking Volapuk.

NOTE:  Volapuk was a constructed language, created a decade earlier by a German priest who said he had been told by God in a dream to create an international language.  By 1889, there were nearly 300 Volapuk clubs, 25 periodicals, over 300 textbooks in 25 languages, and one million adherents.  It was largely displaced by Esperanto.

After dinner, through the Doctor’s courtesy, we went to call on El Senor and Senora Medina Plaza del Crito, and their two young lady daughters.  These people were in good society in Havana and we were told their home was typical of Havana homes.  Their apartments were over a furniture store; we went up the usual marble stairway and the doctor called to them as we went up so that when we reached the second (their parlor) floor, the family was at the head of the stairs to meet us.  We stopped a few minutes in the marble floored and wainscoted hall to remove hats etc. and then went into the parlor, also floored with marble, with a few rugs, some rocking chairs and sofas, a table, grand piano, etc. and engravings on the walls.   A married daughter was expected to call during the evening and give us some music and we were told she was the best pianist in Havana, but Cuban ladies never go out when it rains or is damp, and a rain coming up, we were disappointed by not seeing here.  A very heavy rain came up while we were calling and though the shutters were all closed the rain beat in somewhat.  The two young ladies and Frances played.

We did not go to the theatre for there were only variety performances, but people often buy tickets for one act only.  How they get these people out at the conclusion of the act we didn’t learn.  One lady who had traveled a great deal said that standing on the upper floor and looking over the roofs and trees the appearance was as Egypt, but in the streets the appearance was of Italy.  The building material soon takes on the look of age and the dull yellow and blue and gray walls, barred windows, narrow and dirty streets etc. were all foreign.  Havana was noisier, and dirtier, and with more vile odors than any other place we had ever been. 

Monday, March 17, 2014

The Glessners Visit Cuba, Part I

Port at Havana

In March 1889, John and Frances Glessner, accompanied by their daughter Fanny and her maid Emma, embarked on a month long journey encompassing several locations in Florida and Cuba, with additional stops at Jekyll Island, Georgia; Charleston, South Carolina; and Washington, D.C.   They travelled to Havana March 8th and 9th aboard the steamer Capt. J. McKey Olivette, boarding at Port Tampa with a brief stop at Key West, Florida.  This week, we reprint excerpts from Frances Glessner’s journal recounting their arrival and first day in Havana.

We found in Havana that we could not land at the dock from our steamer because if we touched at Havana we should be quarantined when we returned to our own harbor.  We were taken off the boat after examination by custom house officers and examiners of various kinds.  We went ashore in little yachts.

In Havana we stayed at the Hotel Pasaje, meaning passage or arcade and our hotel takes its name from the arcade that runs through it.  An interpreter was out from the Hotel Pasaje – John Repko – a Hungarian who lives during the summer in New York City.  The hotel was several blocks from the landing.  We went up in coaches – like a Victoria with two or four seats drawn by one miserable little tough mustang horse and Cuban driver.  The hotel is three stories high.  The ground floor is dining room, hall and office all in one – reading and bar rooms close by.  “Coffee” consisted of oranges peeled whole, muddy coffee poured out of a large tea kettle and hot milk from the same, with bread.  For breakfast we had delicious golden fish, fresh boiled eggs, beef, chops, fruit, etc.  The guava jelly was so nice but there was such awful doubt about the cleanliness of any of it that nothing could be relished.  All of the food tasted of tobacco smoke.  Everyone smoked.  We saw many women of the lower classes smoking and all men constantly.

We couldn’t have our rooms until twelve.  We had the same rooms the Billings vacated, they returned in our boat.  Our rooms were scrubbed before we went in to them.  All the floors of the hotel were tiled or marble – the ceilings immensely high.  Our staircase open; the parlor was on the third floor, no elevator – our rooms were near this parlor and also near most offensive and disgusting water closets.  A Cuban family dined privately right at the door of these closets and in the open hall and passage way.  The parlor had no furniture but Austrian bent wood chairs and a table – marble floor and a small rug upon which these large rocking chairs were placed in two rows facing each other – each chair had an immense crocheted tidy, very dirty.  The fresco painting in the hotel was very crude, water color, blue prevailed.

Our rooms had each two iron bedsteads, very high open timber ceiling, a wardrobe, three or four chairs, table, commode, washstand, on the commode stood a water jug with cover – porous and of good shape – this held the drinking water.  The beds were curtained with a coarse quality of imitation Nottingham lace – and a valance around the bottoms of them, nothing was clean or comfortable.  Pillows were small and made of hair or something like meal in some of them.  There were two small well worm common dirty velvet rugs by the beds.

