Monday, January 27, 2014

Frances Glessner Lee Remembered

Frances  Glessner Lee in 1961

Today marks the 52nd anniversary of the death of Frances Glessner Lee, the last surviving family member to have lived in the house at 1800 South Prairie Avenue.  A highly-regarded pioneer in the field of legal medicine, Lee has just been honored by her inclusion in a new children’s book focusing on the work of female scientists.

Lee became interested in legal medicine (also known as forensic science or homicide investigation) through her friendship with Dr. George Burgess Magrath, a long-time family friend and classmate of her brother George at Harvard University.  In 1932, Lee gave a gift of $250,000 to Harvard to create the chair in legal medicine in the medical school.  The endowment ensured the perpetuation of the department in which Dr. Magrath had taught since 1907.

Two years later, Lee presented the school with a library of over 1,000 volumes, which was dedicated as the George Burgess Magrath Library of Legal Medicine.  The library, unique in the United States at the time, was personally assembled by Lee and contained many rare volumes and documents, some dating back to the 15th century. 

In the mid-1940s, Lee initiated biannual seminars in homicide investigation at Harvard.  State policemen from around the country vied for the opportunity to attend and earn the distinction of being a Harvard Associate in Police Science.  The seminars included an examination of the “Nutshell Studies” – miniature rooms depicting death scenes meticulously created by Lee for the study and analysis of evidence.  The 18 rooms are still in use today and now reside at the Medical Examiner’s Office in Baltimore, Maryland.

Frances Glessner Lee at work on the Nutshells in the early 1940s

In 1943, Lee was honored for her contributions to the field by being appointed as a State Police Captain in the state of New Hampshire, the first female to be appointed to that position in the country.  She was later given honorary status in many other state and municipal police departments as well, and in 1956 received an honorary doctorate in Civil Laws from New England College.

She died peacefully at her home at The Rocks Estate in New Hampshire on January 27, 1962 at the age of 83 and was interred in the Maple Street Cemetery in Bethlehem, New Hampshire.

The new book, Girls Research! Amazing Tales of Female Scientists, was written by Jennifer Phillips and published in 2014 by Capstone Press.  The premise of the book is to introduce a young audience to the significant accomplishments of women who not only made important strides in the field of science, but in the early days, had to overcome obstacles to get an education, jobs, and respect. 

The two-page entry for Frances Glessner Lee states, in part:

“Glessner Lee wanted a career.  Being creative and determined, she found a way to get one.  In fact she created an entirely new profession – the field of forensic science.   You’ve probably heard of the TV show CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.  In that show scientists study crime scenes to find out who committed a murder. . . Many of the techniques forensic scientists used today were created by Glessner Lee.”

The book places Frances Glessner Lee in an elite group of female scientists including Anna Freud, Marie Curie, Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, Jocelyn Elders, Florence Nightingale, Mary Leakey and many others.

Monday, January 20, 2014

New tether rings for the coach house

In October 2013, the museum installed four custom-made tether rings (hitching rings) in the coach house.  Based on the surviving evidence of the long-lost originals, the design and fabrication of the pieces served as the master’s thesis for a graduate student in the Department of Historic Preservation at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. 

Dana Oliveri possessed a background working as a bookbinder and conservator before starting in the preservation program, augmenting her studies with classes in sculpture and a focus on mold making and metalworking.  The idea for the project came from Anne Sullivan, Chair of the Historic Preservation Department, who had previously helped compile the Historic Structure Report for Glessner House in 1994 and oversaw the 2006 restoration of the coach house. 

No historic photographs are known to exist showing the interior of the coach house, so Dana examined the surviving wood wainscoting for clues.  She discovered the impression of a back plate about 2.75” wide and 3.5” high with quarter-round chamfered corners, with a central boss that held a ring that hung about 2.5” below the center of the plate and was secured by four screws.  The original building specs make brief mention of the rings:

“Each of the stalls will have the best patent iron hay rack, manger and hitching ring, and the partitions between the stalls and the partitions around the box stalls will have light cast iron railings on top . . . The iron railings, gate and the door and windows, grills will be finished by the Bower Barff process.” 

That information provided two pieces of information.  The reference to “best patent” indicated that the rings were not custom made but would have been ordered from a catalog.  The excerpt also referred to the Bower-Barff process for most of the metalwork; however the rings were not specifically listed as receiving that treatment, so the original finish remained unknown.

