Monday, October 29, 2012

Glessner House Museum Symposium November 10

On Saturday November 10, 2012 Glessner House Museum, in partnership with the Victorian Society in America, will hold a one-day symposium entitled “Glessner House at 125: Richardson’s Urban Residential Masterpiece Reconsidered.”  The event brings together seven scholars who will explore the architect H. H. Richardson, the interior decoration of the home, and its preservation in the mid-1960s.   The symposium will be preceded by an opening reception on Friday November 9 at which Richardson scholar Ken Breisch will present a lecture entitled “Situating the Glessner House: Late Richardson and the Romanesque Revival in the American West.”  An optional walking tour of the Prairie Avenue Historic District will be given by Executive Director Bill Tyre on Sunday November 11.  The symposium brochure and registration form may be downloaded at

For further information and to make reservations, call 312.326.1480.


9:30am - Welcome
Executive Director and Curator, Glessner House Museum

9:45am - Keynote Speaker
Professor Emeritus, Wellesley College
“Herkomer’s Portrait of Richardson in Iconographical Context”
A look at the place of the likeness in the history of portraying nineteenth-century American architects.  A large heliotype copy of the Herkomer portrait displayed in the main hall is one of the few items to remain in the Glessner House continuously since the late 1880s.

Architectural Historian
“Richardson’s Web: A Client’s Assessment of the Architect’s Home and Studio”
An analysis of how Richardson used his home and office to encourage his clients to accept his ideas for their projects, based on a first hand account of John and Frances Glessners’ visits with the architect during the planning phase for their home on Prairie Avenue.

Professor Emeritus of Architectural History, Illinois Institute of Technology
“Mies Visits Glessner House: What Was He Thinking?”
When Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, an influential architect, first arrived in American in 1938, he considered conducting his new architecture curriculum in Chicago at the influential Glessner House.  This examination provides valuable insight into the relationship between two seemingly different architects.

12:00pm - Lunch

Former Curator, Glessner House Museum
“Colors, Patterns, and Seasons in the Glessner House”
The Glessners and Richardson used many themes in this significant work of architecture and decorative art, blending them into a cohesive fabric responding to the life within.  The colors and patterns of design and life that resulted from the weaving together of these themes created this outstanding seasonal urban home.

Curator, Smith Museum of Stained Glass and Adjunct Professor, School of the Art Institute
“Neugotik (New Gothic): A Springboard to Modern in American Furniture and Interior Design”
An examination of the Glessners’ evolving tastes during the 1870s and 1880s, from the new Gothic masterpieces designed for them by Isaac Scott, to later furniture by Charles Coolidge and Francis Bacon specifically commissioned for their new home on Prairie Avenue.

Assistant Curator of American Decorative Arts, Art Institute of Chicago
“The Impact of William Morris on the Arts and Crafts Movement in Chicago”
This talk will locate several examples of William Morris’s influence - through his ideals and his designs - in Chicago at the turn of the 20th century, including Glessner House, one of the earliest.

Illinois State Historic Preservation Official, 1972-2007
“Historic Preservation in Chicago at Mid-Century”
A description of the principles and practices of historic preservation in Chicago in the mid-20th century and an overview of early preservation battles, in order to place the preservation of the Glessner House in the context of the 1960s.

Concluding Remarks

Optional tours of Glessner House Museum

Monday, October 22, 2012

Shadows on the Street: Haunted Tours of Chicago's Historic Prairie Avenue

Over the weekend of October 27 and 28, 2012, Glessner House Museum will offer one of its most popular annual events – Shadows on the Street – haunted tours of Chicago’s historic Prairie Avenue.  This tour explores the street known in the late 19th century as “Millionaire’s Row” or more popularly “the sunny street that held the sifted few.”  Prairie Avenue, between 16th and 22nd streets, was the most exclusive residential street in Chicago, if not the country, during the last decades of the 1800s.  Chicago’s wealthiest citizens, including Marshall Field, meatpacker Philip Armour, and the “palace car prince” George Pullman lived there, along with more than 70 other millionaires – the business and social leaders of the city.

In spite of the wealth and prosperity of the street, the neighborhood fell into serious decline in the first decades of the 20th century.  Industry encroached on the west, increased train traffic on the Illinois Central tracks created a nuisance on the east, a growing African-American community developed to the south, and then there was the Levee, or Red Light, district which formed around Dearborn and 22nd Street.  Families moved to other parts of the city, and their elegant homes were either torn down or converted into offices or boarding houses.  Eventually all but seven of the 90 mansions that lined the street were razed.

There are numerous stories of untimely endings, and even today, stories of unexplained sightings and sounds lead many to believe that the spirits of some of the residents of the street still remain.  Herewith are a couple of the stories which participants in the Shadows tour will hear this coming weekend.

