Monday, December 28, 2015

Heating Glessner House - Then and Now

As the cold winter winds descend upon our city, we are provided with an opportunity to reflect upon how our forefathers kept warm.  The Glessners’ home, known for its modern design by H. H. Richardson, was also modern in terms of the technology it employed, including, for its day, a state-of-the-art heating system. 

It is appropriate to reflect back upon the historic heating system of the house at this time, as the museum is currently having a 21st century state-of-the-art geothermal system installed.  For the past four weeks, crews have been working to dig two 500 wells in the courtyard, and to connect those wells to an elaborate system which will provide not only heating, but for the first time in the house, cooling and humidity control.  Extensive new insulated duct work is being installed to maximize the efficiency of the system and to take into account condensation that could occur during the cooling season.  This initial phase of the system will handle the first zone in the building which includes the parlor, dining room, kitchen wing, and adjacent servants’ hallways.  As funds become available, seven additional zones will be brought on line, ultimately resulting in the entire building being services by the geothermal system.  For more information on the new system being installed, read the current article at the Historecycle website. 


Although little remains of the original heating system other than register covers, the museum is fortunate to possess the “Specifications for a combined direct and indirect radiating, two pipe, low pressure, gravity return Steam Heating and Ventilating Apparatus for dwelling for Mr. J. J. Glessner, 18th St. and Prairie Ave.” prepared in 1886 by Richardson’s office.  The handwritten document is nine pages long, and details every component of the system from the boiler to the trimmings, and ducts to registers. 

The 20 horse power locomotive fire box boiler was located in the cellar beneath the north half of the coach house.  Of the system, John Glessner said in his 1923 “The Story of a House”:

“The heating is from the furnace room under the garage (formerly called the Coach House), thus avoiding the dust and dirt and noise of coal and ashes in the house – a hot water system it is, admirable for the time when it was put in.”

The system was a combination of direct and indirect radiation.    With direct radiation, the furnace would heat the hot water and the gravity system would then take the heated water to the eventual destination (hot water is lighter than cold water).  Rooms heated with radiators included the school room (shown above – the radiator is behind the large brass cover on the north wall); the butler’s pantry, and the first floor toilet room; and three male servants’ bedrooms on the second floor over the stable.  The radiator in the butler’s pantry served the double purpose of radiation and plate warmer.  The plate warmer closet was lined with tin and furnished with perforated, adjustable galvanized iron shelves. 

The balance of the house was heated by indirect radiation or what is known as convection (gravity flow system).  It’s the same as in the hot water system except the air is being heated which will then flow through the supply vents and return to the furnace through cold air return vents usually placed near the ceiling.  This system was used on the first floor in the parlor, dining room, living hall, library, bedroom, two dressing rooms and bath room.  On the second floor there were vents in the four bedrooms, two dressing rooms, bathroom, hall, corridors, servants’ bathroom and conservatory.  There was also a vent in the carriage room on the first floor of the Coach House.  It is interesting to note that in historic photos, the registers are frequently covered over with a piece of light fabric, possibly to cut down on dust and soot (note the floor register in the image of the corner guestroom below). 

The indirection radiation was of cast iron, with coils suspended from the basement ceiling by heavy wrought iron hangers.  A portion of one of these units remains in place on the ceiling of the ramp leading to the cellar under the coach house (shown below). 

A gravity system does not provide the same level of heat that we are accustomed to today with forced air systems.  As such, the fireplaces throughout the house were still an important part of keeping the house comfortable, and portieres and pocket doors would be used to contain the heat in the occupied rooms.  John Glessner noted that in the dead of winter, it was hard to maintain a temperature in the house above 60 degrees.  As such, some years after the original installation, radiators were added to a number of the rooms.

The heating system was controlled by a thermostat mounted to the oak paneling in the main hall immediately to the right of the doorway leading into the library (visible in the photos above).  That thermostat was removed many years ago but a historic replacement was installed early this month. 

That thermostat (shown above) was manufactured by the Chicago Heat Regulator Company, organized in 1904.  Although not identical to the original, it is quite similar, and reminds visitors that there was, in fact, a central heating system in the house when it was completed in 1887. 


The Glessner house system was designed and installed by Frederic Tudor, a prominent Boston sanitary engineer and expert in ventilation.  Tudor, who maintained a Chicago office at 273 Dearborn Street, submitted a proposal for the work in July 1886 with revisions made at the architect’s request the following month.  Tudor was paid a total of $4,035.02 for labor and materials. 

Frederic Tudor, the "Ice King"

Tudor was born in 1845, the eldest son of Frederic Tudor, the “Ice King.”  The senior Frederic made his fortune harvesting fresh water ice in Massachusetts and shipping it around the world to places as far away as India.  The idea came to him after a trip to the Caribbean, and the first successful shipment of ice was sent to Martinique in 1806.  Frederic Tudor, the son, as a member of a Boston Brahmin family, attended Harvard College and was a member of one of the first graduating classes at St. Paul’s School in Concord, New Hampshire. 