These pieces of information led Dana to the extensive collections of period building catalogs at the Avery Library at Columbia University.  Initially stumped when she found no examples of stable hardware in catalogs of metal suppliers, she eventually noted that farm and stable suppliers were listed under “Agriculture.”  

An undated Illustrated Catalog of Stable Fittings from the J.W. Fiske Company, an iron manufacturer headquartered in New York, produced an image of a ring and plate virtually identical to the one installed in the Glessner stable.  From this illustration a shop drawing was drafted matching the exact measurements found on the wainscoting. 

One difference with the reproduction tether rings is that they are made of steel rather than iron.  Iron is no longer used and even period blacksmiths and traditional craft schools now use steel, except for rare instances when old wrought iron can be salvaged and reused.   The original back plates could have been cast or forged; Dana opted for forging the pieces as she could maintain more control over the process and would have ample time to correct possible mistakes.   Forging also provided a more historically accurate look with slight irregularities and surface textures.  However, electric and pneumatic grinders and power tools were used to shape the material and connect the pieces.

The boss was formed from 1” rod stock – grinding to shape the edges and then heating the rod in the forge and hammering the ends in a swedge block to create the appropriate finish.  The actual shaping of the boss involved three people as shown below, with Dana at left, shop assistant Natalie at center, and Dave Nelson at right striking the piece with a 5-pound sledge hammer.  After the piece had cooled, the hole was drilled for the ring, and the shoulder was created to insert into the back plate.

The back plate was formed from ¼” bar stock.  The quarter-round on the edge was created first, using a grinder to put a bevel on the edge and then a die-grinder with a small ball attachment to “scoop” out the edges.  Holes were drilled at each corner for the screws and at the center to receive the boss.  Then the two pieces were connected, welded and ground so that the back of the plates would be flush with the wall.

The rings were formed out of 5/16” diameter rod stock and were made using a “hardee fork” in the hardee hole of an anvil.  They were trued on a mandrel and then cut, reheated, and trued a second time.

For the finish, Dana selected a waxed black oxide patina.  The oxide leaves a dark grey matte finish, similar to a forge finish, and the wax seals the metal and gives a light shine.  The finish is durable since the rings are installed inside and will be subject to minimal use.  The pieces were sandblasted to remove any dirt and grease and then wire brushed so that they would pick up highlights in the patina.  The black oxide was mixed with water and sprayed on, and then immediately rinsed.  The pieces were then heated with a torch and the Renaissance Wax was applied – two hot coats and one cold coat, after which they were buffed with a chamois.  Slotted oval head screws, appropriate for the period, were ordered in a black oxide finish as well.

The completed tether rings, installed on October 25, 2013, add a fine period detail to the coach house.  Visitors routinely ask questions about the configuration of the space and the presence of horses during the first 20 years the Glessners lived in their home.  The tether rings, which look as though they have always been in place, help visitors to step back to a time when the clip-clop of horses’ hooves on the concrete floor would have been the order of the day.

Monday, January 13, 2014

The Story of a Coffeepot

Among the silver objects placed on display in the newly opened dining room silver closet is a small unassuming coffeepot.  However, the piece is among the most important pieces of silver in the collection, and one that was of particular significance to the Glessners, who acquired it for its direct connection to a decisive battle during the Spanish-American War.

Admiral Pascual Cervera y Topete

The Battle of Santiago de Cuba took place on July 3, 1898.  It was the largest naval engagement of the Spanish-American War and brought about the destruction of the Spanish Navy in the Caribbean, and ultimately the end of Spain’s presence in the New World.  Admiral Pascual Cervera  y Topete headed the operation aboard his flagship, the armored cruiser Infanta Maria Teresa.  The other ships in the squadron were the armored cruisers Vizcaya, Cristóbal Colón, and Almirante Oquendo, and two torpedo-boat destroyers, Furor and Pluton

On April 30, 1898, Admiral Cervera set steam from São Vicente in the Cape Verde Islands, headed for San Juan, Puerto Rico.  By the time the squadron arrived in the Caribbean, San Juan was under a U.S. Navy blockade, so it headed for Santiago de Cuba on the southeastern coast of Cuba, arriving on May 19.  An American squadron arrived on May 27 and began a blockade that would last more than five weeks.  Cervera planned for the squadron to break through the blockade in the early hours of Sunday July 3, 1898.  A battle commenced almost immediately but within an hour, five of the six ships in the Spanish Caribbean Squadron had been destroyed or forced aground.  

