Monday, December 31, 2012

Glessner House Museum - A Top 10 List for 2012

It seems as though “Top 10” lists are all the rage these days; any number of them have surfaced as the year 2012 draws to a close.  The museum was the subject of at least two such lists during the year.  Illinois Meetings and Events magazine featured a “10 Things You Don’t Know About Glessner House Museum” in their Fall 2012 issue, focusing primarily on the site as a venue for weddings and events.  Soon after, Choose Chicago (the city’s main tourism website) featured a blog article entitled “10 Things You (Probably) Didn’t Know About Glessner House.”

The year 2012 was one of the most exciting and successful in the museum’s history, so it seems only appropriate that we add our own Top 10 list to the mix, summarizing the highlights of an eventful and memorable year. 

1.  Of Dolls and Murder
On March 25, we celebrated the 134th birthday of Frances Glessner Lee with the Chicago premiere of an independent film entitled “Of Dolls and Murder.”  The feature length film, narrated by John Waters, focused on legal medicine, i.e. homicide investigation, and Lee’s significant contributions to the field, including the creation of nearly 20 meticulously detailed miniature crime scenes, which she named “The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death.”  Lee was appointed the first female state police captain in the U.S. in recognition of her efforts, and earned the respect of many, including Erle Stanley Gardner, author of the Perry Mason novels, who attended one of the seminars she sponsored at Harvard University.
Pictured above:  “Of Dolls and Murder” producer John Kurtis Dehn and director/writer Susan Marks posing in the coach house with Frances Lee’s traveling “Nutshells” carrying case (Glessner House Museum collection). 

2.  Vintage Car Show
The 1800 block of Prairie Avenue was transformed on Sunday June 24 when nineteen vintage automobiles, all dating to 1936 or earlier, drove on to the street for a car show that attracted many hundreds of attendees.  The stunning automobiles ranged from an all brass 1910 Ford Model T to a 1936 Chrysler Airflow Coupe. A highlight of the show was the inclusion of two Pierce Arrows from the collection of Richard H. Driehaus, dating to 1927 and 1931.  (The Glessners preferred Pierce Arrows after acquiring their first model in 1906).
Pictured above:  1931 Pierce Arrow Model 41 Dual Cowl Phaeton, courtesy of Richard H. Driehaus.

3.  Pierre Boulez
On July 19, Maestro Pierre Boulez, conductor emeritus of the Chicago Symphony, and one of the most renowned conductors in the world, came to Glessner for a private tour.  He spent over an hour touring the museum with Executive Director William Tyre, who shared stories of the Glessners and their many years of support for the Chicago Symphony from the time of its founding in 1891.
Pictured above:  Maestro Boulez poses beside the Glessners’ 1887 Steinway piano in the recently restored parlor.

4.  Glessner Family Reunion
The first weekend of August served as a wonderful homecoming for the Glessner family – 26 descendants and friends gathered at the house for a three-day reunion, the first of its kind ever held at the museum.  Four generations of the family were present ranging in age from 5 to 85, including three great-grandchildren who shared memories of John Glessner from their early years.  Friday events included an opening dinner, tours of the house (several of those present had never been to Chicago before), and a presentation on the life of John Glessner.  Saturday tours included the CAF river cruise, Tiffany in Chicago, and a tour of Second Presbyterian where the Glessners’ daughter-in-law Alice Hamlin Glessner was a member.  The weekend concluded on Sunday morning with a special visit to the Glessners’ gravesite in Graceland Cemetery.
Pictured above:  Reunion attendees gather on the curved porch on Friday August 3rd, recreating the famous view of Frances Glessner’s Monday Morning Reading Class taken in 1902.

