Monday, August 27, 2012

The Elks Memorial

On Thursday August 23, 2012, twenty-five members and friends of Glessner House Museum visited the Elks National Memorial at 2750 N. Lakeview Avenue in Chicago.  The Memorial contains one of the great interior spaces in the city, if not the nation.  Built for the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, the building functions solely as a memorial – it is neither lodge hall or meeting space, although the national offices of the organization are located in wings to the north and south. 

Following World War I, there was a strong interest by the Elks to erect a memorial to the 1,000 plus members who died during the war (more than 70,000 served).  Following a competition sponsored by the American Institute of Architects, New York architect Egerton Swartwout’s design was selected, and the Hegeman-Harris Company was selected as contractor.  The former site of the Ernest J. Lehmann mansion (owner of the Fair Department Store) at the southwest corner of Diversey and Lakeview, directly across from Lincoln Park, was selected.  Construction began in 1923 and the building was officially dedicated three years later on July 14, 1926.  The cost of nearly $3 million was covered by a $3.50 per member assessment.  The memorial has been rededicated several times since to include Elks who gave their lives in subsequent wars and conflicts.  In recent years it has undergone an extensive restoration costing nearly $5 million.

The heart of the memorial is the domed rotunda which rises 94 feet from the floor.  A huge reflector in the middle of the dome is covered in gold and aluminum leaf, and lights reflecting off the leaf provide a warm and even illumination of the space below.  Numerous marbles from various locations in Europe and the U.S. are used for floors, walls, columns, and other appointments. 

A series of 12 murals depicting scenes from The Beatitudes surround the upper part of the rotunda, the work of Eugene Savage, who was awarded the Architectural League of New York’s Gold Medal of Honor for this work in 1929. 

Each mural is separated by a window designed by Montague Castle Studios of New York.  A series of eight murals beneath depict symbols of the chief branches of military and naval service. 

Four niches containing gilded bronze statues by James Earle Fraser represent Brotherly Love, Fidelity, Justice, and Charity – the four cardinal virtues of the Elks. 

Light fixtures by the Sterling Bronze Company adorn the north and south vestibules.

The west vestibule contains three murals by Edwin Howland Blashfield depicting charity, fraternity, and justice. 

The vestibule leads to another extraordinary space, the Grand Reception Room. 

This room contains more murals by Eugene Savage, including two wall murals “Paths to Peace” and “The Armistice” and several ceiling murals depicting the legend of Olympus.  The wall paneling is English oak, and the columns and floors are American white oak. 

Windows by Paris and Wiley of New York and chandeliers by the Gorham Company illuminate the space. 

The exterior is built of Indiana limestone and features a huge carved frieze by Adolph Weinman containing 168 life size figures. 

Weinman also designed two bronze groups in niches set into the north and south wings depicting patriotism and fraternity. 

Elaborate bronze doors leading to the memorial hall were designed by the Gorham Company.  Two bronze elk (one seen in the photo at the top of the article) designed by Laura Gardin Fraser, were awarded the Gold Meal of Honor at the Allied Arts Exposition in New York in 1929, for being the finest work of art done by an American woman that year. 

The memorial is currently closed to the public due to ongoing restoration but is expected to reopen in 2013.  It is a space well worth visiting.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Main Hall Restoration

The main hall at Glessner House Museum has undergone restoration work during the summer, which was unveiled to the public on Wednesday August 1, 2012.  The major components of the restoration are the recreation of the portieres and draperies and the modification of the reproduction light fixtures.

Historic photos show that the main hall featured portieres and draperies in the “Peacock and Dragon” design by William Morris.  Frances Glessner records selecting the fabric in a journal entry dated April 19, 1887 while she was visiting Marshall Field’s with Charles Coolidge, one of the architects who oversaw the completion of the house after the death of H. H. Richardson.  The “Peacock and Dragon” design was a bold pattern featuring alternating pairs of peacocks and dragon set amongst a lush and detailed background.  The woven woolen fabric was created by Morris in 1878 and was available in several colorways.  The modern reproduction, made by Sanderson, is exactly like the original except that the pattern is not as large, the original having a repeat measuring 43 by 35.5 inches. 

The portieres are hung on both parlor doors, the doorway to the library, and the doorway leading to the master bedroom hallway.  Most importantly, a large panel conceals the doorways leading to the guest bathroom and servants’ hallway at the north end of the hall, which would have always been kept from view.  Single panels are also hung on each of the two windows flanking the curved door.  Brass rods, brackets, and drapery rings, matching the originals in scale and design were made for all openings. 

