Monday, July 29, 2013

Frances Glessner At Home

The custom of ladies paying calls on their neighbors and friends was an important and structured part of upper-class society in the late 19th century.  Frances Glessner received on Tuesday afternoons and an interesting (undated) article from the Sunday Herald sheds light on how the custom was observed at 1800 South Prairie Avenue. 

Entitled “The Etiquette of Calls,” the article provides useful information on the proper conduct during a call, the appropriate length of the call, and what information should be included on a calling card.  Regarding the card, the article advises:

“The size of a woman’s card should be about 2 inches long by 2-3/4 inches wide.  There is no good reason for varying from this defined size, even when a woman is married.  Her husband’s card should, however, be considerably smaller, and engraved merely with his name.  The street and number of a woman’s residence should be placed in the lower right-hand corner of her card, the left being reserved for her reception day.  In thus announcing the day, a common error is very generally committed, even by women whose social position ought to make such a mistake impossible.  If the reception day is Wednesday, then ‘Wednesdays’ is all that should appear on the card.  To add ‘From 3 to 6,’ is to insult the intelligence of possible visitors who are supposed to know they should never make a formal call before the first or after the last named hour.”

Frances Glessner, Bertha Palmer, and Emily MacVeagh were singled out in the article as providing the finest “at home” days, and here we learn a bit about what a visitor might expect when stepping through the front door of the Glessner house:

“There are three houses in Chicago where the ‘at home’ days are observed with the utmost elegance and perfection of style.  These are Mrs. Glessner’s, on the south side; Mrs. Potter Palmer’s and Mrs. Franklin MacVeagh’s, on the Lake Shore drive.

“At Mrs. Glessner’s it requires three men to bring a visitor in safely and with propriety into the drawing-room.  One opens the door of the handsome house, one is stationed at the head of the short staircase leading to the reception-room.  To him the visitor’s card is delivered, and he whispers the name to a third functionary who announces it to his mistress.

“The rest of the visit is most ample and informal.  The hostess is always simply and quietly dressed, the tea table is small and low, with the cups and saucers and tea things daintily spread out on it.  Mrs. Glessner usually receives in the music-room, the wood work of which is dark, the furnishings all in the heavier colorings.  The fireplace, finished in dark wood, is large and cheery-looking.  A grand piano, pictures and flowers, give the apartment a general air of comfort and solidity.  All that is served at her tea table is a cup of fragrant tea.”

Monday, July 22, 2013

Jack Simmerling (1935-2013): A Tribute

NOTE:  On Monday December 1, 2014, Glessner House Museum will officially dedicate and open the new John J. 'Jack' Simmerling Gallery of Prairie Avenue History.  This temporary gallery will showcase selected pieces from the collection while fundraising commences to raise the $422,000 needed for the much larger permanent gallery.  For more information, or to make reservations for this very special event, please call 312-326-1480 or send an email to  

On Thursday July 18, 2013, the life of Jack Simmerling drew to a close.  Jack impacted the hearts and lives of many through the years, and all who met him were deeply touched by his gentle manner, generous nature, and his deep passion for the Victorian era and Chicago’s historic architecture.  A talented artist, his watercolors and pen and ink drawings grace the walls of many homes, libraries, museums, and schools, and now form an important part of his legacy.  He was a devoted friend and supporter of Glessner House Museum for many years, and we offer this tribute in his honor.

John Joseph Simmerling, Jr. was born on December 1, 1935 to John and Esther (Bargerbush) Simmerling and was raised in the family home at 2456 W. 122nd Street in Blue Island, Illinois.  It was not long at all before he made his first trip to the Prairie Avenue neighborhood – his first baby picture was taken in the Gibson Studio at 217 E. Cullerton Street.  (Given Jack’s later love of Chicago history, it was only appropriate that the photographer, J. J. Gibson, had been the official photographer at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition).