Tudor received several patents for his innovations, and was well-known and respected both in the United States and Europe.  Not surprisingly, he had worked on a number of earlier buildings by H. H. Richardson including the New York State Capitol at Albany, Sever Hall at Harvard, the Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce, and the Allegheny County Courthouse in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 

Following his death in 1902, The American Architect and Building News, for which he was a frequent contributor, ran a lengthy article about his contributions to the development of modern heating and ventilation systems.  A few excerpts from the article, published February 11, 1903, are reprinted below:

“Today is the anniversary of the birth of Frederic Tudor, sanitary-engineer and expert, well known to architects and civil-engineers through the United States and Europe, in whose death this community met with great loss.  Mr. Tudor was a pioneer in ventilation and sanitation of dwelling-houses and public buildings, an occupation in which he sacrificed his time, his health and his fortune.

“Some of his best work was shown in the Cancer Hospital and the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City; the Capitol at Albany; the Walker Building of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology of this city.  All these buildings have long been noted for their practically perfect systems of ventilation and heating.  The Cancer Hospital and Metropolitan Opera House are ventilated by essentially the same system – the former being acknowledged to be the most perfectly ventilated hospital in the world. 

“When the project of building a new Boston Public Library was decided upon, Mr. Tudor was called in to draw up plans for the heating and ventilation.  On the opening night of the Library the hundreds of people who were present discovered that, although the thermometer outside registered nearly zero, the temperature and circulation of air in the building were perfect.  Expressions of praise were heard on all sides, and on the following day articles appeared in the daily press, complimenting Mr. Tudor upon the success of his plans and system. 

“The vapor-system of heating, so-called, was invented by Mr. Tudor, and is to-day used extensively throughout Germany and France, sanitary-engineers in those countries giving him entire credit as its originator.  Only with the last two or three years have American engineers properly appreciated the value of economy of operation as revealed in Mr. Tudor’s system.

“Mr. Tudor’s services to his profession have gradually become better understood, and the public will no doubt in time learn to remember the name of one who was the pioneer in inventing and developing systems and devices for supplying modern homes and public buildings with abundance of fresh air and temperate heat, both essential to health and comfort.  As a result of seventeen years thought and experiment, he perfected shortly before his death a plan of low-pressure steam-heating, known as the “thermograde system,” which is now being used in Randolph Hall, Cambridge; Apthorp House, Cambridge; Hampden Hall, Cambridge, and the Beaconsfield Casino, Brookline.”

It is not surprising that Richardson and the Glessners would have chosen Frederic Tudor, clearly a leader in his field, for the design and installation of the modern heating system to be installed in their modern house. 

Monday, December 21, 2015

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner

Seating chart prepared by Frances Glessner

The Glessners celebrated Christmas in 1915 by hosting a dinner for 24 people at 1:00pm on Christmas Day.  Although the menu served was not recorded, the Glessner journal (by this time being written by John Glessner), and Frances Glessner’s dinner book both list the guests who were present.  Their dining room table was designed to accommodate 18; Frances Glessner noted, however, that the carpenter could extend the table to seat 24 when needed.

Mrs. Enrico (Juliette) Tramonti

Two of the dinner guests, Mrs. Tramonti and Mrs. Bernhard, had come on Christmas Eve to decorate the Christmas tree.  Regarding Christmas Day, John Glessner wrote:

“Mr. and Mrs. Tramonti came to breakfast, then went elsewhere, and our Christmas party came at 12 to see the tree lighted.  Our dinner was at one and the party broke up about 4 p.m.  There were Frances Lee and her children, Mr. and Mrs. Stock, Mr. and Mrs. Tramonti, Mr. and Mrs. Wessels, Mr. and Mrs. Voegeli, Mr. and Mrs. Bernhard, Mr. and Mrs. von Holst, Helen and Anna, Mrs. Kennedy, Frank Baird, Vera Stock, Nathalie Gookin.  In the evening we went to the orchestra concert and had Frances Lee and Frank Baird in our box.  To list the presents is beyond me.”

So who were the guests invited to dine with the Glessners?  Not surprisingly, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra was well represented, and in fact there were more people at the table with CSO connections than there were Glessner family members.  It is also interesting to note that a number of the guests were the ages of the Glessners’ children, such as Hermann von Holst and Enrico Tramonti, something that was actually quite typical when examining the dinner books.  Here is a synopsis of those present:

Mr. and Mrs. Frederick Stock and daughter Vera – Stock was appointed music director of the Theodore Thomas Orchestra (later the Chicago Symphony) in 1905, following the death of founding director Theodore Thomas.  Stock first came to the symphony in 1895 as a violist and was promoted to assistant conductor in 1899.  The Stocks were intimate friends, and in 1907, Stock had given a large portrait of himself to the Glessners for Christmas, inscribing it “to my best friends” (shown above).