5.  125th Anniversary Gala Celebration
The night of September 13th was one of the most memorable ever in the 46 year history of the Museum.  On that evening, more than 200 members, supporters, and friends of the museum gathered in the Grainger Ballroom at Symphony Center to celebrate the 125th anniversary of the completion of Glessner House.  The event was generously underwritten by a gift from Richard H. Driehaus and netted $59,500 for restoration projects.  A highlight of the event was a presentation by Board President Rolf Achilles and Executive Director William Tyre, honoring those individuals who helped to save the house from demolition in 1966.
Pictured above:  Executive Director William Tyre (at the podium) and Board President Rolf Achilles (at far right) with the gala honorees.  Photo by Tim Walters Photography.

6.  The White City
Friday September 28 saw the production of The White City: A Musical in the “coach house theatre.”  Co-sponsored by the Chicago Chapter of the Society of Architectural Historians, the event drew more than 100 people to watch a moving musical adaptation of the dramatic story of the creation of the World’s Columbian Exposition. 
Pictured above:  John Root (portrayed by Doug Pawlik), playwright June Finfer, and Daniel Burnham (portrayed by Jon Steinhagen).

7.  Open House Chicago
Over the weekend of October 13th and 14th, nearly 1,700 people (the vast majority of whom had never been to the museum) were treated to tours of rarely seen spaces in the museum.  The focus of the special tours, part of the Chicago Architecture Foundation’s annual Open House Chicago, was the servants’ portion of the building.  Attendees had the opportunity to see the haylofts, dovecotes, male and female servants’ quarters, and kitchen wing.  The museum was one of several sites in the Prairie Avenue District open for tours, other sites including Clarke House, Second Presbyterian Church, the Keith House, and the Wheeler Mansion. 
Pictured above:  Dovecote facing 18th Street over the coach house, as seen from the hayloft.

8.  Glessner House at 125 Symposium
The museum partnered with the Victorian Society in America to host a symposium celebrating the 125th anniversary of Glessner House.  Seven speakers from across Chicago and the country gathered for the day long symposium on Saturday November 10th which focused on H. H. Richardson, the interior decoration of the house, and its preservation in the 1960s.  The symposium was preceded by an opening reception the previous evening with Richardson-scholar Kenneth Breisch presenting a talk on the architect’s influence across America.
Pictured above:  Symposium speakers Ted Hild, Kevin Harrington, Elaine Harrington, James F. O’Gorman, and Rolf Achilles.  Not pictured Mary Alice Molloy and Monica Obniski.

9.  The John J. Simmerling Gallery of Prairie Avenue History
In October, the museum accepted an extraordinary gift from long-time supporter Jack Simmerling.  The gift consisted of an amazing collection of building fragments, artwork, photographs, and documents relating to the Prairie Avenue neighborhood collected over a period of more than 60 years.  Jack witnessed the loss of many of the houses first-hand, personally rescuing the fragments himself, and recording the houses utilizing his considerable talents as an artist.  Jamie Cook, of the architectural firm of Krueck & Sexton is working with the museum to create plans to redevelop the second floor of the coach house as a gallery to display this unique and important collection documenting the history of Chicago’s first Gold Coast.
Pictured above:  A section of wall paneling from the library of the Max Meyer house at 2009 S. Prairie Avenue, designed by Burnham & Root in 1888.  Demolished 1955. 

10.  125th Anniversary Fund
In June 2011, the museum board established the 125th Anniversary Fund, with the goal of raising $125,000 for restoration projects.  A generous $50,000 challenge grant from Richard H. Driehaus kick-started the fund and by December 2012, a total of $209,000 had been raised.  Numerous projects will be undertaken in the next few years including the recreation of the porte cochere doors, the restoration of the corner guestroom, the renovation of the guest bathroom, and much more.  In the fall of 2012, an additional anonymous gift in the amount of $100,000 was received by the museum to fund a new geothermal heating and air conditioning system, something that has been sorely needed for many years.
Pictured above:  The first project funded by the 125th Anniversary Fund was the recreation of the banquette in the parlor. 

Sunday, December 23, 2012

A Servant's Christmas at Glessner House 1894

Servants are included in the holiday interpretation at Glessner House Museum.  Frances Glessner recorded a good deal of information on the various servants in the household, both in her weekly journal and in a separate journal specifically reserved for information on the hiring (and dismissal) of all household staff. 

