Monday, November 25, 2013

Death of a President - Part II, James A. Garfield

In this week’s article, we look at the second of three presidential assassinations to occur during the lifetime of John and Frances Glessner.   

James A. Garfield was inaugurated the 20th President of the United States on March 4, 1881.  Less than four months later, on July 2, Garfield was shot while walking through the Sixth Street Station of the Baltimore and Potomac Railroad station in Washington, D.C.  The assassin, Charles J. Guiteau, was a disillusioned Federal office seeker who believed that God had told him to eliminate the president for the good of the country.  Garfield was shot twice – one bullet grazed his arm, but the second fractured two ribs and lodged behind the pancreas; doctors were unable to locate and remove it. 

Garfield became increasingly ill due to a serious infection which weakened his heart.  By early September, he was moved to the resort community of Elberon at Long Branch along the New Jersey shore in the hopes that the fresh air would aid his recovery, but on September 19, 1881 he suffered a massive heart attack and died.  Guiteau was formally indicted for murder on October 14, and although his counsel argued using the insanity defense, he was found guilty on January 5, 1882.  He was executed on June 30, 1882.

Due to the extended period between Garfield’s shooting and his death, the event is mentioned on several occasions in Frances Glessner’s journal.  The first entry is dated July 2, 1881, the day of the shooting:
“In the afternoon we heard the dreadful news that Garfield our President has been shot by an assassin named Guiteau.  The whole country is in mourning.  We all hope he may recover.”
On July 3, she wrote “Garfield better,” but the next day, “Garfield worse.”  On July 10 she noted “Garfield still improving.”  The next journal entry to mention Garfield is dated August 17 when she wrote “The word is a little better from the President today.”

On September 19, Frances Glessner wrote:
“The last news from the President is that he cannot live.”  A few sentences later, “News came late this night that the President is dead.  Mr. Dinsmore gave me a telegram signed by Windom, Hunt & Jones.”

The telegram is pasted into Frances Glessner’s journal.  Dated September 18, 1881 from Long Branch, NJ, it is addressed to W. B. Dinsmore and was received at the Twin Mountain House in New Hampshire where the Glessner family was summering.  Written one day before the president died, it reads:
“The President had no vigor since yesterday at two-thirty.   He is resting quietly.  Those about him are assured he feels his usual courage and is clear in mind.”
It was sent by William Windom, Secretary of the Treasury; William H. Hunt, Secretary of the Navy; and Thomas L. James, Postmaster General. 

The next page of the journal contains a newspaper clipping entitled “Official Bulletin – What a Post Mortem Examination of the President’s Body Revealed.”  The detailed medical report, dated September 20 at 11:20 p.m. was prepared by the team of surgeons which attended upon the president.  Their post mortem investigation found that the elusive bullet had fractured the 11th rib, passed through the spinal column in front of the spinal canal, and fractured the first lumbar vertebrae.  The immediate cause of death was due to a hemorrhage in one of the mesenteric arteries adjoining the track of the bullet, resulting in significant blood entering the abdomen. 

On September 20, Frances Glessner noted that “we have our flag (at the Twin Mountain House) draped with black at the front piazza.”  The next day, while traveling to Goodnow’s Hotel, she noted “The different hotels were all draped with black.”

On September 26, the day of Garfield’s funeral, the Glessners were in New York on their way back to Chicago.  Frances Glessner wrote:
“The city is all closed and draped in mourning on account of President Garfield’s funeral, which occurred at Cleveland this afternoon at two o’clock. . . Everyone is sad – and poor Garfield’s picture is to be seen in every window – sometimes a bronze bas-relief, again an oil painting or plaster cast.  The church bells were all tolled at two this afternoon – the day was proclaimed one of national mourning by President Arthur – and all the churches held religious exercises.  The draping on the buildings was very effective often – notably Tiffany’s which was covered with crape over the whole front, only drawn aside for the windows to come through.”

An interesting postscript to Garfield’s assassination involves two items related to the event.  The objects were part of a huge collection of books and other materials donated by the Glessners’ daughter, Frances Glessner Lee, to the Harvard Medical School in 1934 when she founded the Magrath Library of Legal Medicine.  The first item, shown above, is a photograph, one of five taken by Washington photographer C. M. Bell after the autopsy on Garfield’s body.  The left lateral view of vertebrae shows the assassin’s bullet hole in Garfield’s spine. 

The second item is a leaf from a poem written by the assassin, Charles Guiteau, while in prison awaiting execution.  The poem was part of a small collection of letters, newspaper clippings, a diary, and other manuscript material assembled by the Rev. William Watkin Hicks of Washington, D.C.  Hicks served as Guiteau’s spiritual advisor in prison and was a staunch opponent of his execution. 