Mr. and Mrs. Frederick J. Wessels – Wessels was the business manager of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the treasurer of The Orchestral Association.

Mr. and Mrs. Henry E. Voegeli – Voegeli was the assistant manager of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.  The Voegelis and the Wessels were both frequent guests at the Glessners’ summer estate, The Rocks, in New Hampshire.

Mr. and Mrs. Enrico Tramonti – Tramonti was appointed principal harpist with the Symphony Orchestra in February 1902, continuing in that position for 25 years.  He and his wife Juliette were close friends of the Glessners, frequently spending holidays with the family. (See blog posting dated September 30, 2013 for more information).

Mr. Frank T. Baird – Baird was a prominent vocal teacher and taught in Chicago for over forty years, in addition to serving as the long time organist at Third Presbyterian Church.  He was the accompanist for a number of well-known singers including Adelina Patti, Clara Louise Kellogg, and Annie Louise Carey.  Among his many students was the prominent actress and singer Lillian Russell.

Mr. and Mrs. Hermann von Holst – Von Holst was a prominent architect best remembered today for taking over Frank Lloyd Wright’s architectural practice when Wright left for Europe in 1909.  Von Holst designed a number of buildings at the Glessners’ summer estate, The Rocks, including the home for their son George, which was von Holst’s first commission after opening his own office.  (See blog posting dated July 2, 2012 for more information).

Mr. and Mrs. Wilhelm Bernhard – Bernhard was also an architect, a graduate of the polytechnic academy in Dresden.  He specialized in city planning and in 1913 won the first prize in the City Club competition for his layout of a model quarter section of land in Chicago.

Mrs. Nathalie Sieboth Kennedy – Kennedy had served as the reader for Frances Glessner’s Monday Morning Reading Class since the fall of 1902.  A lecturer and tutor, she served as president of The Fortnightly from 1910 to 1912, and was the daughter of Joseph Sieboth, a pupil of Felix Mendelssohn.  Her late husband, Prof. Horace Milton Kennedy of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, had died in 1885.

Miss Nathalie Gookin – 16 year old niece of Nathalie Kennedy.  Her father, Frederick William Gookin, also a good friend of the Glessners, was the long time curator of Japanese prints at the Art Institute of Chicago. 

Miss Helen Macbeth and Mrs. Anna Robertson – Frances Glessner’s sisters

Frances Glessner Lee – The Glessners’ daughter (she had divorced by this time)

John Lee (age 17), Frances Lee (age12), and Martha Lee (age 9) – children of Frances Glessner Lee and grandchildren of John and Frances Glessner

Note:  The CSO program for December 25, 1915 consisted of the following:
Pastorale from "Christmas Oratorio" - Bach
A Short Serenade for String Orchestra (Köchel 525) - Mozart
Sonate, "The Flute of Pan" - Mouquet
Symphonic Poem "La Belle au Bois Dormant" - Bruneau
Symphony No. 2, D Minor, Opus 70 - Dvořák
The Mouquet was orchestrated and performed by Alfred Quensel, principal flutist with the CSO from 1896 to 1926.  It was the first performance of this piece in Chicago. The Dvořák Symphony No. 2 is now listed as Symphony No. 7.
(Thank you to Frank Villella, CSO archivist, for providing this information)

Monday, December 14, 2015

The Indian Hunter

Ward in his studio, circa 1885, working on his model of 
his statue of President James A. Garfield

John Quincy Adams Ward was one of the best known American sculptors of the last half of the 19th century.  He was the first cousin of Frances Glessner (through her father James Macbeth), and the Glessners owned and displayed several of his pieces in their Prairie Avenue home.  A small exhibit about Ward, including a mantel clock featuring a copy of his first significant work, The Indian Hunter, will be on display in the museum visitor’s center through March 20, 2016.

Ward House, 335 College Street, Urbana, Ohio
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974

Ward was born in 1830 in Urbana, Ohio, in the house constructed by his grandfather (and town founder), Col. William Ward a decade earlier.  (Frances Macbeth Glessner was born in Urbana in 1848).  After living with his sister in Brooklyn, New York and training under the well-established sculptor Henry Kirke Brown, he relocated to Washington, D.C. in 1857, creating portrait busts of men in public life.  In 1861, he set up a studio in New York City.

His statuette, The Indian Hunter, was first exhibited in 1859 at both the Washington Art Association and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.  In 1862, he displayed the statuette again at the annual spring exhibition of the National Academy of Design.  It was enthusiastically received, and he was elected an Associate of the Academy (and later served as President). 