The William W. Kimball House
This house, located at 1801 S. Prairie Avenue, is an elegant Chateauesque style home, designed by Solon S. Beman and built for the piano and organ manufacturer between 1890 and 1892.  It was one of the most beautiful houses ever built in Chicago, and even today, is noted for its beautiful carved stonework and stately turrets and dormers.  But ever since 1921, when the widowed Evaline Kimball passed away, there have been persistent rumors that the large windows on the north side of the house shake and rattle violently, even when there is no storm or other disturbance outside.  No satisfactory cause has ever been found to explain the odd occurrence, but some have suggested that it may be the ghost of Mrs. Kimball.  She was known for her extraordinary collection of Old Master paintings that lined the walls of the impressive two-storey entry hall.   The paintings are now on display at the Art Institute of Chicago.  In her last years, Mrs. Kimball was known to suffer from dementia, and could be seen standing in her hall, elegantly dressed and welcoming her guests.  But there was no one around her.  Could it be that the spirit of Evaline Kimball has returned to the house looking for her Old Master paintings and is upset that they are no where to be found?  (The house also served as the setting for the 1996 film Primal Fear starring Richard Gere, Edward Norton, and Laura Linney).

The Marshall Field Jr. House
Perhaps no house on the street has attracted more attention than this home, which stands at 1919 S. Prairie Avenue.  Now comfortably renovated into six luxury condominium units, this house endured decades of use as a hospital and nursing home, and more than a quarter of a century of sitting largely empty and deteriorating.  But the story of the untimely death of Marshall Field Jr. in 1905 is what has kept the house in the public eye.  The official story is that Field was in the library of the house cleaning a rifle for a hunting trip when he accidentally shot himself.  He was rushed to Mercy Hospital where he died five days later, just 38 years old, leaving a widow and three young children.  The family never lived in the house again.  However, stories have persisted to this day that the story of Field’s last days was not so simple.  The most popular story is that he was in fact shot at the Everleigh Club, the most exclusive brothel in the city (conveniently located just a few blocks to the west on Dearborn Street).  After being shot, he was brought back to the house and then taken to the hospital to make it appear the shooting had taken place at home.  Ironically, the Everleigh sisters who operated the Club said the story was circulated by their competitors to discredit THEM and get them shut down by the city.  There were also stories that Field was despondent and attempted suicide.  Regardless, Field’s father, owner of the famous department store, was the wealthiest man in town, and the largest advertiser, so all the newspapers printed the “official” story.  The real story may never be known, and the rumors persist more than a century after Field died. 

Shadows on the Street tours will be offered on Saturday October 27 and Sunday October 28 at 7:00pm and 8:00pm each evening.  Tours are $10 per person and reservations may be made by calling 312.326.1480. 

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Glessners and their servants

Over the weekend of October 13-14, 2012, Glessner House Museum participated in Open House Chicago, a city-wide event sponsored by the Chicago Architecture Foundation during which more than 150 sites around Chicago opened their doors for free to visitors.  The museum had nearly 1,700 visitors who were treated to a special behind-the-scenes tour of the servants’ wing of the house. 

When H. H. Richardson designed the house in 1885-1886, he was designing for a family of four and a live-in staff of eight.  He carefully segregated the servants’ areas and those used by the family and their guests.  Rooms for male servants were placed above the coach house; those for female servants were located above the kitchen wing.  The butler’s apartment was separated from the rest and was located at the northeast corner of the third floor.  The male and female servants had separate entrances facing 18th Street and there was no connection whatsoever between the male and female servants’ wings inside the house.  The servants had a separate address from the family which was 35 Eighteenth Street. 

Long corridors along the north side of the house provided passages for the servants so they could travel through much of the house without disrupting the family.  The small windows along the 18th Street side of the house illuminate these hallways, a most unusual but effective floor plan for the time.

The Open House Chicago tour included the following stops within the house:

The coach house originally consisted of two rooms – the stable and the carriage house.  The stable had six stalls for horses, and the carriage house could accommodate an equal number of carriages, used by both family and guests.  Both sections of the coach house had built in systems allowing for the efficient washing of horses and carriages.  The spaces were quite modern, with poured concrete floors and glazed brick on the walls.  In 1906, the Glessners converted to automobiles and the wall between the stables and carriage house was removed, providing the configuration found today.  The room is now used for programs and events and as a rental venue.

This staircase features a door facing 18th Street with six distinctive panes of blown glass that retain the stub that forms when the glass is made.  At the first floor landing, a modern door marks the location of the original half-door through which the iceman could place blocks of ice into the cold closet, a.k.a. the icebox.

The hayloft is accessed from the male servants’ stairway and has two second-storey hayloft doors facing 18th Street and the alley through which hay and feed could be brought into the space.  Large bins (no longer extant) held feed, and two doors in the floor could be opened to drop feed and hay down to the horses below.  These doors are still visible in the ceiling of the coach house. 