After breakfast, the day we arrived at Havana, the American party went by train at the Concha station with John Repko as guide, for a sugar and a pineapple plantation.  We saw many interesting plants and trees, many of our hot house plants growing wild.  A lovely vine covered the station – it had a yellow flower like a morning glory and seed like one only very large – the leaf was like our woodbine.  We left the train at Lama and there took coaches and drove to the sugar plantation.  We went over the sugar mill – the superintendent went there from Brooklyn.  It was rather interesting.  The planter lives in a fine house in sight of it.

Then we drove to the pineapple plantation where we saw pineapple, bananas, bread fruit, and tobacco growing.  Fanny cut a pineapple from the stalk – they grow something like a screw pine or century plant, they bear when two years old and continue bearing about eight years yielding an apple every eight months.  They are started by planting the little shoots which grow at the base of the apple.  The owner, a Cuban, lived in a bark hut thatched with palmetto leaves in the midst of the plantation.  The floors were the ground – four or five miserable children, a brother, a wife with evidently a cancer in her nose, and a little black servant boy comprised the family.  They sliced a pineapple for us but I preferred to wait to cut our own in the hotel.  Vincas, hibiscus, oleanders, etc. grew in profusion.

We returned to the hotel and dined at about six.  We had a greasy watery soup, sweet potatoes, which were white, and which we should have greatly relished but that they were cut open before we got them.  We had a coconut preserves which was very nice.  In driving through the city we counted four entirely naked children in the streets playing.  The people wear very little clothing – men a linen shirt, trousers and belt – no suspenders and not often coats.  Many men, women and children were barefooted. 

The houses are all built of stone covered with stucco painted in water colors, artistic colors – pale blue, yellow, brown, red, yellow-green – blue prevails.  The houses are all right on the sidewalk with no yard in front, but a court and garden inside.  The door in front is large and one large grated window by it.  The front door usually opens into the stable where the horses and carriages are kept, then comes the court and stairway.  The living rooms are upstairs and around the court.  The windows have two sets of board shutters, one with slats outside, and one closed inside – no glass in any of the windows.  We found the very poorest living beside the wealthy, and business places in between.  

Obispo Street is the principal business street.  The hotel was on the prado or park.  This was something like Grand Boulevard in Chicago with rows of trees and driveways between.

Sunday we took a coach to drive to the church to see the tomb of Columbus.  Repko told the driver where to take us – but we got to the wrong church.  We found there an English speaking well-kept priest who took us in a little ante room to have a chat.  There was an excellent tall clock in part of the porch.  The priest came from Barcelona and wanted to hear all about the States.  He told our driver where to take us to see the tomb – and gave us a note.

We then drove to the Cathedral where the driver knocked again and again at the door which was after a long time opened and we went in a round about way to the tomb under the altar.  There is a table and effigy there.

NOTE:  The cathedral is officially known as the Cathedral of the Virgin Mary of the Immaculate Conception and was built by the Jesuits between 1748 and 1777.

It appears that in spite of Columbus’ significant travels during his life time he, in fact, travelled more after he died!  Columbus died in 1506 and was buried in Spain, but he had expressed a desire to be buried in the New World.  In 1509 his corpse was moved to a convent near Seville, and in 1537, his remains, and those of his son Diego, were sent from Spain to Santo Domingo on the island of Hispaniola for interment in the cathedral.  When Spain ceded all of Hispaniola, including Santo Domingo, to France in 1795, the remains were moved once again to the Cathedral in Havana.  His remains were sent back to Spain and placed in the Cathedral in Seville when Spain went to war with the United States in 1898. 

There is however, great controversy as to whether or not the sarcophagus actually contains the remains of Columbus.  In 1877, a lead coffin inscribed with Columbus’ name and containing human remains was found in Santo Domingo, and the Dominican Republic to this day claims those are the real remains of the explorer, and that someone else’s remains had been sent to Havana in 1795.  The issue is still unresolved to this day, with both Seville and Santo Domingo welcoming tourists to visit the real tomb of Columbus. 

Monday, March 10, 2014

The Jekyll Island Club

On Thursday March 13, 2014 at 7:00pm, Executive Director and Curator William Tyre will present a lecture in the museum coach house entitled “Glessner Travelogue 1889 – Florida and Cuba.”  Exactly 125 years ago, the Glessner family escaped the Chicago winter and embarked on a month long journey to Florida and Cuba.  In this lecture, attendees will retrace their steps using Frances Glessner’s detailed and often humorous account of the trip, accompanied by period photographs and illustrations.  Tickets are $10 per person and $8 for museum members.  For more details, or to make reservations, call 312.326.1480. 

During the Glessners’ journey back to Chicago, they stopped for three nights at the Jekyll Island Club, located off the Georgia coast at Brunswick.  The legendary club was one of the most exclusive ever constructed in the United States, with members including the Rockefellers, Vanderbilts, and J. P. Morgan. 

