Monday, June 3, 2013

The Death of May Allport

Inserted into Frances Glessner’s journal following the weekly entry dated May 18, 1913 is a memorial to Miss May Allport, prepared by the Fortnightly of Chicago.  May Allport was a long-time friend of Frances Glessner, a fellow club member, and a kindred spirit who shared her love of the piano and music.  She was a frequent guest in the Glessner home and her name appears frequently in the journal.

The following article, which appeared in the Chicago Tribune on May 20, 1913, provides the details of Miss Allport’s untimely passing:

May Allport of Chicago Stricken as She Ventures Too Far Into Sahara
English Missionaries Minister to Dying American When French Deny Aid.

A dramatic account of the death of May Allport, the Chicago pianiste, in a lonely, sun-baked town on the edge of the Sahara desert, is told in mails which have just been received by her friends in Chicago.  Brief mention was made of Miss Allport’s death in the Chicago newspapers of April 20.  She had expired in Sfax, Tunisia, on April 18, and had been buried the following day.

Miss Allport left Chicago two years ago to travel in Italy.  She spent a large part of her time at the little town of Taormina, under the shadow of Mount Aetna and close to the exquisite classical remains which draw many strangers to Sicily.  In March of the present year Miss Allport went alone across the Mediterranean from Palermo to Africa.

From Tunis she went along the coast to Susa, thence inland to Kairawan, Gafsa, and Tozeur (Tozer); thence to Sfax on the gulf of Gabes, and thence she ventured, in company with a casually met Englishwoman – too far into the desert – to Gabes at the lower end of the gulf, called by the ancients Syrtis Minor. 

Here, among the Arabs and Italian sailors and merchants, she was taken too sick to return unaided, and here her companion left her.  Fortunately an English doctor – his name is Thomas G. Churcher – journeying with his wife through Gabes from Sfax to the oasis of Medenine, heard of the American woman sick at the little French Hotel des Colonies and came to her rescue.

In Automobile 100 Miles.
Recognizing the serious character of her illness, he called in the post surgeon as a consultant and endeavored to secure her admission to the French army hospital.  Failing in his effort, rather than desert a woman in distress, he secured a covered automobile, fitted it with a comfortable mattress, and carried her back with him to his own home in Sfax – a distance of nearly 100 miles.

On reaching the home of this Englishman – he and his wife are medical missionaries – she seemed brighter for the change and full of gratitude, but the long journey over the desert proved too much for her, and she died while her missionary friends prayed by her bedside.

She was buried in Sfax, in the French cemetery, until such a time as the French colonial department will issue a permit for the removal of her body to her own country.

Founder of Musical Club.
Since 1875 Miss Allport’s figure and influence were well known in the Chicago musical world.  She was one of the founders of the Amateur Musical club, and until 1911 was one of the most popular contributors to its programs.

For many years she was also the moving spirit in the musical programs of the Fortnightly and the Little Room.  Her musical education was commenced under the best European masters and in 1871 she enjoyed the privilege of listening to Franz Liszt at his own home in Weimar.

The greatest musical inspiration, however, came through the technical and artistic instruction of Mrs. Regina Watson of Chicago.  She enjoyed a wide acquaintance among professional musicians, counting among her warm friends Joseffy, Wilhelmj, Teresa Carreno, W. H. Sherwood, Theodore Thomas, Edouard Heimendahl, and Gaston Gattschalk.

The memorial to May Allport which Frances Glessner inserted in her journal includes, in part, this tribute to her artistic talent and a poem composed by an anonymous friend:

We shall never listen to her fiery yet delicate touch upon our instrument again, nor thrill to her rare comprehending musical interpretations of great compositions, yet the influence of this will remain with us.  During the fifteen years of her membership, she has given us memorable musical afternoons that only the true artist with a flame of genius flashing in her soul could give.  She was an artist in temperament, taste, training, accomplishment.  Her charming personality, high ideals and warm generous heart won and retained a devoted circle of friends.

M.A., Sfax, Tunisia, April 18, 1913

Light desert sands, drift soft, drift low;
Sweet Arab flute, pipe sad, pipe low;
Dry desert airs, blow gently by;
Tall desert palms, wave lullaby.

Waves on the gulf, roll far, roll free;
Northwind, blow fresh from Sicily;
Warm desert sun, shine on, shine on;
Chill desert night, draw swiftly down.

Winds, waft the desert across to me;
Spread, desert skies, her canopy;
New desert grave, lie safe, lie deep;
Dear wandering soul, God give thee sleep.

-A Friend

May Allport’s body arrived in Chicago in early July and she was laid to rest in the family plot at Graceland Cemetery on Tuesday July 7, 1913.

NOTE:  May Allport was the daughter of Dr. Walter W. Allport, one of the most prominent dentists in Chicago and the country in the late 19th century.  Dr. Allport arrived in Chicago in 1854 and practiced dentistry here for nearly 40 years.  He was credited with being the first dentist in the world to take advantage of the cohesive properties of gold in restoring the front teeth to their original form in 1856.  In 1858 he was elected President of the Western Dental Society and two years later was elected the first Chairman of the American Dental Association.  Rush Medical College conferred an honorary degree upon him in 1881, and in 1886 he was elected President of the American Dental Association.  He organized the World’s Columbian Dental Congress and would have served as its president during the Exposition, but died in March 1893, two months before the opening of the Fair. 

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