Jack took up painting around the time he turned 11, although he had no formal training.  He learned about mixing colors from Blue Island artist Hazel Pronger, but for the rest, he relied on natural talent.  It was also about this same time that he began to play the piano, a hobby that would bring him much joy throughout his lifetime.  And it was shortly after World War II that his grandfather George Washington Bargerbush started his grandson on a life-long love affair with Prairie Avenue.

George Bargerbush in earlier years had worked as an office boy for Marshall Field.  He maintained a friendship with Gus Clemm, Field’s coachman who had stayed on as caretaker of the old Field mansion at 1905 S. Prairie Avenue.  Bargerbush brought young Jack along on one of his visits to the Field house, and Jack enjoyed exploring the huge old residence – admiring the beautiful cut stone on the façade and walking through the tunnel that connected the house to the coach house.  (The interior of the house had been largely modernized in the late 1930s when Laszlo Moholy-Nagy opened his New Bauhaus school in the building).  Those visits to the Field house had a lasting impression on the young boy, who was able to look beyond the deterioration of the once elegant neighborhood and envision what it had been in its heyday.

In 1949, Jack’s mother took him to visit the Potter Palmer castle on Lake Shore Drive before it was demolished.  As a Tribune article later reported, “he was shocked at the sight of what he considered a hallowed tradition disappearing before his eyes.”  When demolition began in January 1950, Jack undertook a series of five paintings showing the stages of the castle’s demolition.  By this time, he was working out of a log cabin studio he had built in the backyard of his family home, the walls of which were soon filled with his canvases.

Jack became acquainted with Chester Good, who worked for a wrecking company tearing down many of the Gilded Age mansions in the city.  Good would alert Jack when an interesting old house was being torn down, and Jack would come to visit, making sketches and creating paintings of the buildings before they were lost to the wrecker’s ball.  It was at this time that he began to salvage fragments from the old houses – stained glass, mantels, balusters, and carved mouldings that otherwise would have been thrown into the fire and burned or bulldozed into the building’s foundations to level the ground.  On one occasion, he found an authentic Tiffany floor lamp and convinced Chester to strap it onto the top of his car and drive it back to Jack’s house in Blue Island.  Good complied but encouraged the young boy to take lead pipe if anything because that, at least, could be sold to a junk dealer for profit!

In June 1950, Jack had the opportunity to work on the demolition of the Clapp-Gorton house at 2120 S. Prairie Avenue, designed in 1877 by Burnham & Root.  The first house on Prairie Avenue in which he was directly involved, he salvaged a significant number of artifacts from the house and spent time wandering through the neighborhood looking at other houses.  One house in particular intrigued him – a huge vacant stone-clad house at 2008 S. Calumet Avenue. 

He found out that the house was owned by Raymond W. Eyster who lived and operated his linen business from the houses at 2003 and 2005 S. Prairie Avenue directly west of the Calumet house.  He wrote to Eyster and asked if he could see the inside of the house.  Eyster complied and provided him with a tour he would never forget.  The house was enormous, nearly 85 feet deep with an imposing entry hall in the Moorish style, and an elegant ballroom on the third floor.  Eyster said he had bought the house with the idea of creating a museum there in partnership with his friend Robert Ripley (of Ripley’s Believe It Or Not).   The house was full of original furnishings left behind by the Hanford family when they moved to New York following the suicide of the head of the family, Philander C. Hanford, in July 1894. 

Jack and R. W. Eyster formed a close friendship and Jack enjoyed his visits and seeing Eyster’s collection of antique light fixtures, rugs, and Egyptian artifacts.  Eyster treated Jack to lunch at his club downtown when Jack turned 16 on December 1, 1951, which is when the photo above was taken.  Tragically, Eyster died just six months later when the old elevator in the Hanford house failed and he fell to his death. 

By 1951, Jack was developing a reputation as an artist and as an expert on Old Chicago.  He began giving lectures, using his paintings to illustrate the houses he loved to talk about.  As an article in the Commonwealth Edison employee magazine stated “One can’t help but listen open-mouthed as Jack Simmerling, Jr., a 15-year old Blue Island high school student, talks authoritatively about ‘old Chicago’ when Prairie Avenue and the Gold Coast was in flower.  To further the eye-rubbing stage, his collection of oil paintings depicting the rise and fall of the lush Victorian era adds emphasis to Jack’s interest in the subject which he enthuses as though he had been peeking through Chicago keyholes himself more than a half-century ago.”  (Jack’s dad -pictured above - and grandfather Joseph Simmerling both worked for Commonwealth Edison).