Two dovecotes located at the north end of the hayloft could accommodate nearly 60 doves, and the eggs would be harvested and used by the family.  The smaller dovecote, built into the gable facing 18th Street, has a staircase for access and individual sliding doors for each nesting niche.

There are three male servant rooms and a shared bathroom to the east of the hayloft, originally separated by a long hallway.  Each room had a window facing east into the courtyard for light and fresh air.  An additional room, known as the “living room” was a gathering space for the male staff, and included a large closet where all three male staff would keep their uniforms and other clothes. 

Four individual bedrooms for female servants are located along a long hallway running east-west above the kitchen wing.  The female servants shared a bathroom and a small porch facing onto 18th Street.  Female staff would include the cook, waitress, parlor maid (for cleaning), and the ladies maid (who took care of the clothes of the female members of the family).  Additional staff, such as the laundress and seamstress would come and go on a daily basis and not live on-site.  The easternmost bedroom has been fully restored and contains furniture typical of what would have been found in the rooms.  It is interesting to note that the rooms are trimmed in quarter sawn oak, the same wood used in the formal rooms of the house.

A staircase leads from the second floor bedrooms to the hallway off of the kitchen.  In that same hallway, a door leads to the outside – this would have been the female servants’ entrance.  It is set within the imposing granite arch on 18th Street – quite a beautiful entrance for the staff!

The kitchen wing consists of five rooms – the main kitchen work area, the butler’s pantry, the servants’ dining room, the dry pantry, and the cold closet (or icebox) referenced earlier.  The kitchen was a modern space in that it featured encaustic tiles floors and glazed brick walls, all easy to keep clean. 

The butler’s pantry was used for the storage of china and crystal and is immediately adjacent to the dining room.  A swinging door separates this pantry from the dining room and would have always been kept closed except when setting the table or cleaning up after a meal.  The butler’s pantry features a copper sink – the soft metal was appropriate in that it helped to prevent breakage or damage to the china and crystal if it was dropped during washing.  The main work area of the kitchen features a sink made of Vermont soapstone, much more durable for the heavy washing that would occur here.  To the right of the sink is a doorway leading to the courtyard, allowing for the delivery of food directly into the kitchen space. 

The servants’ dining room would have contained a large table where the staff would gather for daily meals.  Staff would typically have their dinner around 3:00pm each day, so that all efforts could be focused on the final preparations of the dinner for the family and their guests.  The dry pantry would be used for food storage, including huge quantities of foods grown and preserved at the Glessners’ summer estate The Rocks in New Hampshire.  Frances Glessner’s famous honey would be kept here as well.  The cold closet featured marble shelves, which would retain the cold, and a narrow window which could be opened during the winter to keep foods and ice cold. 

An annunciator in the kitchen allowed for staff to be called from anywhere in the house by family or guests.  When a button in one of the main rooms was pressed, the annunciator box would ring, and an arrow would point to the location where the call came from.  A servant would be dispatched and the box would be reset. 

The operation of such a large household would have been impossible without a large live-in staff.  Interpreting these spaces for visitors provides a greater understanding of the family, the house, and the time period in which they lived.  Fortunately for the museum, Frances Glessner meticulously maintained a journal in which she recorded the name of each servant as they were hired, along with their pay and position, and the reason why they left service or were dismissed.  This is a rare and valuable record of the “forgotten” residents of Prairie Avenue. 

Monday, October 8, 2012

1887: A Year to Remember

On Thursday October 4, 2012, museum director Bill Tyre gave a lecture entitled 1887: A Year to Remember – the year in which the Glessners completed and moved into their new home at 1800 South Prairie Avenue in Chicago.  The illustrated talk was divided into five sections focusing on events in the world, the nation, the city, the neighborhood, and lastly the lives of the Glessner family.  We present a few interesting tidbits uncovered during research for the talk:

Queen Victoria celebrated her Jubilee (50th anniversary on the throne) during the year.  For those who were especially devoted to their Queen, a special wallpaper was produced featuring a portrait of the Queen surrounded by images of the colonies she controlled around the world (Australia was depicted by a kangaroo).

On September 28, 1887, a horrific flood started on the Yellow River in China which ultimately led to the deaths of 900,000 and 2 million left homeless.  At its peak, the flood covered 50,000 square miles in Henan Province.  It was one of the deadliest natural disasters in history, however another flood of the Yellow River in 1931 claimed the lives of nearly 4 million people.

Dr. Lezyer Leyvi Zamenhof published his book International Language under the pseudonym Doktoro Esperanto.  His hopes were that the new language could be used as a tool for promoting world peace.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle published his first Sherlock Holmes mystery - A Study in Scarlet - in Beeton’s Magazine.