The James A. Garfield Monument, designed by architect George Keller, was dedicated on Memorial Day 1890 in Lake View Cemetery in Cleveland, Ohio.  These two views, taken in April 2013, show the exterior of the impressive structure, and the ceiling of the rotunda.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Death of a President - Part I, Abraham Lincoln

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in Dallas, Texas.   The event has become a part of popular culture, and virtually all those old enough to remember the tragedy can recall where they were when they received the news that the president was dead.

It is interesting to note that John and Frances Glessner lived through the assassination of three U.S. presidents – Lincoln in 1865, Garfield in 1881, and McKinley in 1901.  In this article, the first of three to explore those events, we will explore the Glessners’ interest in Lincoln.

In 1865, John Glessner was 22 and his future wife Frances Macbeth was just 17.  Frances Glessner would not start recording events in her journal until 1870, the year she married.  As such, the only record of Lincoln’s assassination in the museum archives exists in two letters to John Glessner from his sister, Mary (Glessner) Kimball, and one to Frances from her mother Nancy Macbeth. 

The first letter to John Glessner is dated Sunday April 16, 1865, the day after Lincoln died.  After a lengthy discussion of selling her home in Canton, Ohio and preparing to move, Mary notes:
“Wasn’t the killing of Lincoln a dreadful affair?  Our church was draped in black for him today and Mr. Buckingham preached on that subject.  His text was ‘A prince and a great man has fallen in Israel.’  His sermon was very good.  He said he hoped the mantle of Lincoln would fall upon Johnson but he trembled lest it would not.”

The second letter, written one week later on April 23, makes brief mention of Lincoln’s funeral train:
“If I get an answer to a letter I wrote to cousin Laura and she invites me to go to Mrs. Child’s to spend a day or two, I will go; I would be there then the day Lincoln’s remains are.”
The reference is to Lincoln’s funeral train which entered Ohio early on Friday April 28th, making a stop in Cleveland that morning, and a longer stop in Columbus the next day, where it remained for eleven hours.  The train left Ohio early in the morning on Sunday April 30th

The letter to Frances (called Fannie by her family) from her mother is a bit more detailed in describing the reaction people had to learning of Lincoln’s death.  In a letter from Springfield, Ohio dated Sunday April 16, 1865, she wrote:
“Dear Fannie:  I know you are thinking of me this day and wondering how I felt under the terrible news of the death of our beloved President – and I am sure I cannot tell you – it would be hard to convey to your mind the sadness and sorrow that we all feel at this time – the loyal American nation is in mourning for this sad bereavement.  Our church was all draped in mourning, all the flags and everybody almost had on some token of the sadness they felt within.  Mr. Bower preached a regular funeral discourse and a very good one, too – Friday was a great day of rejoicing here as well as everywhere else, but alas how quickly our joy was turned into sadness.”
The rejoicing on Friday is a reference to learning the news of the end of the Civil War.

One of the most important objects visitors to the museum see during their tour is the bronze life mask and hands of Abraham Lincoln that is displayed on the partner’s desk in the library.  This is the story of how those relics came to be.

Chicago sculptor Leonard W. Volk first met Lincoln in 1858 during Lincoln’s historic debates with Stephen Douglas.  During that meeting, Lincoln promised to sit for the sculptor.  In April 1860, Volk saw a newspaper article announcing Lincoln’s arrival in Chicago to argue a case.  Volk went to the courthouse and reminded Lincoln of his old promise.  Lincoln readily agreed to begin sitting, paying a visit to Volk’s studio each morning for a week.  If he could take a mask of Lincoln’s face, Volk explained, the number of sittings could be greatly reduced.  At the session where the mask was made, Lincoln sat in a chair and carefully watched every move Volk made by way of a mirror on the opposite wall.  The plaster was carefully applied without interfering with Lincoln’s eyesight or breathing through the nostrils.  After an hour, the mold was ready to be removed.  Lincoln bent his head low and gradually worked it off without breaking or injury, although in the process he did pull a few hairs from his temples, causing his eyes to water.  Lincoln continued to sit for Volk for five days after the mask was prepared, Lincoln entertaining Volk with “some of the funniest and most laughable of stories.”