The Club was founded in 1886 by a group of New York businessmen who purchased the island for $125,000.  Shares were sold and membership was strictly limited to 100 families, with the largest number of members coming from New York.  Chicago ranked second in membership; early members included Prairie Avenue neighborhood residents Marshall Field, Norman Ream, Nathaniel Fairbank, Colonel John Mason Loomis, Samuel Allerton, John Wesley Doane, and Wirt Dexter.  George Pullman was elected to membership in 1888 but never officially joined.

Attorney Wirt Dexter, who resided at 1721 S. Prairie Avenue, was especially prominent in the affairs of the club and was named chairman of the building committee.  Fellow Chicago attorney Ezra McCagg served as chairman of the committee on landscape engineering.  Dexter’s committee selected Charles A. Alexander, a well-known Chicago architect, to design the club house, and McCagg’s committee chose H.W.S. Cleveland to lay out the grounds.  (Cleveland had been hired by Chicago’s Graceland Cemetery to undertake significant improvements to the landscape, so was also well known in the city).  The clubhouse was completed in January 1888 at which time the Club officially opened and the first guests arrived. 

The Club was family oriented and activities included hunting, riding and camping – and ladies were encouraged to participate.  A gamekeeper was hired to keep the island stocked with deer, turkeys, pheasants, and quails.  Many of the families built large “cottages” and a large golf course was laid out.  The Club thrived through the 1920s but the Depression caused significant changes and resulted in the creation of a new level of associate membership to attract younger members and keep operations afloat.  But it was World War II that ultimate sounded the death knell of the club, and the island was purchased by the State of Georgia in 1947.  It operated for many years as a public resort and in 1985 opened as the Radisson Jekyll Island Club Hotel.  It still operates as a hotel today, although no longer under the management of Radisson.

During their 1889 visit, the Glessners were the guests of Murry Nelson, a Chicago neighbor who resided at 1623 S. Indiana Avenue.  Nelson had arrived in Chicago in 1856 and established a grain commission and shipping business, Murry Nelson & Co.  Prominent in politics, he was the “doorkeeper” of the 1860 Republican convention held in Chicago that nominated Lincoln for president, served as a member of the Cook County board of commissioners, and was the first president of the county drainage board. 

The Glessners arrived on Friday March 22, 1889.  Following are several excerpts written by Frances Glessner in her journal:

We met Mrs. Pearsall of New York at Jekyl Island, and Mr. Renwick, architect of the New York Cathedral, Mr. and Mrs. Woodruff of Toronto and a few others.  I arranged my things in my room – and after dinner we sat in the parlor.  Going over in the boat from Brunswick, Mrs. Schley, wife of the manager of the Club, came and sat by me and told me about the different points of interest.

Saturday morning we drove on the beach in a one horse wagon with seats for four persons.  We first drove through the woods and visited the old (Horton) house.  It is a very interesting old ruin built of “Tabby” or coquina made of oyster shells and cement.  There was a large fig tree near by and plum or cherry trees – large tress have grown up inside the house – on the hearth stone and crowding the fireplace a large tree came, and all was overgrown by vines and foliage.  The game keeper showed us the pheasants and quail.

The beach is twelve miles long, very hard and broad when the tide is low.  We drove over in high tide.  We picked up shells and drove home the shell road.  At Jekyl the guests breakfast very late, lunch at two or half past, and dine between seven and eight.

In the afternoon Saturday we (John and I) walked to the beach with Mr. Nelson – we walked about four miles.  In the evening we sat in the parlor and talked.  Sunday we walked in the morning, and in the afternoon drove again to the beach.  We sat in the hall in the evening.

The Glessners' daughter Fanny celebrated her eleventh birthday on March 25.  A special cake was presented during her birthday breakfast in the club dining room and the following poem, written by her father, was read:

Here’s a sweet little girl aged 11
Who thinks Jekyl Island a heaven
Till her 12th birthday
She’ll continue to say –
This dear little maid of 11 –
That Jekyl Island is best
For a birthday breakfast
And she’ll want to come back to the heaven.
She’s careless of freckles
Our dear friends at Jekyl’s
Have made us at home on the isle of the sea
To celebrate here this 11th anniversaree.

To learn more about the Jekyll Island Club, see The Jekyll Island Club: Southern Haven for America’s Millionaires by William Barton McCash and June Hall McCash (The University of Georgia Press, 1989).

Monday, March 3, 2014

The Cafe de la Marine

Cafe de la Marine, photo by George Glessner

Three large photographs of scenes at the World’s Columbian Exposition, taken by the Glessners’ son George, are on prominent display in the museum’s visitors’ center.  They depict the caryatid porch of the Palace of Fine Arts (now the Museum of Science and Industry), the Ho-o-den or Japanese Pavilion on the Wooded Island, and the Café de la Marine also known as the Marine Café.