Jenny Lind, the great soprano known as the “Swedish nightingale” died at the age of 67.

President Grover Cleveland embarked on a Goodwill Tour during the months of September and October, traveling as far west as Omaha, Nebraska.  Cleveland and his wife traveled in the private railroad car owned by George Pullman, known as the P.P.C. which was lavishly appointed.  Cleveland insisted on paying for the use of the car, to eliminate any appearance of impropriety.

Rev. Hannibal Goodwin, an Episcopal priest, invented the flexible roll of nitrocellulose film for a roller camera.  The patent was infringed upon by Eastman Kodak, which in 1914 paid a $5 million settlement to Goodwin’s estate.

Eadweard James Muybridge published Animal Locomotion: An Electrophotographic Investigation of Consecutive Phases of Animal Movements with over 700 plates in eleven volumes.  This work is widely considered to be the precursor to motion pictures.

Anne Sullivan became the teacher of six-year-old Helen Keller.

The four Haymarket “anarchists” were executed on Friday November 11.  A fifth anarchist had committed suicide the previous day.

The Commercial Club of Chicago purchased 700 acres of lakefront property north of the city and donated it to the Federal government.  The next year, the military began construction of Fort Sheridan on the land.  The fort was closed in 1993.

The Newberry Library was established using a bequest from Walter Loomis Newberry (1804-1868), the present of the Galena & Chicago Union Railroad, the first railroad built from Chicago.  The first librarian William Frederick Poole, worked with architect Henry Ives Cobb to design the building, which opened in 1893.

The Chicago Kindergarten College was begun by Elizabeth Harrison and Rumah Arvilla Crouse.  It survives today as National-Lewis University.

Sixteen-inch softball was invented in Chicago on Thanksgiving Day at the Farragut Boat Club.

Prominent buildings under construction in Chicago during the year included the Auditorium Building, the Rookery (shown above), the Tacoma Building, and two churches by Burnham and Root – St. Gabriel’s Catholic Church and Lake View Presbyterian Church.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Glessner House Museum 125th Anniversary Gala

On Thursday September 13, 2012, Glessner House Museum celebrated its 125th anniversary with a gala celebration held at Symphony Center.  The gala was the major event in the 18-month commemoration of the anniversary of the completion of the house, and was attended by more than 200 people.  Over $59,000 was raised for restoration projects.  The gala was generously underwritten by a grant from the Richard H. Driehaus Charitable Trust.  John Bryan served as Honorary Chair.

The location of the gala was significant.  John and Frances Glessner were major supporters of the symphony from the time of its inception in 1891.  John Glessner was one of the original “guarantors” who underwrote the expenses of the orchestra in its early seasons, and from 1898 until his death in 1936 served as a trustee of the Orchestral Association.  When Orchestra Hall was built in 1904, the Glessners personally solicited much of the funding from their friends.  Theodore Thomas and Frederick Stock, the first two conductors of the orchestra, were both intimate friends of the Glessner family, and were frequent guests at their Prairie Avenue home as well as their summer home in New Hampshire. 

A highlight of the gala celebration was the recognition of several individuals and architectural firms who rescued the house from almost certain demolition in the mid-1960s.  Eight donors provided the $35,000 in funding needed to purchase the house:  Marian and Leon Despres, Philip Johnson, Phyllis Lambert, C. F. Murphy Associates, Perkins & Will, Skidmore Owings & Merrill, Harry Weese, and Ben Weese.  In addition, three individual who played a critical role in saving the house and overseeing its early reuse and restoration were honored for their roles: Wayne Benjamin, Paul Lurie, and Wilbert Hasbrouck.

Ben Weese (left) receiving a Certificate of Appreciation from Glessner House Museum Board president Rolf Achilles.

Shirley Weese Young receiving a Certificate of Appreciation in memory of her father Harry Weese from Museum Executive Director Bill Tyre and Board President Rolf Achilles.

Paul Lurie (left) and Wayne Benjamin (second from right) receiving their Certificates from Bill Tyre and Rolf Achilles.

Addie Carter, age 5, a great-great-great granddaughter of John and Frances Glessner, checks out the view from Box M, which the Glessners occupied from 1904 until their deaths in the 1930s.

(L-R):  Ward Miller, Anne Bird, Christopher Bird

(L-R):  Tina Strauss, Norman Sandfield, Joan Goldstein, Steve Jacobsen, Carolyn Ply, Nancy Ochi

(L-R):  Ruth Sharpe, John Vinci, Cindy Weese, David Sharpe

(L-R):  William Redfield and Robert Marks

(L-R):  Executive Director Bill Tyre with gala chairs Jim and Mary Glerum

Photos by Tim Walters Photography
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