Monday, April 15, 2019

The Glessners in Paris - 1890

Panorama of the seven bridges

As this article is being written, the iconic Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris, continues to burn, the images of the building devastation heartbreaking for Parisians, Christians, and all those who love and appreciate historic architecture.  As stewards of a Chicago landmark (designed by H. H. Richardson, who received his architectural training at L’Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris), we sympathize with all those who are impacted by the irreplaceable loss of this internationally significant architectural treasure. 

John and Frances Glessner and their daughter Fanny (accompanied by her paid companion Miss Scharff) had the opportunity to visit Notre Dame during a trip to Europe in the early part of 1890.  Below are selected excerpts from the Glessner journal (written by John Glessner) detailing their time in Paris.  (All images, other than that of Notre Dame Cathedral, taken from an album of photographs assembled by the Glessners during their trip).

Place de la Concorde

Monday February 24, 1890 (in Havre):
“At 7:30am left by train for Paris . . .Had telegraphed Hotel Baida to send man to meet us at RR station in Paris and soon after arrival were comfortably placed in our hotel with two good sunny communicating rooms, fire lighted etc. . . We went for a long drive through Paris. . . We drove for four hours through places of great interest – only stopping once or twice.  We were most impressed by the Madeleine, Notre Dame, Arc de Triomphe.  We drove on the Champs Elysses to the Bois de Boulogne to Café Cascade where we got out and had a cup of delicious hot chocolate. 

Venus de Milo

“Tuesday Feby. 25 was spent – morning at the Louvre with antique statuary and some old paintings.  The enormous galleries are full of wonderful and beautiful historical works.  Were most impressed by the Venus de Milo and Melpomene.  The Venus is larger than we had expected, and most beautiful from every view.  The coloring of Van Dyck and Titian and Tintoretto and the great works of Rubens impressed us . . . Murillo’s Immaculate Conception kept our attention for as long as we could spare. . . Dined table d’hote at the Continental and from there to Port St. Martin Theatre to see Sarah Bernhardt in Joan of Arc.  Small theatre, so that everybody was close to stage.  Four balconies or galleries and the 1st floor gave seat space.  The play was fine and well given. 

A gallery at the Louvre

Wednesday February 26:
“The ladies, Fanny included, started out shopping immediately after breakfast and I wandered about until 11, when I went to meet Fanny and relieve her from further shopping, but they had been delayed so we all lunched together at Café Voisin.  From there drove to Notre Dame Cathedral and went through that beautiful building and saw the wonderful 
treasures it contains.  After that all four took top of street car and rode across Paris. 

Thursday February 27:
“After breakfast went to Ste. Chapelle, the oldest church in Paris.  Then to the Cluny Museum where we were more than delighted with the collections of furniture, embroideries, laces, porcelain, etc.  Then to the Pantheon and walked hastily through looking at the frescoes but did not go down to the underground tombs nor up to the tower.

Eiffel Tower

Friday February 28:
“Went to the Luxembourg at once after breakfast.  Saw the large bronze St. John by Paul Dubois and some fine pictures.  Liked best Jules Dupre’s Eleaner, Rosa Bonheur’s Cattle Plowing, Bonnet’s portrait of Lion Cogniet, and Bastien-Lepage’s Haymaking.  Saw also the Oyster Gatherers by Feyen-Perrin of which we once had an etching.  From there the ladies went to Au Bon Marche after walking through the gardens, and I to the bankers for letters.  Lunched at the Binda, left Fanny here and we went shopping and to call on (Mihaly) Munkacsy at his studio.  The reception room was furnished with screens and sofas and hangings, had a bright fire burning and was filled with French callers. . . He took us into his studio, through a door draped with three or four thicknesses of hangings, and we sat there on a corner sofa a while talking with him through Miss Scharff. . . The studio had a stuffed horse in it and some stuffs and was very light.  Visited many old shops and Theodore Deck’s place, but found nothing to buy.  Bought at Barbedienne’s a bronze Sitting Mercury.  We are getting quite in conceit with our own bric-a-brac, as it compares well with what we see, or is reproduction of what we see. 