To recall the servants and their important role in the operation of the household, each year a series of envelopes is placed in the butler’s pantry, addressed to those staff members who received Christmas gifts in 1894.  This display is based on an entry in Frances Glessner’s servants’ journal, which states:

“The servants who are with us now Nov. 1, 1893 are all to be paid an extra months pay Christmas 1894:
Frederick Reynolds
John Flear
Mattie Williamson
Alice Hassett
Julia Johnson
Antonie Gerstling
Annie Johnston
Charlie Nelson
Martin _________"

Six of those listed were still in service with the Glessners at Christmas 1894 and received their extra months pay.

·        Frederick Reynolds, the butler, had been hired in 1891 and was initially paid $50.00 per month.  By 1894, his pay had been increased to $60.00 per month.  He remained as the Glessners’ butler until May 1, 1900.

·        John Flear, the footman, began work with the Glessners in 1892 and remained until November 1896.  He was paid $45.00 per month.  An interesting fact is that Flear returned for eight months in 1923 to serve as butler.

·        Mattie Williamson was the Glessners’ beloved and long-serving cook.  She was hired in 1891 and remained until May 1, 1897 when she left for one year.  Returning on May 1, 1898 she continued as the cook until October 1, 1912 when she left to be married in Santa Barbara, California.  When originally hired, she was paid $5.00 per week, a typical amount for most of the female staff.

·        Alice Hassett had been in the employ of the Glessner family since 1874.  Although her position and pay are not recorded, Frances Glessner notes in her servants’ journal that Alice died on March 9, 1895 after 21 years of service.

·        Antonie Gerstling was hired as the ladies maid in January 1893 and was paid $5.00 per week.  It is not recorded when she left.

·        Charles Nelson served for many years as the Glessners’ coachman.  Although Frances Glessner did not record specific information on Nelson in her servant’s journal, the 1880 census shows that he was in service with the family at that time, and occupied an apartment over the coach house with his wife Martha and two-year-old son Norman. 

The remaining three servants listed left the employ of the Glessners before Christmas 1894.

·        Julia Johnson, the housemaid, started in November 1892 and left in June 1894.  She was paid $5.00 per week.  She was followed by Sarah McCarrick.

·        Annie Johnston was the laundress and worked for the Glessners for exactly one year – from October 1893 to October 1894.  She was paid $6.00 per week.  Belle Doormar was hired as the laundress in October 1894 and “left without notice” on April 26, 1895.  Frances Glessner recorded that she “told falsehoods” and later learned that her real name was Bridget Doonan.

·        Nothing is known about Martin, whose last name is not recorded, except that he left the Glessners’ employ in November or December 1893.

This valuable record which Frances Glessner left behind helps to give a face to those in service who have often been forgotten over the passage of time.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Christmas tree ornaments

The ornaments on display on the museum Christmas tree did not belong to the Glessner family, but many are of the period.  Most of the ornaments came from Florence Gibson, a long-time neighborhood resident who lived for many years at 217 E. Cullerton Street.  The daughter-in-law of the official photographer of the World’s Columbian Exposition, Florence Gibson was a member of the 93ers, a group of Exposition attendees who would gather (often in period costume) to reminisce about the fair and days gone by.  When she broke up her home in the 1970s, many of her possessions were brought to the museum by her long-time friend Jack Simmerling.

Christmas ornaments evolved throughout the second half of the nineteenth century as Christmas trees became a popular holiday decoration in American homes.  The earliest decorations used were sweets and out-of-seasons foods.  These were considered delicacies in winter, before refrigeration and shipping allowed widespread access to these foodstuffs.  Popcorn and cranberries were strung and hung on the tree, as they still are today.  Cookies, nuts, and other sweet treats were hung on branches with a loop of string or thread.  Fruit, a prized rarity before refrigeration, and unwrapped gifts, were tucked into the branches of the tree.