The next month, Volk was on the train to Springfield when he heard the news of Lincoln’s nomination by the Republicans.  He arrived in Springfield and rushed to Lincoln’s house, announcing to the astonished candidate, “I am the first man from Chicago, I believe, who has the honor of congratulating you on your nomination for President.”  Volk insisted that he now must execute a full-length statue of Lincoln, and Lincoln agreed to provide Volk with appropriate photographs of himself, while Volk would take his measurements as well as make casts of his hands.  Volk appeared at the Lincoln’s home on the next Sunday morning and set to work in the dining room.  He suggested that Lincoln should be holding something in his right hand for the cast.  Lincoln disappeared to the woodshed and returned whittling off the end of a piece of broom handle.  When Volk said that was not necessary, Lincoln remarked cheerfully, “I thought I would like to have it nice.”  Volk noticed that the right hand was still severely swollen from the handshaking of Lincoln’s latest campaign – a difference that is visible in the casts.  Volk commented on a scar on Lincoln’s left thumb, and Lincoln explained that it was a souvenir of his days as a rail-splitter.  “One day, while I was sharpening a wedge on a log, the ax glanced and nearly took my thumb off.”  After the casts were completed, Volk set off for Chicago with the molds, photographs, a black suit left over from Lincoln’s 1858 campaign, and a pair of Lincoln’s pegged boots.

Volk never completed the statue, and later gave the casts of Lincoln’s face and hands to his son Douglas, himself an artist, who later passed them on to a fellow art student, Wyatt Eaton.  During the winter of 1885-1886, Richard Watson Gilder saw the casts in Eaton’s studio and immediately grasped their significance.  

On February 1, 1886, Gilder, along with his friends Augustus St. Gaudens and Thomas B. Clarke, sent out a letter to a select group of individuals which read in part:
“The undersigned have undertaken to obtain the subscription of fifty dollars each, from not less than twenty persons, for the purchase from Mr. Douglas Volk of the original casts taken by his father, the sculptor, Mr. Leonard W. Volk, from the living face and hands of Abraham Lincoln, to be presented, together with bronze replicas thereof, to the Government of the United States for preservation in the National Museum at Washington.
“The subscribers are themselves each to be furnished with replicas of the three casts, in plaster or bronze.  If in plaster, there will be no extra charge beyond the regular subscription of $50; if the complete set is desired in bronze, the subscription will be for $85 . . .
“Those wishing to take part in the subscriptions will notify at once either of the undersigned.”

Subscriptions were apparently received rapidly.  Frances Glessner recorded the following entry in her journal on May 30, 1886:
Last week we got a bronze cast of Lincoln’s life mask and hands made by Douglas (sic) Volk – a few copies have been made to raise funds enough to give the originals to the government.”
The underside of the life mask contains the following inscription:
The stump end of each hand contains the following inscription:

Volk's plaster life mask and hands on display at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington D.C. beside the second life mask created by Clark Mills in February 1865.

In 1888, the original plaster mask and hands, together with the first bronze casts, were presented to the National Museum (now the Smithsonian Institution) along with an elaborate illuminated manuscript which read in part:
“This case contains the first cast made in the mold taken from the living face of ABRAHAM LINCOLN by Leonard W. Volk sculptor in Chicago in the year 1860.  Also the first casts made in the molds from Lincoln’s hands likewise made by Leonard W. Volk in Springfield Illinois, on the Sunday following Lincoln’s nomination for the Presidency in May 1860.  Also the first bronze casts of the facemold, and bronze casts of the hands.  Presented to the Government of the United States for deposit in the National Museum by Thirty Three Subscribers.”
The list of subscribers includes the name of J. J. Glessner, as well as J. Q. A. Ward, Frances Glessner’s first cousin, a talented sculptor who created the bronze standing Shakespeare on display in the library.  Ward and St. Gaudens were close friends, and it is possible that Ward suggested that St. Gaudens include John Glessner on the mailing list, when the original subscription letter was mailed in February 1886.

John Glessner was a Sustaining Member of the Lincoln Centennial Association, organized in 1909, and renamed The Abraham Lincoln Association in 1929.  His library contained over three dozen books and booklets on Lincoln, which he kept on a shelf in the southeast bookcase in the library.  The books include such standards as Carl Sandburg’s two volume Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years, as well as more obscure titles, many of which were issued by the Association.  An interesting volume, of which only 750 copies were printed, is Abraham Lincoln in New Hampshire, which recounts Lincoln’s visit to that state in 1860.  The author, Elwin L. Page, was a friend of George and Alice Glessner, and Alice presented the volume to her father-in-law upon its publication in 1929.