The Marine Café, one of the most distinctive buildings at the Fair, was one of five structures designed by Henry Ives Cobb, who was appointed to the board of architects in January 1891.  He ultimately had more commissions at the Fair than anyone other than Daniel Burnham’s firm.  Cobb’s best known design at the Exposition was the Fisheries Building, but he also designed the Indiana Building, the India Pavilion, and the Streets of Cairo on the Midway Plaisance. 

Black arrow at upper left shows location
of the Cafe de la Marine

Located immediately to the north of the Fisheries Building along the northeast edge of the lagoon surrounding the Wooded Island, the Café de la Marine was one of several restaurants in this vicinity.  Nearby dining options included a Japanese Tea House,  Swedish Café, Polish Café, Clam Bake, Soda Fountain, and a large Banquet Hall.  As its name suggested, the Café de la Marine served seafood, or, as one guidebook stated, “all animals from Water.” 

The structure was designed in a fanciful French Gothic style and featured four pyramidal and six conical towers of various heights surmounted by tall finials.  Two story verandas wrapped the sides providing beautiful views across the lagoon and the waterway leading into the North Pond beyond which stood the Palace of Fine Arts.  Alternating dark wood and light staff (the plaster-like material that was used on the exterior of most of the buildings at the Fair) suggested Tudor half-timbering.

Since the building functioned as an eatery, it did not receive the same level of attention as did the main exhibition buildings.  However, the Café was the scene of an interesting event that was reported in the Chicago Tribune on June 14, 1893.  The event involved a luncheon for the Infanta Eulalia, youngest child of Queen Isabella II of Spain, the official emissary for her country to the Fair.  Accompanied by her husband, the Infante Antonio, the Infanta concluded her visit to the Fair and Chicago with a flurry of activities including lunch at the Café.  The Tribune reported the event as follows:

“Stop,” said a big Columbian Guard as he grasped a slender man in a dark suit by the arm.  The guard was standing at the foot of the stairway leading to the second floor of the Marine Café at Jackson Park.  “This here café is closed,” he continued, as the slender man struggled to get away.

“But I want to get to my wife.”

“Can’t help it, sir.  Sorry, but orders is orders.  You’ll have to wait till your wife comes out.  Nobody but the Infanta and her party are allowed up-stairs.”

“But,” said the smaller man, catching his breath anew, “the Infanta is my wife.”

It was Prince Antoine, who, as usual, had come to Jackson Park ahead of the rest of the royal Spanish party and had spent the morning walking about the grounds and buildings in a thoroughly interested and democratic way.  He had his pointed black beard shaved off before he started for the Fair, and, wearing only a heavy mustache it was little wonder that he was not recognized.

Infante Antonio, Duke of Galiera

But the guard made a low obeisance when the Prince announced himself, and H.R.H. hurried up-stairs, to be greeted with laughter by the assembled party, the Princess taking occasion to twit him on his changed appearance.

 The Infanta and her party reached Jackson Park about noon, coming as usual on the Gryphon.  Director-General Davis’ launch was in waiting and took them at once to the Marine Café, just north of the Fisheries Building.  The table had been spread on the open gallery about the outside of the second story, but handsome screens and curtains of flowers shut out the view of the crowd which gathered on the grass below.  The west end of the gallery had been fitted up as an impromptu reception room.  Tiger skins were stretched upon the floor and great palms drooped in the corner.  Between the posts of the gallery hung festoons of roses and green, trailing vines.  Plates were laid for fifteen around an oval table and at each place was a handsome card embossed in colors with the crossed flags of Spain and the United States.

What the Party Ate.

The menu was as follows:
Little Neck Clams.
Chateau Latour Blanche 1879.
Spanish Omelet.
Planked White Fish.
Cucumbers.               Juliene Potatoes.
Deviled Lobster.
Piper Heidsieck Brut Extra.
Broiled Snipe.              Clos de Vougeot.
Salad and Cheese.

The party lingered for more than two hours about the table.  The Princess sat where with one glance of her eye she could take in the splendid sweep of the lagoons about the green wooded island, backed to the south by the splendid white towers of the buildings about the Court of Honor.

It was nearly 3 o’clock when the party boarded the launch again . . .

View looking east from the Women's Building,
from left: Brazil Building, Sweden Building,
Cafe de la Marine, Fisheries Building

Less than a year later, nothing remained of the Café de la Marine, as it was destroyed along with most of the other buildings at the Fair.  Today, most visitors to Jackson Park, walking across the nearby Clarence Darrow Memorial Bridge, are unaware of the striking edifice that once stood at this location.
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