Ward enlarged his statuette into a life-size plaster cast after traveling to the Dakotas to make additional studies of Native Americans in their natural habitat.  Displayed in the fall of 1865, his depiction of an American Indian was said to be “amongst the most authentic aboriginal physiognomical types extant in plastic art, so careful in detail are they executed.”  After receiving private financial support from a group of 23 prominent artists and art patrons, Ward had the piece cast in bronze by the founder L. A. Amouroux at a cost of $10,000.  It was then sent to the Paris Exposition in 1867.  

The Indian Hunter in Central Park, New York City

Upon its return to the U.S., the original underwriters of the project presented the statue to the city of New York for erection in Central Park.  Unveiled in February 1869, it was the first piece of American sculpture to be placed in the eleven-year-old park. 

Master bedroom, Glessner house, c. 1888

Sixteen copies of the statuette were eventually made, two plaster and fourteen bronze, of which a bronze was purchased by the Glessners for their Prairie Avenue home for display on the mantel in their master bedroom.

Unveiling of The Indian Hunter at Ward's grave,
Oak Dale Cemetery, Urbana, Ohio

Additional life-size statues were made for Cooperstown, New York (unveiled 1898) and Buffalo, New York (unveiled 1926).  A third statue was ordered by his Ward’s widow and unveiled at his grave in Oak Dale Cemetery in Urbana, Ohio in June 1914.

In 1882, Ward moved to a new larger studio on 52nd Street designed by his friend, the architect Richard Morris Hunt, who collaborated with him on many projects.  He died at his home in New York City on May 1, 1910.

Among his more significant projects are the following:
· William Shakespeare (Central Park, New York City, 1872 - a copy of this statue was purchased by the Glessners and is on display in their library)
· Major General George Henry Thomas (Thomas Circle, Washington, D.C., 1879)
· Victory (Yorktown Victory Monument, Yorktown, Virginia, 1881)
· George Washington (Federal Hall, New York City, 1882)
· The Pilgrim (Central Park, New York City, 1884)
· James A. Garfield Monument (Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C., 1887)
· Henry Ward Beecher Monument (Cadman Plaza, Brooklyn, New York, 1891)
· Equestrian statue of General Winfield S. Hancock (Smith Memorial Arch, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1898)
· Integrity Protecting the Works of Man (Pediment of the New York Stock Exchange Building, Manhattan, New York, City, 1903)
· General Phillip H. Sheridan (East Capitol Park, Albany, New York, 1916 - installed posthumously)

The museum is grateful to Black Point Estate in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin for loaning their mantel clock to our exhibit.  The Estate, constructed in 1888 for Chicago brewer Conrap Seipp, is an incredibly well-preserved example of the large summer “cottages” constructed for Chicago’s business leaders along the shore of Lake Geneva in the late 19th century.  The site is operated by the Wisconsin Historical Society and is open seasonally from May through October.  For more information, visit

Monday, December 7, 2015

The Glessners are Married - December 7, 1870

Frances Macbeth Glessner's wedding dress
(Courtesy Chicago History Museum)

On December 7, 1870, exactly 145 years ago today, Frances Macbeth and John Jacob Glessner were united in marriage.  The event marked the end of a seven year courtship and the beginning of a loving marriage that lasted nearly 62 years.

Frances Glessner began her journal with a brief but detailed entry regarding her wedding:

“J. J. Glessner and Frances Macbeth were married Dec. 7th 1870 at Springfield, Ohio at the residence of J. R. Macbeth at 176 S. Limestone St. by Rev. Philip H. Mowry, Wed. afternoon at two o’clock.” 

The home of Frances’ parents, James and Nancy Macbeth, stood at the northeast corner of Limestone and Pleasant Streets in Springfield, Ohio, and it was here that Frances had grown to adulthood.  In 1863, John Glessner came into this home, being run as a boarding house by Mrs. Macbeth, and was first introduced to his future bride, who at the time was 15 years old.  He “continued living with these gentle folks” until the time of his marriage.

(As an interesting side note – Rev. Mowry, pastor of the Second Presbyterian Church in Springfield, also performed the wedding of the Glessners’ daughter Frances when she wed Blewett Lee in February 1898, the ceremony taking place in the parlor of 1800 S. Prairie Avenue).

In a tribute written by John Glessner shortly after his wife passed away in October 1932, he noted:

“We never were engaged to be married.  No word was said about it, but she knew and I knew that we would be when the time was favorable.”

John J. Glessner, 1860s

That decision revolved around John Glessner’s success in business which began in 1863 when he went to work for a farm machinery concern in Springfield known as Warder & Child.  Three years later, the company was reorganized as Warder, Mitchell & Company, and John Glessner was taken in as a junior partner.  In 1870, Glessner approached Mr. Warder and asked that he be allowed to go to Chicago and take charge of the firm’s business there, with the understanding that he would have “complete control.” With those arrangements in place, and his promotion to a vice president, he and Frances Macbeth made arrangements to be married.

