Monday, June 18, 2012

The Glessners and Their Automobiles

On Sunday June 24, 2012 from to , Glessner House Museum will present a spectacular vintage car exhibit.  Set amidst the beautiful 1890s restored streetscape of the Prairie Avenue Historic District, the exhibit will feature nineteen automobiles from the timeframe in which John J. Glessner owned an automobile – 1906 to 1936.  The cars to be featured are as follows:
1910 Ford Model T Touring                                                          
1912 Maxwell Special 36 H.P. Touring                            
1919 Haynes Light 6 Touring                                            
1925 Ford Model T Touring                                                          
1927 Pierce Arrow Series 80 Roadster                            
1929 Packard 8 626 Sedan                                                
1930 Cadillac V16 Sport Phaeton                                     
1930 Alfa Romeo 6C-1750 Zagato Roadster                   
1930 Stutz SV16 Weymann Monte Carlo                        
1931 Packard 840 Sport Roadster
1931 Pierce Arrow Model 41 Dual Cowl Phaeton
1931 Ford Model A Deluxe Phaeton                                 
1931 Lincoln K Dual Cowl Phaeton                                   
1931 Packard 840 Sport Landaulet
1933 Rolls Royce Phantom II Brewster Town Car
1933 Auburn 8-105 Salon Sedan                                      
1935 Auburn 851 Cabriolet                                                           
1935 Plymouth 6 Sedan                                                     
1936 Cord 810 Sportsman 
In addition to the automobile exhibit, attendees will have the opportunity to participate in complimentary walking tours of the nearby Motor Row Historic District, home to dozens of early automobile showrooms in the early 1900s, as well as free tours of both the Glessner and Clarke House Museums.  For more information, visit or call 312.326.1480.

In recognition of the car exhibit, one of several special events being held to commemorate the 125th anniversary of Glessner House, we present a few interesting tidbits about the Glessners and their early automobiles.

-The Glessners purchased their first automobile in 1906 and it was delivered to the house on Monday November 26.  Frances Glessner records the significant event quite simply in her journal, “Our Automobile came on Monday.”  In all probability, the car was a Pierce Arrow Victoria Tonneau, similar to the one pictured at the top of the article, which would have cost the Glessners about $5,000, a huge sum in 1906.  The Pierce Arrow dealership in Chicago, H. Paulman & Company, was located at 1321 S. Michigan Avenue, part of the emerging “Motor Row” district.

-John Glessner Lee, the Glessners’ eldest grandchild (born 1898) recalled that the replacement of the family carriage with an automobile required some changes to the traffic patterns around the Prairie Avenue home:
“In my time the carriages and the horses had gone and in their place was an elegant Pierce-Arrow, gleaming with brass.  This was too smelly and noisy to allow in the courtyard and further, my grandmother, would have no such contraption drive under her bedroom (dressing room), so the chauffeur, who was a Swede named Torset, drove it out of the stable, onto 18th Street, and around the corner onto Prairie Avenue where my grandfather and grandmother got into it in public.”

-Lee also recalls how Frances Glessner became a favorite of the “traffic police”:
“Grandmother was so generous to the traffic police around Christmas time and on other occasions, what with gifts in little white envelopes and honey from The Rocks for their wives, that whenever the dark blue Pierce-Arrow came in sight, all other traffic was stopped, and the police saluted and bowed and grinned from ear to ear.  My grandmother, who looked to be the perfect little old lady, beamed with pleasure and waved back.  All extremely leisurely and friendly, except perhaps for the traffic which was stopped.”

-Cars were replaced fairly frequently.  Journal entries record the purchase of new automobiles in May 1909 and January 1911.

-In May 1910, John Glessner had the coach house modified to better accommodate the family autos.  He recorded in the journal, “Have had garage modified this week, so that it is now more convenient than before and will hold another automobile – my own, two of George’s, and one for Frances Lee.”

-By the summer of 1910, even the servants had use of an automobile as indicated in the family journal, “The servants have been much pleased that an automobile has been provided for them in place of the carriages they have had heretofore.”

-One of George’s automobiles was stolen early in 1911.  The incident was recorded in a letter from his daughter Elizabeth to her grandparents, who were wintering in Santa Barbara, California:
“I have something very thrilling to tell you.  Father’s little Automobile has been stolen.  He has gone and told the police station men about it and they have gone out and found it right near Douglas park at the side of the road, and I am very glad.”

-In July 1912, John Glessner gave up his beloved four-in-hand (a type of carriage) as the automobile became the preferred method of transportation:
“On Friday I sent our four-in-hand brake as a present to the Maplewood Hotel Co. (in New Hampshire, near the Glessners’ summer estate, The Rocks).  I was very sorry to give it up, it was so easy and comfortable to ride in and so handsome and as good as new, but in this day of automobiles we could use it so little that I couldn’t keep four horses sufficiently trained to drive together with comfort.”

-John Glessner Lee recalled his Uncle George (who always had an interest in fires) and the automobile he kept after the family moved to New Hampshire in the mid-1910s:
“When Uncle George moved to New Hampshire permanently, his Stoddard-Dayton roadster had a fire gong rather than a horn.  Instead of the customary squawk, his roadster gave out a single deep “bong.”  You could tell him a quarter of a mile away.”

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