It was in 1951 that Jack received his first paid commission to design a Christmas card for the Pullman Bank.  Jack selected one of the street scenes in the historic neighborhood for the card, and was hired for several years following to design the bank’s Christmas card.

The Chicago Tribune published two illustrated articles about Jack and his paintings in 1951 and 1952 referring to him as an authority on the Victorian era.  The articles increased the demand for him to speak to groups around the city about the Gilded Age.  At one of those meetings, he met Florence Gibson, whose father-in-law had taken young Jack’s photograph when he was just a baby.  Mrs. Gibson resided in the old family home at 217 E. Cullerton St., which was filled with antiques from the Columbian Exposition and the late 1800s.  She would become a cherished friend.

Another important acquaintance Jack would make at this time was journalist Herma Clark, who wrote the weekly “When Chicago Was Young” column in the Chicago Tribune, chronicling the lives of Chicago’s wealthy in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  Although old enough to be his grandmother, they formed a close bond, and he enjoyed his visits to her “Keepsake Cottage” in Princeton, Illinois where she would share her first-hand stories of Chicago’s rich and famous. 

In August 1953 Jack purchased his first piano, an old square piano that had come into the shop of Malcolm Franklin, Inc. where he was working.  Franklin was buying the old pianos and converting them into desks, but Jack found one he wanted to preserve.  This led to a lifelong hobby of collecting historic pianos and pianofortes.

Jack headed off to the University of Notre Dame where he earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree.  He was away at school in 1955 when he learned the Marshall Field house on Prairie Avenue was about to be demolished.  He requested special permission to be excused from classes for a few days so he could travel back to Chicago to witness the demolition.  Needless to say, the request was one of the more unusual the school had heard for why a student needed to miss classes, but knowing Jack, the request was honored.

While at Notre Dame, Jack became the principal student of artist Stanley Sessler, who earlier in his life had been the last studio assistant for the great artist John Singer Sargent.  Jack credited Sessler as having had a great influence on him and his work, and considered Sargent to have been the finest 19th century artist.  Sessler later gave Jack a palette used by Sargent, and it remained a treasured piece.  After graduating from Notre Dame in 1957, Jack continued his studies in Art History at The University of Chicago.

In September 1957, the Chicago Tribune ran yet another article on Jack which began “Any girl dated by Jack Simmerling is apt to be asked if she likes Victorian architecture, for the future Mrs. Simmerling will have to share the young artist’s passion for late 19th century American design.”  It didn’t take long – Jack and Marjorie MacCartney were married the next year – and she was soon put to the test. 

On the way back from their brief honeymoon in Indiana, Jack insisted on stopping by the house at 2016 S. Calumet Avenue which was then being demolished.  In the photo above, Margie is seen standing in her high heels and new coat, amidst the rubble of the former parlor in the house.

It was also in 1958 that Jack opened his Heritage Gallery to showcase his artwork.  It was originally located at 1973 W. 111th Street, and later moved to 1915 W. 103rd Street.  The gallery provided a perfect opportunity to build his reputation as an artist, and soon commissions to paint portraits of buildings were coming in from the Beverly neighborhood and throughout the city.  Jack also taught, one of his best known students being the Pulitzer Prize winning Chicago Sun Times editorial cartoonist Jack Higgins.  Through the years Jack’s clients included the City of Chicago, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Notre Dame University, Biltmore Estate, and many of the country’s top corporations and private businesses. 

The Simmerlings had seven children and eventually moved to a huge historic house, known as the Blackwelder House in Beverly.  The house became filled with children, pets, keyboard instruments, artwork, and architectural fragments, and in time was restored and brought to landmark status.  One of Jack’s great pleasures was sharing his house and collection with visitors who would regularly come to see his “museum” of Old Chicago. 