Frances Macbeth, 1869

About thirty guests were present for the ceremony, including members of both the Glessner and Macbeth families, business associates of John Glessner, and a small number of friends. 

Frances Glessner listed the gifts received at the wedding, the most substantial being a check in the amount of $100.00 received from John Glessner’s parents, along with a Bible.  Most of the other gifts were various items of silver including flatware, butter dish, knife, bell, caster, water pitcher, cake basket, salt cellars, tea tray, sugar bowl, berry dish, and various specialized utensils for preserves, salad, pickles, sugar, and ice cream. 

Mr. and Mrs. Benjamin Warder gave the couple a clock, which is still displayed on the mantel of the master bedroom.

At 5:00pm, the couple departed Springfield “in a rain storm” and went to Zanesville, Ohio where they stayed for about a week with John Glessner’s parents, Jacob and Mary Glessner. 

On December 15, 1870, the couple arrived in Chicago and spent their first week residing at the Sherman House, located at the northwest corner of Clark and Randolph Streets.  After several days staying with friends, they moved into their first home at 69 Park Avenue on December 28th

Many years later, John Glessner reflected back on his selection of his bride.  As he wrote in 1923 in The Story of a House:

“A story apropos:  A dear old lady once said to me in all seriousness, ‘Mr. Glessner, you are a very important member of this community; you have a position of great prominence and influence; you get it from your wife and your house.’  Don’t think this disparagement of me.  I thought it a real compliment, for I selected the one and I built the other.”

In 1920, the Glessners celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary, although in typically humble style, they did not announce the event in advance, as they felt it was merely a request for gifts.  Instead they hosted a debut tea for their granddaughter Frances Glessner, who celebrated her 20th birthday that same day.  It was only after guests had arrived that they learned the date was also the Glessners’ golden wedding anniversary.  Sixteen of the guests joined the family and remained for dinner including Mr. and Mrs. Cyrus McCormick, CSO music director Frederick Stock and wife, and Art Institute president Charles Hutchinson and wife.  

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Chicago's Christmas Tree - 1915

Last week, we examined the history of Chicago’s first municipal Christmas tree in 1913.  This week, we look at the tree erected in 1915 – the only one specifically mentioned in the Glessner journal.

In late December 1915, John Glessner made the following entry:
“The municipal Christmas tree continues beautiful.  It bears no lights but is adorned with glass jewels that are said to have been on the jewel tower at the San Francisco fair, and is lighted by search lights of various colors, across the street and elsewhere.  Hundreds of people stand about on Michigan Avenue in the evenings to see it.”

The Panama-Pacific International Exposition was held in San Francisco from February 20 through December 4, 1915.  Organized to commemorate the completion of the Panama Canal, San Francisco was anxious to host the world’s fair to show how it had recovered from the devastating earthquake of 1906.

The most impressive structure on the fairgrounds was the Tower of Jewels which, at 435 feet, towered over the other buildings at the fair, and could be seen for miles.  The name of the tower came from the 102,000 faceted cut glass “jewels” that adorned the surface of the building.  The jewels, known as “Novagems” were created by Walter Ryan and made in Bohemia in a variety of colors and sizes ranging from ¾” to 2” in diameter.  Each individual jewel was mounted to the building with a small brass hanger that included a small mirror behind to enhance the intensity of the light as it passed through the jewel.  The jewels hung free on their hangers and would move in the breeze creating spectacular effects as they reflected the sunlight.  In the evening, 54 searchlights were directed toward the tower, creating a similar impression. 

In his 1921 history of the exposition, Frank Morton Todd noted an occasional event known as “Burning the Tower”:
“Concealed ruby lights, and pans of red fire behind the colonnades on the different galleries, seemed to turn the whole gigantic structure into a pyramid of incandescent metal, glowing toward white heat and about to melt.  From the great vaulted base to the top of the sphere, it had the unstable effulgence of a charge in a furnace, and yet it did not melt, however much you expected it to, but stood and burned like some sentient thing doomed to eternal torment.”

Novagems were produced in eight colors

Jewels were sold as souvenirs during the fair and were also made into pins, cufflinks, and spoons.   At the close of the fair the actual jewels from the tower were sold for $1 each. 

Walter Ryan brought 4,000 of the jewels to Chicago for use on the municipal Christmas tree, sponsored by the Chicago Examiner newspaper.  They were suspended from the boughs of the tree and clustered to form the huge Star of Bethlehem at the top.  Smaller jewel-encrusted stars were placed on the 30-foot trees which surrounded the base of the main Christmas tree. 

Mayor Thompson

Located in Grant Park at Congress Street, the tree was lit at 4:45pm on Christmas Eve. Mayor William Hale Thompson pressed the electric button which turned on the hundred searchlights directed toward the 90-foot fir tree.   Two huge searchlights each were mounted to the Auditorium and Congress hotels, while dozens of smaller lights in various colors were set about the park.