Saturday March 1:
“Went to Louvre after breakfast to have another look at the art treasures. . . After that to a private exhibition of paintings at The Cercle de L’Union Artistique 5 Rue Boissay D’Anglas. . . Neglected to say above that we went Friday night to the Grand Opera, L’Africaine and found the performance magnificent.  Had never seen such stage setting.  Over 100 players in orchestra and at one time at least 175 people on the stage, perhaps more.  A Chicago audience on a similar occasion will compare favorably with this one, though perhaps not so many jewels worn by the ladies.  Generally the dresses here were not so low at the neck as at home, but a few were lower.  The men wore hats between the acts. 

Foyer of the Grand Opera House

“Sunday morning went to the Greek church and staid through the service.  The church is in shape of Greek cross about 35 feet square and contained many paintings some at least of which were very good and perhaps more, for we couldn’t see them very well.”

(On Monday March 3, the Glessners traveled to Cannes and then to Italy, returning to Paris on April 2, during Holy Week, spending ten days there before boarding their ship at Havre for the passage home).

Friday April 4:
“Good Friday.  We all four went shopping together this morning.  Bought a bureau and writing table for bedroom at home. . .

Notre Dame Cathedral in the 1890s

Sunday April 6:
“On Sunday morning – Easter Sunday – Frances and Miss Scharff went to service at Notre Dame, which they found interesting. . . Fanny and I staid at home and wrote letters.  After luncheon we drove to St. Cloud and on the Bois de Boulogne until dinner time.  Fanny wore her Bersagliero hat and cloak, supposing that anything might be worn here without remark, but found it unpleasant because of the attention it seemed to attract.”

“On Wednesday morning April 9th, I visited Central Halles the great market, the Tower of St. Jacques, Sainte Chappelle, and Notre Dame while the two ladies and Fanny went to dressmakers, bought embroideries, etc.  After luncheon, Miss Scharff and Fanny drove to the Jardin d’Acclimatation to see the animals and birds. . . At 7 we took carriages four ourselves and our guests the Hutchinsons and went to our dinner.  When we came home Miss Scharff and I from our cab saw the blaze from a large fire, so got Mr. H. to join us and drove to it.  Some large sheds of second hand building material were burning, with great heat and blaze, and quite a crowd had gathered.  A number of men and boys had climbed into the trees for a better sight.”

Newspaper clipping:
“Big Blaze in the Rue Daru”
“Last evening, between nine and ten o’clock, by the lurid appearance of the sky in the direction of the Arc de Triomphe, it was plain that a large fire was raging somewhere in that part of the city, and excited crowds hastened along the boulevards to the scene of disaster.
“On the rue Daru, near the Russian church, stood a row of sheds and ware-houses used by a firm of dealers in second-hand building materials.  These were found to be in flames, and owing to the inflammable nature of the contents, straw, piles of boards, etc., the fire blazed fiercely, lighting up the whole neighborhood.
“The flames threw out such volumes of heat that it was almost impossible for the firemen to hold their ground.  For an hour or so water and fire fought for the mastery, while thousands watched the struggle with admiration.  Finally the water won, streaming down in a deluge from many lines of hose.  The light died away, the heat diminished, the multitude dispersed, and the fire was out.”

NOTE:  A large engraving, depicting Notre Dame Cathedral, always hung over the bed in George Glessner's bedroom, as seen in this historic image below.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Fiction in the Household

Guest Author:
Helene Julian is a post graduate student at the University of Lincoln located in Lincolnshire, United Kingdom studying conservation of cultural heritage. As the Fall 2018 intern, she cataloged and evaluated the books in the schoolroom. She graduated in January 2019.

You can tell a lot about a person by the company they keep, but what about their books? I think a person’s dreams, aspirations, goals and desires can be understood by examining their book collection. Glessner House, the former home of John and Frances Glessner and their two children, holds a vast collection of books that were treasured by family members. There is one book that caught my eye in the schoolroom. It is bound in red cloth and displays gold lettering on the cover. The title of the book is Achilles and Hector: Iliad Stories Retold for Boys and Girls. The book is in good condition showing evidence that the Glessners cared for it when it was in their possession and ensuring that it could be read by their children and future young readers.