Only the Cristóbal Colón, the fastest ship in either fleet, survived, but she was at a serious disadvantage as her main 10-inch turrets were empty, the guns not having been installed before she set sail for the Caribbean.  For more than an hour she was pursued by the battleship Oregon, and eventually Captain Emilio Diaz Moreu turned the Cristóbal Colón toward land and ran her aground.  Her descending flag marked the end of Spain’s naval power in the New World.  The sailors either made it ashore or were rescued by American sailors.  Later that night, during a salvage attempt by the U.S. Navy, the cruiser capsized and sank.

By December 1898, the Glessners became aware of a coffeepot from the official silver service of the Cristóbal Colón which was available for purchase at the Deakin's Art Rooms in the Fine Arts Building, a dealer from whom they frequently made purchases.  On December 24th, H. Deakin wrote to Mrs. Glessner that he was in the process of obtaining the necessary documents to substantiate the authenticity of the coffeepot.   His letter states in part:

“The coffee, sugar and creamer were taken from the Christobal Colon by one of our seamen, immediately after the battle, the three pieces were sold to a Mr. Dalziel an engineer on one of our gun boats, who in turn sold them to F. W. Kaldenberg’s Sons 2-4 East 17th St., New York, the sugar and creamer were sold to a Bostonian, the coffee to me.”

Deakin's Art Rooms invoice for $150

An invoice from Deakin dated January 16, 1899 shows that the Glessners purchased the coffeepot for $150, quite a large sum for the day.  In early February, Deakin sent Mrs. Glessner an affidavit from F. R. Kaldenberg which stated:

I hereby assert under oath that shortly after the Naval conflict before Santiago Cuba between our forces and the Spanish when the Prisoners of War were brought to Portsmouth N.H. under the charge of our Naval officers and other officials there was among them a U. S. Medical man named J. M. Dalziel duly commissioned as such, this man had procured a certain silver coffee pot, upon which is engraved the monogram C.C. = “Christofer Colon” = said coffee pot being part of the silver service on the Man of War Christobal Colon, and captured by our forces, upon the ending of service at Portsmouth of said Dalziel he came to N.Y. and gave me the coffee pot, and in turn I gave it to Mr. H. Deakin, that said Dalziel thereafter went into service of the Cutting family at Oak Point L.I. where he treated the sick soldiers, known as Rough Riders and remained with them until all were well enough to go to their respective homes, and I further affirm and solemnly swear to the fact, that no possible doubt can exist of the truth of Dalziel’s or my statement.

The final correspondence regarding the coffeepot is another letter from F. R. Kaldenberg dated December 15, 1899 where he states that he has been unable to contact Mr. Dalziel in order to get a statement from him:

“He spoke of going to Manilla (sic), if I meet him again I will hand him your letter, if you want his portrait I will send it to you for $2.00 which I paid him.  I do not care to sell this picture, it is a group of sick soldiers on the lawn and villa of Mrs. Cutting, the various Doctors and Nurses as well as Mrs. Cutting her son and others of the family.  You can have a copy made from this if it interests you.”

The Glessners took great pride in the piece, and it is one of the objects they owned that is specifically mentioned in John Glessner’s The Story of a House:

“There is the silver coffee-pot, a part of the official plate of the Spanish Admiral Cerveza’s flagship, Christobal Colon, sunk at the battle of Santiago bay on July 3, 1898, and recovered by a sailor of the American fleet, sold by him to a Navy surgeon, and thence to me . . .”

The coffeepot itself is of tapering form with a scrolling rope decoration, surmounted with a spherical finial.  The handle and spout have banded decoration and the handle has two narrow ivory insulators.  The monogram “CC” for Cristóbal Colón is engraved on one side, beneath the Spanish crown.  The base is inscribed:

“From the official table service of the Christobal Colon, Flagship of the Spanish Admiral Cervera, Captured at the Battle of Santiago, July 3d, 1898.”

(As has been stated above, the Cristóbal Colón was not Cervera’s flagship).