Forty lights set beneath the tree lit the entire height with colors changing from red to green to blue to purple and back to red again.  As John Glessner noted, there were no lights on the tree itself, but it was constantly changing color with the searchlights.

The festivities began with the mayor’s procession leaving City Hall and heading east on Randolph Street and then south on Michigan Avenue to Congress Street.  Leading the procession was the First regiment of cavalry and eight trumpeters from the Illinois National Guard.  Two companies of militia from the First and Seventh regiments formed a lane from Congress Street to the platform and saluted the mayor and his party as they passed. 

Following the mayor’s remarks and lighting of the tree, the huge crowd was treated to a musical program provided by various groups including the Chicago Band Association, the Apollo Musical Club, the Haydn Choral Society, the Chicago Grand Opera Company, and the Paulist Choir, the latter singing from the balcony of the Auditorium Hotel while being illuminated by twenty searchlights.

Musical selections included Wagner’s “The March of the Holy Grail,” Gounod-Buck’s “Nazareth,” and Chadwick-Noel’s “Allelujah Chorus.”  The crowd joined in the singing of Gounod’s “Peace on Earth,” “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” “Silent Night,” “Years of Peace,” and “The Star Spangled Banner.”  The program closed with the combined musical groups singing Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus.”

The tree remained in place until New Year’s Day.  It must have been a magnificent sight to see the richly colored jewels swaying and sparkling in the light.  And one cannot help but wonder what became of the 4,000 jewels when the tree was finally dismantled.  Perhaps they were picked up or sold as souvenirs and some may still survive to this day, buried in the bottom of a drawer or maybe even hung on a Christmas tree in someone’s home.  

Monday, November 23, 2015

Chicago's First Christmas Tree - 1913

On Tuesday, November 24, 2015, the City of Chicago will conduct its 102nd annual Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony.  The tree will be located in Millennium Park at Michigan Avenue and Washington Street, just two blocks north of the location of Chicago’s first Christmas tree in 1913.  Since 1966, the official Christmas tree has stood in Daley Plaza (except for 1982 when it was placed at State Street and Wacker Drive).  In this article, we will look at the beginning of the decades long tradition of the placement of the tree in Grant Park.

Charles L. Hutchinson

The idea for the 1913 municipal Christmas tree started many weeks in advance with the creation of the Municipal Christmas Festival Association headed by Charles L. Hutchinson, long time president of the Art Institute.  Hutchinson assembled an impressive list of artisans to assist the effort including architect Howard Van Doren Shaw, and artists Frederic Clay Bartlett, Abram Poole, and Lorado Taft, all of whom “(put) aside their own personal affairs in a public spirited way.”

A large site in Grant Park north of the Art Institute at Monroe Street was selected and christened the “Court of Honor” – a name last used during the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893.  In addition to the main tree itself, a large arcade consisting of a series of arches served as a backdrop, with dozens of smaller trees forming a grove.  

On December 19, the top section of the tree was set in place atop a grouping of three huge telephone poles secured in a concrete base.  The top was a single 35-foot tree donated by F. J. Jordan, a former partner of Captain Herman Scheunemann, the famous captain of Chicago’s “Christmas Tree Ship” which had gone down in Lake Michigan the previous year.   In an article which appeared in the Chicago Tribune on December 20, Jordan noted:

“This is the best gift I could give to the city.  I have watched this old tree grow for many years.  Many times I was tempted to bring it to some rich family.  But it didn’t seem quite right to the poor girl and poor boy, who had no tree at all.  Now it belongs to the city, and rich and poor alike may enjoy it.”

The telephone company funded the erection of the tree and Commonwealth Edison furnished the elaborate lighting.  As such, the actual cost of the whole project was only $3,000 – funded by businessmen appointed to the Municipal Christmas Festival Association, and their friends.  Henry Blair donated 25,000 tickets on the street railways which were distributed through various social service agencies to children who would otherwise be unable to attend the festivities.

Crowds began to gather by 4:00pm on Christmas Eve, lining both sides of Michigan Avenue between Monroe and Washington Streets.  The Chicago Band provided entertainment.  Michigan Avenue was closed to traffic at 5:30pm and soon after, Mayor Carter H. Harrison Jr. arrived in the company of Charles L. Hutchinson, with a squadron of twelve mounted buglers from the Illinois National Guard acting as escort.  The ceremony began at 5:45pm.  Charles Hutchinson opened the festivities, concluding with the introduction of the mayor, who ended his remarks with the following statement:

“Let us hope the lights on this tree will so shine out as to be an inspiration to Christian charity and to inject new courage and new hope into the hearts of those not so fortunate as we are.”

Mayor Carter H. Harrison, Jr.

At precisely 6:00pm, the mayor pushed a button to illuminate the 600 varicolored bulbs on the tree and the huge star of Bethlehem at its apex.  The crowd, estimated at 100,000, most of whom had been unable to hear the mayor’s speech, “cheered lustily.” 