John Glessner also owned a photograph of Lincoln.  The cabinet card, featuring an image taken at Eaton’s Studios, carried the following inscription:  “For Mrs. Lucy G. Speed, from whose pious hand I accepted the present of an Oxford Bible twenty years ago.  Washington, D.C., October 3, 1861.  A. Lincoln.”  Lucy G. Speed was the mother of Lincoln’s closest friend, Joshua F. Speed, and had presented the Bible to Lincoln during his visit to the Speed home in August 1841, in the hopes of relieving his depression and melancholia.  The original photograph remained in the Speed family until the 1990s, but copies were apparently made, one of which was purchased by John Glessner.  The photograph was donated to the Chicago Historical Society in April 1940 by Frances Glessner Lee.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Frances Glessner Lee and her "Baron Vitta" violin

On November 3rd and 4th, the Borromeo String Quartet visited the Chicago area to perform two concerts.  Of particular interest is the violin used by Nicholas Kitchen, first violinist of the Quartet - an extraordinary Guarneri del Gesu made in 1730 and known as the “Baron Vitta.”  From 1929 until 1958, that instrument was owned by Frances Glessner Lee.  This article will focus on that chapter in the long history of this celebrated instrument.

Frances Glessner, c. 1896

As a teen, Frances “Fanny” Glessner played the violin, as did her brother George.  A violin on display atop the piano in the parlor of the Glessner House Museum recalls this fact.  Although there is no evidence she played in later years, music was always a central part of her life, and she continued the extraordinary support of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra that her parents began at the time of its founding in 1891. 

The Baron Vitta in 1926

In early 1929, Frances Glessner Lee purchased the Baron Vitta violin from the Rudolph Wurlitzer Company of New York, dealers in rare old violins founded in 1856.  She paid $30,000 for the instrument and although the motivation that led to the purchase is not documented, she immediately entered into an agreement to loan it to Remo Bolognini, assistant concertmaster of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

Remo Bolognini

Bolognini, born in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1898, is generally regarded as South America’s greatest violinist.  He began the study of the violin at the age of seven, and his first recital six years later made him well known throughout the continent.  After performing for three years with his brother Astor and Alberto Castellano at the Palace Theatre in Buenos Aires, he accepted the position of concertmaster of the Philharmonic Orchestra in that city.  In 1927 he came to the United States to assume the position of assistant concertmaster with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under Frederick Stock.  After the conclusion of the 1928-1929 season, he left the orchestra and traveled to Europe where he studied under the Belgian violinist Eugene Ysaye and concertized extensively.  At one of those concerts he was heard by Arturo Toscanini, who engaged him to be the second concertmaster with his orchestra, the NBC Symphony Orchestra, formed in 1937.  He remained with that orchestra until 1954 when he became the assistant concertmaster with the Baltimore Symphony.  He died in 1977.

In 1939, Frances Glessner Lee requested that the violin be returned to her, and after an unsuccessful attempt to sell the instrument, she loaned it later that year to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, which gave it to their concertmaster, John Weicher, for his exclusive use.  The violin attracted a great deal of attention in the media, one article referring to it as “one of the most valuable in the world.”

John Weicher with the Baron Vitta; Hans Lange (at left), assistant conductor, and
Frederick stock, conductor, look on, 1939.

John Weicher, Jr. was born in Chicago in 1904 and was the son of a violinist from Bohemia, who immigrated to Chicago in 1893.  In 1912, the father took his eight-year-old son to Prague where he spent four years studying at the conservatory.  They were forced to return to Chicago in 1916 due to the World War and in 1919, Weicher joined the Chicago Civic Orchestra, the CSO training orchestra, during its inaugural season.  During the 1920s he played with the Cleveland and Seattle orchestras and returned to Europe for further studies.  In 1929, he took over for Bolognini as assistant concertmaster with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and was elevated to concertmaster in 1937.  He remained in that position for 23 seasons, 1937-1959 and again in 1962-1963, serving as principal second violin from 1959-1962 and again from 1963-1969.  He died in July 1969 at the age of 65.

John Weicher attempting to "pawn" the Baron Vitta

An amusing anecdote in the history of the instrument took place in March 1940, when John Weicher attempted to pawn the instrument to several pawnbrokers in Chicago.  Weicher bet that pawnbrokers would recognize the violin was of great value; his friend Pence James, a reporter with the Chicago Daily News, said no.  Weicher took the violin to four pawn shops asking for a $100 loan, but three of the four didn’t recognize its value, one pawnbroker stating “A hundred dollars? I can’t give you that kind of money for a fiddle like this.”  The fourth pawnbroker did recognize that the violin had great value, but was suspicious of the whole transaction, thinking it was a gag.  An article about the incident was published in the Chicago Daily News on March 6, 1940.