In 1995, Jack published a book on his beloved Chicago houses.  Entitled Chicago Homes: Facts and Fables, it was co-authored by long-time friend Wayne Wolf.  The book is filled with photographs and stories of the houses Jack knew in his younger years, many of which were unfortunately no longer standing.  The book was so popular that it was expanded and reissued in 1997 as Chicago’s Old Houses: Lore and Legend.  In the dedication, he lists several individuals who inspired him including his grandfather George Bargerbush, Herma Clark, R. W. Eyster, his grandmother Dena Diedesch, and Sister Annie Schaudnecker (a teacher at Rosary College).

Jack always maintained a strong interest in Prairie Avenue and was delighted to see the neighborhood reborn as a popular residential neighborhood in the 1990s and early 2000s.  He was quoted in 2008 as saying “I’m so happy with what Prairie Avenue is now.  In the 1950s, I thought this was my own private sorrow.”  In 1999, as the site of the old Hanford house on Calumet Avenue was being cleared for townhouses, Jack was on site watching as the foundation reappeared for the first time in 46 years.  He salvaged bits and pieces of the old house that had so intrigued him as a teenager, and even had the two huge stone bollards removed from the front of the property and reinstalled in front of his Beverly home.

Jack was featured in an article which appeared in the Fall 2001 issue of Watercolor magazine.  (The photo of Jack at the top of this posting is from that article).  In the article, he details step-by-step how he creates a watercolor painting. 

The subject for the painting was the Glessner House, one of Jack’s favorite houses on Prairie Avenue.  He first visited the house in the 1950s when it was still occupied by the Lithographic Technical Foundation and he always maintained an active interest in the house.  At one point in the 1960s he even considered purchasing the house to use as his residence.

In September 2008, during the Festival on Prairie Avenue, celebrating the 30th anniversary of the creation of the Prairie Avenue Historic District, Jack was honored for his years of dedication to the neighborhood.  A certificate, presented jointly by Glessner House Museum and the Prairie District Neighborhood Alliance, read in part: 

“In recognition of more than fifty years of dedication to preserving the extraordinary history of Chicago’s Prairie Avenue neighborhood – through the creation of numerous works of art capturing the unique history and architecture of the street, and through the careful salvaging and preservation of numerous architectural fragments from its residences.” 

Mayor Richard M. Daley was on hand to personally congratulate Jack, who also brought a collection of his artwork and artifacts for display.

Jack continued to work closely with Glessner House Museum, hosting a “Prairie Avenue Night to Remember” at his gallery later that year, and loaning artifacts from his collection for an exhibit commemorating the centennial of Daniel Burnham’s Plan of Chicago in 2009.  The next year, the museum hosted an exhibit of fifteen new artworks he painted showcasing the neighborhood, including the watercolor of the house at 2801 S. Prairie Avenue shown above.

He was present for the celebration in December 2011 commemorating the 125th anniversary of the Glessners christening their new home.  He attended the celebratory dinner with his daughter Cathy, who sadly passed away in January 2013.

A series of health issues cut back on Jack’s activities, but never his interest in and passion for Prairie Avenue.  He last participated in an event at Glessner house in December 2012, when the 125th anniversary of the Glessners moving into their new home was celebrated.  (Jack was proud of the fact that he was born on December 1st – the same day that the Glessners moved into their new Prairie Avenue home in 1887). 

As part of that celebration, Jack completed one of his last artworks – a beautiful pen and ink drawing of the fireplace in the Glessners’ library which they had lit as part of the ceremony dedicating their home.  The drawing was reproduced as Christmas cards and note cards.