Edible ornaments eventually gave way to a variety of inexpensive store-bought and home-made decorations.  After the Civil War, when Christmas cards became popular, families saved the pictures from these cards, framing them in gold tinsel, lace and ribbon to hang on the branches of the tree.  Images used ranged from traditional Christian symbols to flowers, hearts, and American flags.  Tinsel, or lamé, as it was originally called (developed by the French in the 16th century for use on military uniforms) was adapted by German manufacturers for Christmas decoration.  This spiky-looking garland resembled silvered pine needles, and could be bent into a wide variety of shapes to ornament Christmas trees: stars, hearts, wreaths, pretzels, and tear-drops.  Nineteenth century tinsel ornaments are the rarest ornaments today.  The German city of Dresden produced elaborate silver and gold-embossed paper ornaments depicting carriages, animals, and more.  Magazines in the 1880s featured instructions for complicated decorations which could be made at home from paper, cardboard, papier-mâché, cotton batting, and lace.  Some home-made ornaments combined traditional food decorations with new products, such as nuts wrapped in gold foil, which were hung on the branches.

The glass Christmas ball still used today was invented in the German mountain town of Lauscha, which had been famous for its glass industry for centuries.  Lauschian glass-blowers developed thick glass balls called “kugeln” in the 1820s, which were hung from the ceiling or tree at Christmas time.  In the 1870s, Lauschian glassblower Louis Greiner-Schlottfeger developed a method of making these balls paper-thin by blowing glass into a wooden cookie mold.  He used a previously-developed silvering solution to coat the inside of the ball and give it a mirror-like shine.  His delicate glass balls were an instant commercial success, and before long they were manufactured in thousands of different shapes: cherubs, snowmen, Santas, houses, churches, vases, musical instruments, butterflies (with silk wings), and songbirds with spun glass tails.  Kugeln were even created in the shape of food used to decorate trees, such as nuts and fruit.  Some were shaped as hot-air balloons and zeppelins, a reflection of the era’s fascination with “modern” light aircraft.  Other manufacturers soon followed, such as the porcelain makers in the cities of Dresden and Delft.  Long famed for their fine ceramic wares, these cities produced porcelain ornaments shaped like roses, hearts and stars which could be hung on the sturdier branches of the Christmas tree.  Other centers of glass production, such as Czechoslovakia, exported quantities of glass beads which were strung together into ropes of garland.

In 1880, German-made kugeln ornaments became widely available in America.  That year, F. W. Woolworth purchased $25.00 worth of these glass balls from a toy importer and sold out in two days.  In 1890, Woolworths’ 200,000 German glass ornaments still did not meet public demand; each successive year the store sold out of the ornaments.  In spite of this popularity, glass ornaments did not replace all other types of decoration used on the Victorian-era Christmas tree.  Commercially-produced ornaments were still relatively expensive; they were sold singly or in pairs by toy manufacturers or catalog companies such as Sears Roebuck and Woolworths, so most Christmas trees were covered with an array of handmade and store-bought ornaments. 

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Crafts of Frances Macbeth Glessner

Frances Macbeth Glessner (1848-1932) was a talented woman, proficient in a number of crafts both traditional and non-traditional for the period in which she lived.  In addition, she was an accomplished pianist. 

She produced enormous quantities of fine embroidery work, in many cases using designs specifically created for her by family friend Isaac Scott.  Several examples of her needlework are on display in the museum including table runners and bedspreads.  John Glessner said of his wife, “Indeed there was nothing she could not do with her needle.”  Frances Glessner was an excellent knitter as well, making countless sweaters, scarves and hats for the male employees at her summer estate, The Rocks, and for servicemen during World War I.

As an early and prominent member of the Society of Decorative Art, formed in Chicago in 1877, Frances Glessner conducted classes in wood carving (probably learned from Isaac Scott) and took classes in hammering brass.   (The organization was the forerunner to the present Antiquarians of the Art Institute).