Hector held his little son close

The Glessners were avid readers and were presented with numerous books by authors and friends. Frances Glessner founded a Reading Class in 1894 composed of Prairie Avenue residents as well as the wives of professors from the University of Chicago. They would meet in the library of the Glessner home to discuss literature and socialize. John and Frances Glessner were also well received and active in scholarly circles in the city of Chicago including the Chicago Literary Club and The Fortnightly. Authors wanted the family to read their pieces of work and provided gift copies for their permanent collection.

The author, Agnes Cook Gale, gifted Achilles and Hector to Frances Glessner.  The gift inscription reads, “To Mrs. Glessner with the sincere regards of Agnes Cook Gale 20 November 1904”.   Gale was the wife of Henry G. Gale, who was appointed to the Department of Physics at the University of Chicago in 1899 upon receipt of his doctorate there.  He served the University in various capacities until his retirement in 1940.  Agnes Cook Gale served as president of the Renaissance Society of the University of Chicago and was a member of the Artists Equity Association and the Chicago Society of Artists, being primarily known as an artist and sculptor.  The illustrations in the book are by Helen Maitland Armstrong, a talented illustrator regarded as one of the finest American stained glass artists of the late 19th- and early 20th-centuries. 

There came a sudden darkness over Achilles' eyes

Achilles and Hector is a book of Greek mythology filled with stories of adventure, love, imagination and the perseverance to complete impossible goals. The titular characters of the book, Achilles and Hector, are both portrayed in Homer’s The Iliad, an epic poem written in ancient Greece. It is a tale of war between the Greeks and Trojans over a woman named Helen, the immortal “face that launched a thousand ships.” The story is a work of fiction, but like any other story the reader takes away something from the literature. In my case after reading the Iliad in high school, I took away the power of using reasoning to achieve an objective. Odysseus’s idea to build a wooden Trojan horse and fill it with soldiers to sneak behind enemy lines was a clever tactic that has always stayed with me.

At last came Helen

By observing the Glessners’ book collection, specifically in the schoolroom, it is evident that the parents encouraged their children to read the classics and tales of triumph. They wanted their children to be well rounded individuals who not only gained knowledge through life experiences but through the pages of a book. Among the other works of fiction in the schoolroom are The Two Penniless Princesses and Boat No. 2631: The Story of a Mississippi River Adventure. Both involve the protagonist resolving a conflict or defeating the antagonists with will power and perseverance.

Glessner schoolroom, c. 1888

The schoolroom contains numerous books beyond fiction, including a great deal of non-fiction ranging from history to biography, and several from the children’s studies of foreign languages.  The children were educated by private tutors at home, so it would make sense to see many books related to their studies. But thankfully fiction can be seen throughout the shelves of the schoolroom as well. I think reading fiction opens one’s mind to creativity, imagination and empathy. Possibly, the Glessners would agree with me that fiction can positively impact your life by giving you the confidence to attempt new things and meet new people.

Maybe these are reasons why George decided to go into politics in New Hampshire to have a positive impact on his community. Or this might explain why Frances Glessner Lee had an active and open mind and became interested in crime scene investigation with her creation of the Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Deaths. You can truly tell about one’s life through the books they read. From my review of working within the school room’s collection, the Glessners read books on a wide variety of topics, both fiction and non-fiction, which encouraged their children to dream and achieve their goals.  

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Fire destroys two buildings at The Rocks

Tool Building (courtesy Littleton Fire Rescue)

The same view in June 2010

A devastating fire at The Rocks on the evening of Wednesday February 13, 2019, destroyed two century-old historic structures on the property, which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984.  No one was injured in the fire, and the nearby home of long-time property manager Nigel Manley, escaped damage.  The Rocks, located in Bethlehem, New Hampshire, was the summer estate and working farm of the Glessner family for several generations and since 1978 has been owned and operated by The Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests (SPNHF).

Electric Plant in foreground, Tool Building behind to the left
(courtesy Littleton Fire Rescue)

The same view in June 2010

The two structures destroyed were historically known as the Tool Building and the Electric Plant.  The Tool Building served as the North Country Conservation and Education Center for SPNHF, and housed staff offices and a large multi-purpose room used for programs and events.  The Electric Plant functioned as a gift shop.


Tool Building, front, circa 1904

Tool Building, rear, circa 1910

The Tool Building was built to house a variety of power-driven machines used in the production and repair of equipment for the estate.  The large, gable-roofed structure was two stories high on the west front, and three stories on the rear.  It was clad in wood shingles which were stained a dark red, like other buildings on the estate.   An L-shaped wing on the north side of the building functioned primarily as an ice house.  