One of the more creative aspects of the ceremony setting was designed by artist Abram Poole in collaboration with the Illinois Central Railroad.  The railroad agreed to stop all of its trains during the ceremony and installed a half dozen engines behind the Court of Honor.  According to a Tribune article on December 21:

“Abram Poole has designed a scheme of color and lights such as Chicago has never seen since the nights of splendor at the world’s fair.  The colonnade, which is to form a background for the tree, is to be all trimmed with green, festooned with lights of all kinds, steady and flickering, and behind this will be a crimson splendor of Bengal lights on a still larger, more distant background of white, rolling, billowing, changing steam.”

A “motion picture machine” was installed in one of the office buildings on the west side of Michigan Avenue in order to project onto a huge screen installed between the Christmas tree and the Art Institute.  This was probably the least successful element of the ceremony, as the films did not relate to the holiday festivities, but instead were provided by the Public Safety Commission “to show how carelessness may result in accident.”

Following the illumination of the tree, the band, housed at the north end of the grounds, played a “Salute to the Nations” – a medley of national anthems.  

Crowd facing the Chicago Athletic Association

The crowd then turned to hear a trumpet fanfare coming from the Venetian balcony of the Chicago Athletic Association.  An improvised sounding board had been added to the balcony to improve sound quality and the balustrade was draped in rich red velvet draperies borrowed from the Art Institute.  Bass Henri Scott and tenor George Hamlin sang selections from opera, followed by the opera company chorus and Paulist choir singing selections from the north terrace of the Art Institute.   The ceremony concluded with everyone present joining in the singing of “The Star Spangled Banner.”  The crowd lingered for hours.

The tree was illuminated nightly throughout Christmas week until New Year’s Day.  The Association pronounced the entire event a huge success, with the hopes that it would become an annual event.  More than a century later, we can thank these civic minded individuals for starting what has become one of Chicago’s most anticipated and best loved holiday traditions.

Next week: A century ago – the Christmas tree of 1915 as recalled by John Glessner; perhaps the most spectacular municipal Christmas tree of all.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Maud Howe Elliott

Maud Howe Elliott was an American author and the daughter of Julia Ward Howe.  A close friend of Frances Glessner, she was frequently a guest in her homes both in Chicago and in New Hampshire.  In this article, we will reflect back upon a series of lectures given by Elliott in Chicago exactly 125 years ago.

In November 1890, Frances Glessner pasted the following card into her journal:

Mrs. Maud Howe Elliott,

Wednesday Afternoons at Four O’Clock

Wednesday, Nov. 19 – “The Growth of Art.”
At Mrs. Charles Schwartz’s, 1919 Prairie Avenue

Wednesday, Nov. 26 – “Foreign Art in America.”
At Mrs. Charles Schwartz’s, 1919 Prairie Avenue

Wednesday, Dec. 3 – “Our American Artists.”
At Mrs. O. R. Keith’s, 1808 Prairie Avenue

Wednesday, Dec. 10 – “Late American Literature.”
At Mrs. O. R. Keith’s, 1808 Prairie Avenue

Wednesday, Dec. 17 – “A Glance at Belles Letters in England.”
At Mrs. Charles P. Kellogg’s, 1923 Prairie Avenue

Wednesday, Dec. 24 – “The Ethics of Art.”
At Mrs. Charles P. Kellogg’s, 1923 Prairie Avenue

Course Tickets, $6.00

Mrs. Charles Schwartz                             Mrs. O. R. Keith
Mrs. Charles P. Kellogg                      Mrs. Clinton Locke
Mrs. John J. Glessner
Have the pleasure of sending you a ticket for
course of Informal talks.

Will you kindly return the ticket or its equivalent,
at your earliest convenience, to
Mrs. John J. Glessner
1800 Prairie Avenue

Maud Howe was born on November 9, 1854 in Boston, Massachusetts.  Her father, Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe, was the founder and director of the Perkins School for the Blind in Boston.  

Her mother, Julia Ward Howe, was an abolitionist, suffragist, and poet, best remembered today as the author of the “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”  She was privately educated by her mother in the United States in Europe; her mentors included Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.  In 1887, Maud Howe married the English artist John Elliott. 

On November 10, 1890, the Elliotts arrived in Chicago and settled into the guestroom at the Glessners’ Prairie Avenue home.  During the week that followed Frances Glessner and Maud Howe Elliott attended numerous concerts, lectures, teas, and dinners.  Within a couple of days of the Elliotts’ departure, Frances Glessner received a letter stating in part:

“A home sicker pair than John Elliott and his wife, rarely sat down to a boarding house dinner!  And we were homesick not for Boston but for Prairie Avenue! . . . I shall see you tomorrow.  Goodbye, blessed saint of hospitality.  Your good offices to us, are written in the record book of our hearts and will not be forgotten, while our memories are intact.
                                                                        Your attached

Prairie Avenue, circa 1890 (photo by George Glessner);
the Schwartz (1919) and Kellogg (1923) homes are at far right.