To close our tribute, we quote from an editorial entitled “Learning from Jack” which appeared in the September 4, 2008 issue of the Chicago Journal.  It sums up nicely why Jack Simmerling was so passionate about preserving the architecture of Chicago’s Gilded Age, and what we can all learn from him:

“After a tour of his home/museum, Jack Simmerling, the historic preservation scavenger of Prairie Avenue profiled in this week’s paper, paraphrased for a Chicago Journal reporter a quotation from the architectural historian Lewis Mumford: with architecture, we rebel against our fathers and revel in what our grandfathers found compelling.
“So it was with Prairie Avenue in the 1950s, when Victorian style was out of sync with the clean modern building going up most dramatically downtown, with Mies van der Rohe’s stark black office and residential towers.  On Prairie Avenue, beautiful mansions crumbled and were demolished – often times for parking lots.
“Simmerling, of course, worked on wrecking crews as the buildings came down, saving bits and representative pieces from the long-past gilded age.  He thought the decaying structures were beautiful, and as a precocious teenager found ways to save elements from the homes, like fire place mantels and lamps.
“Retrospect is easy, and smashing such structures seems crazy today.  But Simmerling was an oddball at the time.  Some of his instructors in college were happy to let the homes of Prairie Avenue go.
“The lesson of Simmerling’s scavenging, to us, is to take the long view about architecture and find ways to appreciate each era’s buildings.  We might even want to keep a couple of cookie cutter McDonald’s around to show future generations how low we once sunk to get a hamburger.”

Farewell good and faithful friend, and thank you for preserving and sharing an era of Chicago’s history that those of us today find compelling and could never have experienced without your dedication and foresight. 

Monday, July 15, 2013

Civil War Artifacts of George C. Hall

An interesting item located in the archives of Glessner House Museum is a small tooled leather wallet containing several Civil War related objects.  The wallet belonged to George C. Hall, but his relationship to the Glessners is unknown as is the reason it came into their possession. 

Inscribed on the inside of the mid-19th century wallet is the following:  “George C Hall Co C 78 Rig O Vi” confirming that Hall served during the Civil War with Company C of the 78th Ohio Volunteer Infantry.  He was among the first to enlist in Company C in November 1861 which was raised in Zanesville, Ohio and vicinity.  (John Glessner would have been living in Zanesville at this time).  Hall was 20 years old at the time of his enlistment and he re-enlisted as a veteran volunteer in January 1864.  He was mustered out on July 11, 1865 at Louisville, Kentucky.  His company was among those who served during the Vicksburg Campaign during May and June 1863.

Two metal objects contained within the pouch appear to be souvenirs Hall would have collected during the war.  The first is a rectangular pewter belt buckle stamped C.S.A. for the Confederate States of America.  The second object is a brass luggage tag inscribed “B.J. BUTLER WHARFBOAT VICKSBURGH 35.”  Butler was born in Indiana about 1818 and by the time of the 1860 census was working as a produce merchant and steamboat agent in Vicksburg.  His personal estate was valued at $75,000 indicating he probably was a slave holder. 

Another object in the pouch is a special Extra issue of the Zanesville Daily Courier (misprinted as the Daily Gourier) from August 13, 1862.  The one-sided single sheet provides a report on the Battle of Culpepper in Virginia and discusses General John Pope’s success in getting General Jackson to retreat.

A small clipping, probably given to George Hall by a sweetheart back at home reads “The night’s getting late and soon we must part, Pray tell me have I an interest yet in your heart.”

The most interesting items in the pouch are a small note written in pencil, and a pin box containing a small wood fragment.  The note provides the following explanation for the fragment:
“A piece of the tree under which Gen. Pemberton surrendered Vixburgh, it was cut by William, and he took it out of his pocket book and gave it to me the last time he was home.  Who ever may get this do treasure it for his sake and mine too.  Margaret.”
The identity of William is unknown, but he probably served with George Hall during the Vicksburg Campaign.  There are numerous men with the first name of William listed as having served in Company C.