The wall sconces, which are reproductions made in the 1970s, have been retrofitted with “spider” brackets to accommodate the proper glass shades.  These shades, made in the 1980s by the Salviatti & Company studios in Venice, replicate the original “Murano” glass shades with their simple striped design on broad cylinders.  They match the shades found in the parlor, and have been in storage awaiting installation for thirty years.  In addition, the second floor sconces were reworked by recreating the beautiful six petal back plates and additional two petal detail on the stem.  All fixtures were repainted and repaired as needed. 

The hall now conveys more of the “cozy” feeling that the Glessners specifically asked Richardson for when discussing the design of the house.  The lush fabric makes the space seem more intimate and quiet, and helps relieve the repetition of the oak wall paneling which surrounds the room.

In coming months, additional work in the main hall will include the installation of a reproduction of the original William Morris Lily carpeting on the main stairs leading up from the front entrance and additional work on the first and second floor carpeting. 

The projects are being funded by generous gifts to the 125th Anniversary Fund by Allan Vagner, Sandra Danforth, and Robert Furhoff. 

Monday, August 13, 2012

August 15, 2012 to mark bicentennial of the Battle of Fort Dearborn

August 15, 2012 will mark the bicentennial of the Battle of Fort Dearborn, the only battle ever fought on Chicago soil.  The event took place on land now occupied by the Prairie Avenue Historic District, with the traditionally-recognized site located on 18th Street between Prairie and Calumet avenues. 

The reasons leading up to the battle are complex and involved a young United States, Great Britain, and the various tribal nations east of the Mississippi that had called the area home for hundreds of years.  On Tuesday August 14 at 7:00pm, Glessner House Museum will host a lecture “Don’t Know Much About the War of 1812?” where the factors behind the battle and the war will be discussed.  The lecture will present the conflict from a Native American perspective and will be given by Frances Hagemann and Barbara Johnson.  Hagemann (Ojibwe/M├ętis) is a retired University of Illinois at Chicago professor and a scholar-in-residence at the Newberry Library.  Johnson is a former teacher, freelance writer, and independent historian focusing on American Indian history. 

The Battle of Fort Dearborn, known for most of the past 200 years as the Fort Dearborn Massacre, has been the source of a great deal of controversy for many years.  In the 19th century and for much of the 20th century, the Native Americans who participated in the battle were simply seen as the enemy.  Today, however, there is a much greater understanding of the Potawatomi who were involved in the battle, in light of their desire to preserve their ancestral lands, and the various injustices that were imposed upon them by Americans as the country expanded ever farther west.  Simon Pokagon, the son of a Potawatomi participant in the battle, summed up the controversy when he said “When whites are killed it is a massacre; when Indians are killed, it is a fight.”

In 2009, a more balanced view of the battle was presented to the public, when a small tract of land at the corner of 18th Street and Calumet Avenue was dedicated as the Battle of Fort Dearborn Park.  The plaque reads as follows:

August 15, 1812

From roughly 1620 to 1820, the territory of the Potawatomi extended from what is now
Green Bay, Wisconsin to Detroit, Michigan and included the Chicago area. In 1803 the United States government built Fort Dearborn at what is today Michigan Avenue and Wacker Drive, as part of a strategic effort to protect lucrative trading in the area from the British. During the War of 1812 between the United States and Great Britain, some Indian tribes allied with the British to stop the westward expansion of the United States and to regain lost Indian lands. On August 15, 1812, more than 50 U.S. soldiers and 41 civilians, including 9 women and 18 children, were ordered to evacuate Fort Dearborn. This group, almost the entire population of U.S. citizens in the Chicago area, marched south from Fort Dearborn along the shoreline of Lake Michigan until they reached this approximate site, where they were attacked by about 500 Potawatomi. In the battle and aftermath, more than 60 of the evacuees and 15 Native Americans were killed. The dead included Army Captain William Wells, who had come from Fort Wayne with Miami Indians to assist in the evacuation, and Naunongee, Chief of the village of Potawatomi, Ojibwe and Ottawa Indians known as the Three Fires Confederacy.  In the 1830s, the Potawatomi of Illinois were forcibly removed to lands west of the Mississippi.  Potawatomi Indian Nations continue to thrive in Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin, Kansas, Oklahoma and Canada and more than 36,000 American Indians from a variety of tribes reside in Chicago today.
August, 2009