Elliott returned to Chicago to give her first talk at the home of Mrs. Charles Schwartz on Wednesday November 19th.  (Within a few years the house was sold to Marshall Field Jr.; it still stands today).  Frances Glessner noted:

“Last Wednesday I paid some neighborhood calls after luncheon – and then went to Mrs. Schwartz’s to hear Mrs. Elliott’s first South Side reading.  There were nearly a hundred ladies there – it was very pleasant.  I have given Mrs. Elliott $710.00 for this course.”

Following the second reading at Mrs. Schwartz’s, Frances Glessner noted that “Mrs. Elliott said that I inspired her paper by some questions which I asked her at The Rocks.”

The Elliotts had visited The Rocks during the summer of 1890.  Maud Howe Elliott used the opportunity to write; her husband, to sketch.  John Elliott also provided some evening entertainment as noted, “Tonight Mr. Elliott did the polar bear, the monkey, the old lady, and danced.”

Frances Glessner also noted an interesting incident that took place when their piano was tuned:

“This afternoon our blind piano tuner came out and tuned the piano – he proved to be John Denny who was educated at the Perkins Institute for the Blind which was founded by Dr. Howe.  This man had played with Mrs. Elliott when she was a child.  They were very glad to meet – to see her as the blind man expressed it.”

When the Elliotts left The Rocks on August 4th, Maud Howe Elliott made the following entry in the guest book:

“These days passed at The Rocks (days as full of pleasure as the comb of honey) are strong upon our memory as pearls upon the rosary of Time.”

A few days later, Elliott wrote from Newport where she gave a detailed account of a party at the Vanderbilt “cottage.”  She noted, in part:

“My dear Mrs. Glessner,

It has been very hard for me to ‘wait until after the Vanderbilt party,’ as was agreed between us!  I have wanted continually to write you to let my words follow my thoughts back to the beloved Rocks, and the encircling hills blue and mysterious, they haunt my memory, they and the song of the hermit thrush, the genius of the place.

Wednesday night we came down to Newport on the Fall River boat, bringing Miss Gardner with us.  We found my dear mother well.  When Thursday came I felt rather indifferent about the garden party, but my promise was given!  Mama and I went together.  The Vanderbilt’s home is on the cliffs, with wonderful lawn leading down to the cliffs which overhang the ocean.  We passed in . . . across the house and out to the lawn where the hostess stood under a group of tall palms.  She is a prettyish little lady, and looked well in her simple frock of white woolen stuff embroidered with gold thread.  She wore no jewels, and a simple, pretty hat.  There were two bands, one a mandolin band, the other (well out of earshot) a full stringed and brass band.  The refreshments were served in a large red Marquee.  The table was superb.  Two immense silver punch bowls of beautiful repoussé work.  The centerpiece was very lovely, all manner of water lilies.  I never saw some of the variety before.  These were great white lilies shaped like poppies big as a large peony, pink ones of the same color, beautiful tropical looking things besides water lilies of the ordinary shape in every shade of blue and pink, the deepest being claret color.  The food was fine, I believe, I only remember a figure of George Washington in ice cream.  There was a menu upon the table and most wonderful looking dishes savory and sweet, all made by the chefs of the houses Vanderbilt.”

Portraits of Maud and John Elliott by Jose Villegas y Cordero

The Elliotts lived in Chicago for a time and then in Italy for a number of years before permanently settling in Newport in 1910.  In 1918, the Elliotts purchased a mansion at 150 Rhode Island Avenue in Newport which she called “Lilliput.”  She continued her writing here, eventually publishing twenty books.  The best known of her works, The Life of Julia Ward Howe, co-authored by her sisters Laura Richards and Florence Hall, earned them the first Pulitzer Prize for biography in 1917.    

Maud Howe Elliott was a patron of the arts, and was the founder of the Newport Art Association organized in 1912 for “the cultivation of artistic endeavor and interest amongst the citizens of Newport.”  The organization purchased the John N. A. Griswold House on Bellevue Avenue in 1915 (a National Historic Landmark designed by Richard Morris Hunt and completed in 1864); it continues to serve as the home of the Newport Art Museum.  Maud Howe Elliott’s portrait (shown at the top of this article) hangs over the fireplace in the library.  She served as secretary of the Association for thirty years.

John Elliott died in 1925.  Maud Howe Elliott continued writing, publishing her final book, This Was My Newport, in 1944, when she was ninety years old.  She died on March 19, 1948 and was interred at Mt. Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts alongside her husband and parents.  Her papers were given to Brown University, which had awarded her an honorary doctorate in 1940.

For more information on the Newport Art Museum, visit  
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