The maker’s mark on the underside reads “Broggi 18,” a reference to the prominent Italian silver firm Broggi, which dates back to 1818 in Milan.  The company supplied several of the royal houses of Europe and later many of the luxury cruise ships, including the Andrea Doria.  However it has been suggested that the piece may have been made in Hanau, Germany.  Silver makers in that town frequently used marks from other makers on their pieces.  Further research would need to be undertaken to verify the actual maker.

Today, the coffeepot, with its rich history, occupies a place of honor in the recently restored silver closet in the dining room at Glessner House Museum for all to enjoy and admire.

Monday, January 6, 2014

New Year's Greetings

The sending of New Year’s Day cards was a popular custom in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  Frances Glessner may have received more than her usual share of cards as January 1st was also her birthday (born 1848).  The museum collection includes four beautiful cards found inserted into a green leather scrapbook assembled by Frances Glessner, probably in the 1880s. 

The first of these is a one-sided card featuring a sprig of apple blossoms with the greeting “Hopefully, prayerfully greet the New Year.  May it bring all you hope for and naught that you fear.”  The sender of the card is identified only as “C. G. C.”  It was printed by Raphael Tuck & Sons, a London-based company started in 1866.  Raphael Tuck was born in Prussia where he received training in graphic arts and pursued his interest in commercial art.  After moving to England with his family, he established the company with three of his four sons, and they became prolific publishers of greeting cards, pictures, gift books, and postcards.  Most of the color printing, known as chromolithography, was done in Germany.  The London headquarters of the company, known as Raphael House, was destroyed during World War II, taking with it most of the original artwork, and the company never fully recovered.

The second card in the collection was also printed by Raphael Tuck & Sons.  The small one-sided card depicts a branch of pink roses with the greeting “Wishing you a happy New Year.”  The back side of the card features a handwritten message which reads “For you and yours, dear Mrs. Glessner, the happiest of New Years.  Josie B. Gwynne.”

The back side of both Tuck cards features the logo of the company, consisting of an easel depicting “RT&S” and a small artist’s palette below which reads “Artistic Series.”  The company received many prizes for its work, and also sponsored competitions for collectors of their cards.  The prolific output of the company is demonstrated by the fact that the winner of the first competition had a collection of 20,364 cards.

The third card is an elaborate folded card that would have appealed to Frances Glessner’s interest in Japonisme.  The front and back sides of the card feature vignettes of blue and white Japanese porcelains with the words “BRIC A BRAC” above.  A band of white cranes flies across the top, and Japanese fans are propped to each side of the main image.  

The inside features a much larger vignette with more blue and white porcelain (one vase holding peacock feathers), an ebonized cabinet with panels depicting more white cranes, a copper ewer (very similar to one owned by the Glessners and now displayed in the dining room) and a convex mirror hanging on the wall.  This image also bears the greeting “A NEW YEAR BRIGHT WITH HAPPY DAYS.”

This card was printed by Marcus Ward & Co., an Irish-based company formed in the early 19th century by John Ward.  John’s son Marcus took over the company in the 1830s and focused on color lithography, winning a medal at the Great Exhibition of 1851.  The firm began mass-producing greeting cards and calendars in the 1860s, with Thomas Crane as artistic director and artists including Kate Greenaway and Walter Crane as illustrators. 

The last card in the collection was created by an unknown maker, but may be the most elaborate of all.  It was sent by a “Miss Pomeroy.”  The front and back covers are identical, with the greeting “WISHING YOU A HAPPY NEW YEAR” surrounded by beautiful Aesthetic Movement-inspired designs including medallions at each corner featuring different floral motifs (an idea often used by Isaac Scott in the creation of his picture frames). 

The left panel of the interior of the card features an illustration of a young girl dressed in a fur-trimmed red coat throwing a snowball, with the greeting “HAPPY NEW YEAR” underneath. 

The right panel, with elaborate detailing around the border reads “COMPLIMENTS OF THE SEASON” at the bottom, and features part of a poem by William Allingham at center.  Allingham (1824-1889) was a well-known Irish poet, diarist, and editor with his best known work being “The Faeries.”  The greeting card includes the first stanza of his poem “Frost in the Holidays” and reads:

The time of frost is the time for me!
When the gay blood spins through the heart with glee;
When the voice leaps out with chiming sound,
And the footstep rings on the musical ground;
When the earth is gray and the air is bright,
And every breath is a new delight.

The four New Year’s Day cards, along with a selection of Christmas cards sent to the family, are displayed each year on the partner’s desk in the library during the holiday season.
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