Szymon Goldberg

The violin was returned to Frances Glessner Lee in 1949 at which time she consigned it for sale with Rembert Wurlitzer in New York.  The instrument was finally sold in 1958 to Szymon Goldberg for $15,000.  Goldberg (1909-1993) was a distinguished Polish-born American violinist and conductor, and founder and long-time conductor of the Netherlands Chamber Orchestra in Amsterdam.  He taught at Yale, Juilliard, the Curtis Institute and elsewhere and one of his young students was Nicholas Kitchen, first violinist with the Borromeo String Quartet, who now plays his teacher’s violin.  

Nicholas Kitchen

For more information on Goldberg and Kitchen and their history with the instrument, see the online article published November 5, 2013 by WFMT entitled “Music Outsourced Brings Wonders.”  To hear Kitchen’s 2009 performance of Bach on the instrument, click here.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Queen Victoria's 74th Birthday Celebration

On Wednesday November 6, 2013, the museum will present a lecture entitled “The World’s Columbian Exposition – a 120 Year Perspective.”  The speaker is Diane Dillon, director of scholarly and undergraduate programs at the Newberry Library and a frequent lecturer on Chicago’s two World’s Fairs.  Tickets are $10 and reservations may be made by calling Glessner House Museum at 312.326.1480.

Among the grouping of items in the museum collection relating to the World’s Columbian Exposition are several pieces for a banquet celebrating Queen Victoria’s 74th birthday on May 24, 1893.  The invitation, menu card, program, and place card will be on display along with other Glessner items from the Fair during the November 6th lecture.

The banquet was attended British citizens and leading Chicago businessmen, including John J. Glessner, invited by the Commissioners for the British Colonies at the World’s Columbian Exposition.   The Chicago Tribune gave the following report of the site of the event:

“One loyal subject for each year of her reign celebrated the seventy-fourth anniversary of the birth of Queen Victoria of England by banqueting at the Virginia Hotel last night.  Under the auspices of the British Royal Commissioners and the Commissioners for the British Colonies at the World’s Columbian Exposition the banquet was given.  From facades to the pillared entrances the Virginia was decked in the ensigns of Britain.  Over the main entrance to the hotel were looped two Union Jacks.  Inside the hall music and perfumed floated on a sea of color.  All the perfumed buds and blossoms that summer holds were woven in graceful designs about the lighted hall.  Back of the main table and overlooking the entire hall was placed a life sized portrait of the honored Queen.  Above it hung a silken canopy decked with white blossoms and illumined with waxen tapers tinted and hooded in harmonizing color.  Silken ensigns interwoven formed the frame of this picture, which was the centerpiece of all the decorations.  Upon the main table, on either side of the presiding toastmaster, Walter H. Harris, was a floral picture.  American beauty roses made the red for the national design and violets for the blue background, where great stars of white narcissus were set with a star for every State.
The tables were formed in a hollow square, and here the simplicity of decoration was marked.  At intervals of a few feet Sevres vases were filled with great bunches of American beauty roses.  No other flower held a place in the table decorations.”

The menu consisted of the following courses:
Little Neck Clams, Olives, and Radishes (with Haut Sauternes)
Clear Green Turtle
Boiled Kennebec Salmon, Hollandaise Sauce, Cucumbers
Roast Saddle of Spring Lamb, Green Peas (with Moet & Chandon, Dry Imperial)
Braised Sweetbreads, Asparagus
Maraschino Punch
Broiled Golden Plover, Mushrooms (with Chateau Grand Puy Lacoaste)
Assorted Cakes, Fruits, Strawberry Ice Cream, Camembert and Roquefort
Coffee, Cigars, and Liquers
The feasting concluded at 10:10pm at which point the British Royal Commissioner, Walter H. Harris began the “post prandial exercises” with a toast to The Queen.   “God Save the Queen” was then played three times, each time followed by “cheers given with a hearty will.”  This was followed by toasts to President Cleveland and the World’s Columbian Exposition after which Lyman J. Gage gave a short address focusing on the close alliance between the United States and Great Britain.  Additional toasts were given to the foreign commissioners, Chicago, the press, and finally the host before the assemblage dispersed for the evening.

NOTE:  The site of the banquet, the Virginia Hotel, was located at the northwest corner of Rush and Ohio streets.  Completed in 1891, the brick building was 10 stories in height and had been designed by architect Clinton J. Warren.  Leander J. McCormick had lived on the site since 1863, and was also the builder and owner of the hotel, where he died in 1900.  It was demolished in May 1932 to make way for a parking lot.  In 1999, the firm of Solomon Cordwell Buenz & Associates designed the current multi-level parking garage on the site.
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