The wood fragment, measuring two inches in length, is stored inside a small cardboard pin box, the lid of which reads:
No. 5.
Each Box warranted to contain full num-
ber of their best quality Premium

Pemberton’s surrender at Vicksburg is well documented, as is the tree from which William cut the fragment.  On July 3, 1863 Pemberton sent a note to General Ulysses S. Grant, who, as at Fort Donelson, first demanded unconditional surrender.  The surrender was finalized on July 4, Independence Day, a day Pemberton had hoped would bring more sympathetic terms from the United States.  Surrender was formalized by an old oak tree “made historical by the event.”  In his Personal Memoirs, Grant described the fate of this luckless tree:
“It was but a short time before the last vestige of its body, root and limb had disappeared, the fragments taken as trophies.  Since then the same tree has furnished as many cords of wood, in the shape of trophies, as the ‘True Cross’.”

These objects provide fascinating insight into the personal experiences of those who served during the War.  It is hoped that the identity of William and his Margaret may be determined at some point in the future, so that we can honor his memory.

(Steven LaBarre contributed research for this posting).

Monday, July 8, 2013

Mrs. John Sherwood and Late 19th Century Etiquette

During the month of May 1888, the visit of Mrs. John Sherwood to Chicago garnered no less than seven articles in the Chicago Tribune.  Who was Mrs. Sherwood and what was her connection to the Glessners?

Mrs. John Sherwood was born Mary Elizabeth Wilson on October 27, 1826 in Keene, New Hampshire.  After the death of her mother she became, at age 21, her father’s hostess in Washington, D.C. during his three year tenure as a Whig member of Congress from 1847 to 1850.  It was during that period that she formed many alliances that she would carry throughout her life.  Well-read and well-traveled, she began writing in her teens and had a prodigious output including three books on entertaining, two memoirs, three novels, a book of poetry, a history of European royalty, several children’s books, and hundreds of short stories and articles published in the New York Times and other newspapers and journals of the time. 

In 1884, she published Manners and Social Usages, which became the most successful etiquette book of the day.  Frances Glessner owned a copy of the 1887 edition, published just as she was preparing to settle in amongst the nouveau riche on Chicago’s fashionable Prairie Avenue.   In the Preface to the volume, Mrs. Sherwood explains the need for such a publication:
“There is no country where there are so many people asking what is ‘proper to do,’ or, indeed, where there are so many genuinely anxious to do the proper thing, as in the vast conglomerate which we call the United States of America.  The newness of our country is perpetually renewed by the sudden making of fortunes, and by the absence of a hereditary, reigning set.  There is no aristocracy here which has the right and title to set the fashions.”
The 487-page book would have been a must-read for someone like Frances Glessner, whose husband’s business successes gave her entrée into Chicago’s most exclusive social circles.  Titles of the 59 chapters included the following:
  • Optional Civilities
  • Good and Bad Society
  • Visiting
  • Invitations, Acceptances, and Regrets
  • The Etiquette of Weddings
  • Fashionable Dancing
  • Letters and Letter-Writing
  • Costly thy Habit (concerning dress as an indication of character)
  • Chaperons and their Duties
  • Etiquette for Elderly Girls
  • New Year’s Calls
  • Afternoon Tea
  • Caudle and Christening Cups and Ceremonies
  • Laying the Dinner-Table
  • Favors and Bonbonnières
  • Supper Parties
  • The Small Talk of Society
  • The Fork and the Spoon
  • Napkins and Table-Cloths
  • Servants, their Dress and Duties
  • Manners: A Study for the Awkward and Shy
  • How to Treat English People

In early May 1888, Mrs. Sherwood arrived in Chicago to give a course of five readings in the homes of some of Chicago’s most prominent citizens.  Participants paid $10 for the course, the proceeds being split between Mrs. Sherwood and her charities.  The Chicago readings were held as follows:
  • May 10, Mrs. Potter Palmer, 100 Lake Shore Drive
  • May 14, Mrs. H. H. Porter, 311 Erie Street
  • May 16, Mrs. L. J. Gage, 470 North State Street
  • May 18, Mrs. C. M. Henderson, 1816 Prairie Avenue
  • May 22, Mrs. J. J. Glessner, 1800 Prairie Avenue
Frances Glessner was one of twelve ladies who attended a luncheon at Mrs. Palmer’s on May 9th to welcome Mrs. Sherwood to the city.  The next day she paid a visit to Mrs. Sherwood and presented her with flowers which she wore at her reading at Mrs. Palmer’s that afternoon.  Of the event, Frances Glessner recorded:
“The reading was very successful – over a hundred ladies there beautifully dressed.  Mrs. Palmer had a tea afterwards.  Mrs. W. G. McCormick and Mrs. MacVeagh poured tea.  I helped Mrs. Palmer in seating etc. – and took care of the reporter.”