Ice house, June 2010

On September 12, 1903, Frances Glessner noted in her journal, “we commenced work on the new tool building.”  Work proceeded rapidly, as she noted on October 3rd, “we gave the annual dinner to the men on the place.  The table was set in the new tool building.”  Later that week the exterior was shingled. 

Tool Building, 1905 (Togo the mule in foreground)

The building was the site of numerous social events, one of which was recorded in some detail in a journal entry dated September 18, 1906:
“Friday evening, we gave a party to the working people in the Tool building.  We took everything out and made a little stage.  We hung branches of evergreen in among the iron strips and put two large vases of sun flowers and asparagus fern on each side of the stage.  We took lamps down and put one on each side of the stage and put hanging chimes around from the ceiling.  We asked our people and their wives – and many who have been connected with the place, and many of the neighbors.
“We hired omnibuses to bring them out from town.  There were one hundred and sixty-five here.  Mr. Tramonti (harpist with the Chicago Orchestra) was very nervous but pleased the audience very much.  John introduced him very nicely and the audience was very appreciative and attentive.  After the concert ice cream and cake was served.”

Tool Building in 1978, showing the bay added in 1907 at right

In June 1907, Frances Glessner noted “we commenced to build the addition to the tool building.”   That addition, consisting of one additional bay located at the south end of the building, was constructed to provide a blacksmith shop (used in recent years by a Glessner descendant).  

The upper floor contained a fully equipped woodworking shop with a variety of early equipment, originally belt-driven from a central power source.  A gas pump was installed outside to provide fuel for farm vehicles.


The Electric Building, circa 1910

The Electric Plant stood immediately to the east of the Tool Building and was constructed to house the original power plant for the estate.    Laid out on a T-plan, the plant was a low hip-roofed frame structure with a clerestory at the central roof ridge.  It was clad in the same dark red-stained wood shingles.  

The foundation for the building was set in place in July 1910 as work was underway to electrify the various buildings as noted in this journal entry dated July 16, 1910:
“Some progress has been made on the Cottage improvements, and the electric light work has been started.  The foundations are in for the power building.  Wynne the Chicago electrician began on Wednesday or Thursday and has a good deal of the tool building piped for wiring.”
By August 21st, “the electric and power building is completed except the chimney and the “help” in our different houses have asked for a dance there next Thursday” (which did take place).  Electric was apparently fully functional by September 18th when the first electric lamp was lighted at the Big House (the Glessners’ residence) as an experiment. 

Electric Plant, June 2010

After John Glessner’s death in January 1936, the estate, which had grown to 1,500 acres, was divided equally between his daughter, Frances Glessner Lee, and his daughter-in-law, Alice Hamlin Glessner.  Following Alice’s death, Lee reassembled the estate and continued to operate it as a farm until her death in January 1962.  (Her tax returns each year listed her occupation as “farmer.”).  Lee’s children, John Glessner Lee and Martha Lee Batchelder continued operations of the farm until 1978 when the property was donated to the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, of which their grandfather, John J. Glessner, was an early member.  

A stipulation of the gift was that there always be a crop in the field.  The Forest Society noted, “for more than three decades, that crop has been Christmas trees, and people come to The Rocks from near and far each year to find their perfect tree.”  (Continuing a tradition begun by the Glessners in the 1880s, Glessner House acquires its Christmas tree each year from The Rocks).

The famous Budweiser Clydesdales in front of the Tool Building,
January 2010 (Courtesy of The Rocks Estate)

Glessner House docents in front of the Tool Building, August 2017

Monday, February 4, 2019

Frances Glessner Lee - A Wonderful Woman

On February 4, 1962, 57 years ago today, a loving tribute to Frances Glessner Lee (who had died a week earlier at the age of 83) appeared on the front page of The Boston Sunday Globe.  It was written by her long-time friend, Erle Stanley Gardner, the best-selling author of more than 80 Perry Mason novels.   As Gardner noted at the beginning of the article, “There is no charge for this; it’s a labor of love.”