In November 1904, Frances Glessner began taking lessons in metal work from Madeline Yale Wynne, a distinguished metal worker and important proponent of the Arts and Crafts movement.  (She was one of the 126 charter members of the Chicago Arts and Crafts Society when it was founded at Hull-House in 1897).  Mrs. Glessner also took lessons in metal work from A. Fogliati, an instructor of metalwork at Hull-House.

She set up a silversmithing studio in the basement of her home (see photo at the top of the article), where she fashioned silver bowls, pitchers, and saltcellars.  Many of these were given away as gifts, including the bowl and spoon pictured below, now owned by a private collector.  Her pieces featured simple lines and often visible hammer marks, making them excellent examples of Arts and Crafts metal work. 

As her silver mark she chose a honeybee (she maintained a number of beehives at her summer estate) set within the letter “G.”

In addition to silverwork, she also made numerous pieces of jewelry, typically long chains into which she would set semi-precious stones.  Her journal is full of letters from appreciative recipients, indicating that her output was significant.  The example shown below is now in the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago.

An unknown talent of Frances Glessner until recently was her ability as a china painter.  China painting was a common hobby for women of the period, and again many of the pieces would be made as gifts.  The bowl shown below, featuring a bird’s nest set amongst roses and cherry blossoms was given by Mrs. Glessner to the wife of the Glessner’s chauffeur, Swan Johnson.  It was returned to the house in 2010 through a friend of the Johnson family.

Considering the enormous quantity of items produced by Frances Glessner through the years, from embroidered textiles to hand-painted china pieces, and from silver work to jewelry, it is clear that she rarely if ever let her hands go idle.  The museum is thrilled to have this record of her works, as one more way of understanding this extraordinary individual.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Glessners dedicate their new home - December 4, 1887

On December 4, 1887, three days after moving into her new home at 1800 South Prairie Avenue, Frances Glessner made the following entry in her journal:

Dec. 4, 1887 – First Sunday in our new home – 1800 Prairie Ave.
Today we took a carriage and went to the old home.  It looked very forlorn.  We kindled a fire in the library and I lighted a lantern which I had carried over and brought the light home – then from that I lighted a fire here in the library.  This afternoon the MacVeagh’s came to tea.  I made tea on the table – we had some salad, some bread, butter, grapes, oranges, cake and canned cherries.  After tea Eames came, then Prof. Swing came.  After we had a lovely chat, we went all over the house, then the Prof. read a few verses from the 5th chapter of Matthew and made a beautiful prayer.  Now I feel that the house is dedicated.  And then they went home and so ends a very happy day and prosperous beginning. 

On December 4, 2012, nearly 60 members, friends, and volunteers of Glessner House Museum gathered to celebrate the 125th anniversary of the Glessners dedicating their new home, bringing to a close the 18-month celebration of this milestone in the history of the house.  At 6:00pm, the “fire ceremony” was recreated in the library, with John and Frances Glessner (portrayed by docents Brian Starr and Aimee Daramus) carrying a lantern into the room. 

After all the guests were assembled, Frances Glessner knelt before the fireplace and “lit” the coals, bringing a warm glow to the space.  Afterwards, Professor David Swing (portrayed by Rev. David Neff of Second Presbyterian Church) read verses 14 to 16 from the fifth chapter of Matthew:

Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid.  Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.  Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.

The ceremony concluded with Professor Swing praying for the new house and its occupants.  Afterwards, the assembled crowd moved to the coach house for a festive dinner, provided courtesy of D’Absolute Catering.  The evening concluded with an informational presentation on the life and accomplishments of Frances Glessner by Executive Director and Curator William Tyre.  It was a fitting close to a wonderful eighteen months of reflection on the extraordinary house and its occupants.

NOTE:  The artwork at top, depicting the “fire ceremony” in the library fireplace, is an original piece created by talented artist Jack Simmerling specifically for Glessner House.  The artwork is available as both Christmas cards and note cards by calling the Glessner House Museum store at 312-326-1480.
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