Sponsors:  Alderman Robert W. Fioretti, U.S. Daughters of 1812, Prairie District Neighborhood Alliance, Glessner House Museum, American Indian Center and  Illinois State Historical Society

This cottonwood tree, which stood on the north side of 18th Street, between Prairie and Calumet avenues, marked the traditional site of the battle.  The location was identified by Fernando Jones, a Chicago pioneer and long-time resident at 1834 S. Prairie Avenue, who was shown the site by a Native American who had participated in the battle.  Jones later hung a sign on the tree that read, “Cursed be he that removeth the ancient landmarks.”

This photo of the tree, taken about 1888 by George Glessner, shows it towards the end of its life.  It was felled during a windstorm on May 18, 1894.  Souvenir hunters swarmed the site to retrieve a piece of the relic, but the main section of the trunk was salvaged by George M. Pullman (whose stable is visible at the left) and given to the Chicago Historical Society. 

Top photo:  Unveiling of the plaque at the Battle of Fort Dearborn Park, August 15, 2009. 

Monday, August 6, 2012

A Glessner Homecoming

On Friday August 3, 2012, a very special event took place at Glessner House Museum.  More than two dozen people gathered for the first ever Glessner family reunion.  Included in the group were three great-grandchildren, seven great-great grandchildren, and seven great-great-great grandchildren, along with spouses and partners.  A special guest was Nigel Manley, director of The Rocks Estate, the Glessners’ former summer estate in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.  The age range of the guests was 5 to 85, with participants traveling from California, Connecticut, Maryland, Montana, New Hampshire, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Vermont. 

After the initial gathering, family members posed on the curved porch in the courtyard, recreating a classic shot of Mrs. Glessner’s Monday Morning Reading Class taken in 1902.  Dinner and a presentation on John Jacob Glessner followed, and the evening concluded with tours of the museum.

Saturday activities included the Chicago Architecture Foundation architecture river cruise, and tours of important Tiffany sites including the Chicago Cultural Center, Marshall Field, and Second Presbyterian Church. 

The weekend concluded on Sunday morning with a visit to Graceland Cemetery, where family members visited the final resting place of John and Frances Glessner and their infant son John, along the west shore of Lake Willowmere. 

The reunion was one of the most significant events of the 125th anniversary celebration.  In spite of the architectural significance of the house, first and foremost the house was a family home, a place of gathering for generations of the family and their friends.  The warm and cozy interior, a stark contrast to the bold rusticated granite exterior, was a specific request of the Glessners, who wished for their family and friends to always feel welcome when visiting.  A few excerpts from The Story of a House, written by John Glessner in 1923 for his children, give a glimpse of the Glessners’ idea of home:

“This story is addressed to my son, John George Macbeth Glessner, and my daughter, Frances Glessner Lee, for whose pleasure and profit it has been my pleasure and their mother’s to do many things, and especially to give them a happy home and a happy childhood, and to fit them for the responsibilities of living.”

“Mankind is ever seeking its comforts and to achieve its ideals.  The Anglo-Saxon portion of mankind is a home-making, home-loving race.  I think the desire is in us all to receive the family home from the past generation and hand it on to the next with possibly some good mark of our own upon it.  Rarely can this be accomplished in this land of rapid changes.  Families have not held and cannot hold even to the same localities for their homes generation after generation, but we can at least preserve some memory of the old.” 

“The description of this home may give some indication of how a man of moderate fortune would live in the latter part of the 19th century and the earlier part of the 20th – an average man with a modicum of this world’s material possessions, but by no means rich, except in family and friends.”

“We have lived with (our possessions) and enjoyed them; they are a part of our lives.  We don’t realize how many they are and how much a part of us they are until we begin to catalogue them in our minds.  We don’t know what we should do without them nor what we can do with them.  The best we can do now is to make this imperfect record, together with these photographs, to perpetuate or at least suggest the spirit of the home.  That home was ever a haven of rest.  It was no easy task to make it so, but it was so made and so kept by the untiring and devoted efforts of your mother.”

(A full reprint of The Story of a House, including the full text and more than sixty illustrations, was produced in 2011 as part of the 125th anniversary celebration and is available for sale in the museum store).
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