Being a personal account and not a formal biography, the tribute accurately provides the reader with a sense of Lee’s personality, and her relentless drive to make an impact in the field of legal medicine.  Tough and compassionate at the same time, it is no wonder that the work she undertook is still celebrated today.

NOTE:  A series of events honoring Frances Glessner Lee will take place at Glessner House during Frances Glessner Lee Week, March 23-30, 2019.  For more information and to purchase tickets, visit the website,

And now, selected excerpts from Gardner’s tribute.

“A Wonderful Woman”
The Boston Sunday Globe
February 4, 1962
Erle Stanley Gardner

America’s Best Known Mystery Author Writes to the Globe About a Friend

My friend, Captain Frances G. Lee, had a keen brain, a big heart, and an open mind.

She was one of the few women in the world who realized the general importance of legal medicine, and its importance in the field of law enforcement.  She also realized the necessity of a better understanding on the part of the public of problems relating to law enforcement.

I collect characters as other people collect postage stamps, and Capt. Lee was one of the rarer items in my book.
I well remember one occasion when she was being interviewed by a top-flight reporter who was in something of a hurry.  He was anxious to get the preliminaries over with.  He shot questions at Capt. Lee and then when she had the question about half answered, would interrupt to finish in his own words what he thought the answer was going to be, or perhaps what he felt the answer should have been.

At about the third interruption, Capt. Lee lowered the boom on him.

She thrust her head slightly forward, pushed out her jaw and said, “Look here, young man, you’re trying to anticipate what I’m going to say and you haven’t brains enough to do it.”

From then on the interview proceeded in a more orderly manner.

Capt. Lee was a perfectionist in every sense of the word.  When she gave her banquets, which were the social highlights of the seminars on homicide investigation conducted at the Harvard Medical School, she gave hours of careful consideration to the seating arrangements, to the floral decorations and to the program.  I don’t think there was any detail too small or too insignificant to be given careful, painstaking consideration; and by the same token, she was tremendously upset when something happened to throw any of her arrangements out of gear.

Because she had an orderly mind and a logical mind, she was able to comprehend police work in a way that enabled her to make a shrewd and accurate appraisal of individual cases as well as overall planning of what was being done and an accurate estimate of what should be done.

Because she had a great big human heart, a warm understanding and the approach of a woman of highly developed maternal instincts, she not only adopted the cause of legal medicine and law enforcement as an intellectual pursuit, but she came to regard the men in law enforcement as her “boys” and they in turn gave her a respect and affection which brought about a warm, human relationship.

No one knows just how much good Capt. Lee’s seminars did.  Not only did the men learn something of the importance of legal medicine as it related to law enforcement, but they had an opportunity to meet with each other on a social basis where they could discuss their mutual problems against a sympathetic background.

Capt. Lee encouraged the graduates to keep in touch with one another and to cooperate with one another.

I remember pointing out to her at one time that any person who would be big enough to handle the Department of Legal Medicine at Harvard University would be too big to be dominated by any outsider and that she must be prepared to make compromises when her ideas came in conflict with those of the department head.

The advice was unsolicited and, I think, unappreciated.  When it came to her ideas and ideals Capt. Lee wasn’t compromising anything with anybody; and when it came to fighting she just waded right in.

Those who knew her marveled at the tenacity with which she held on to her work and her life.

I remember on one occasion when by just deviating a hairs-breadth from her planned course, Capt. Lee could have received some publicity which I felt would have been of considerable value to her.  I somewhat timidly ventured the suggestion that under the circumstances she might well deviate very slightly from her planned method of approach – and promptly had my ears pinned back.

Capt. Lee was my friend.

I appreciated the work she was doing and the importance of that work.  For that reason I was willing to devote much of my time to helping her wherever I could be of help.  She was also my personal friend because I appreciated her grim, relentless pursuit of an objective, her uncompromising insistence upon the best and her loyalty to the causes she espoused and to her friends generally.

Capt. Lee had a strong individuality, a unique, unforgettable character, was a fiercely competent fighter, and a practical idealist.

The cause of legal medicine and law enforcement suffered a great blow with her passing, and yet for years the country will benefit because of her dogged determination, her down-to-earth grasp of the problems with which she was confronted, and her unswerving determination to find a solution by persistence, diplomacy, charm, and, if all else failed, by downright battering-ram in-fighting.
She was a wonderful woman.

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