The reporter was apparently from the Chicago Tribune, which ran an article the next day on the event that read in part:
“Mrs. Sherwood is a prominent society woman of New York and about three years ago inaugurated a series of readings that proved to be popular.  She has continued these ever since, always for some charitable object, and they draw together crowds of society women.  Her husband is a tall, fine-looking man, with snow-white hair, who was once a prominent lawyer but who now has nothing.  Mrs. Sherwood also adds to her income by acting as a chaperon.  She has the entrée of all the aristocratic houses in England and America, and has chaperoned many a pretty American girl in the Queen’s drawing-room.
“At the northern end (of the parlor) sat Mrs. Sherwood, for, be it known, Mrs. Sherwood does not stand to read her addresses.  She gets a big easy-chair, and, ensconced in this, lays her manuscript on the table before her and leisurely reads the contents of it to her audience, occasionally taking a sip of water from a glass that stands near her elbow.  She is a large woman, with strong features.  Her hair is jet black, and she puffs it up at the sides and dresses it in a most singular way.  Her eyes are hidden by eye-glasses.  She spoke yesterday on ‘The English Jubilee.’  The reading was of deep interest.”

The next day, Frances Glessner took Mrs. Sherwood to The Fortnightly as her guest.  During the next week she was invited to a number of teas and other entertainments featuring Mrs. Sherwood as guest of honor.   On May 19th and 21st, Mrs. Sherwood delivered lectures at the Richelieu to benefit the Kindergarten Association.  The latter lecture was on the topic of ‘Society and Etiquet.’  The Chicago Tribune reported:
“’Etiquet,’ Mrs. Sherwood said, originally meant ‘ticket,’ and nowadays was the ticket without which people could not hope to be admitted into good society.”

On Tuesday May 22, Mrs. Sherwood gave her reading at the Glessner home.  Frances Glessner recalled the event in her journal:
“In the afternoon there were one hundred and fifty ladies here to the reading.  They were seated in the hall, parlor, and dining room.  Mrs. Locke and Mrs. Palmer helped me seat them.  I served a tea afterwards.  Mrs. Fred Eames and Grace Kellogg poured tea.  Mrs. Sherwood’s paper was on Aix les bains.  She sent me a very pleasant note of good bye and a copy of the last page of her paper read here. . . The ladies wandered about very much and some of them asked to go upstairs.  On the whole the experience was not agreeable.  I stood my little old mahogany stand in front of Mrs. Sherwood and pulled the two drawers out a little and filled them with sweet peas and ferns.”

She also recorded an odd occurrence that took place that afternoon during the reading:
“Two very queer looking women strayed in to the reading and by their actions convinced me they were not members of the class.  They opened drawers in the library table and peered in to things; no one knew who they were.”

Frances Glessner owned at least one other book by Mrs. Sherwood – The Art of Entertaining – published in 1892.  The Preface begins:
“In America the art of entertaining as compared with the same art in England, in France, in Italy and in Germany may be said to be in its infancy.  But if it is, it is a very vigorous infant, perhaps a little overfed.”
Chapters include:
  • The Intellectual Component of a Dinner
  • Conscientious Diners
  • Various Modes of Gastronomical Gratification
  • The Influence of Good Cheer on Authors and Geniuses
  • Bonbons
  • Famous Menus and Receipts
  • The Servant Question
  • Something About Cooks
  • Pastimes of Ladies
  • The Comparative Merits of American and Foreign Modes of Entertaining

Pasted inside the front cover of the book is a letter from Mrs. Sherwood to Frances Glessner dated March 28, 1892 written while she was delivering a series of lectures in New Orleans, newspaper clippings detailing the same of which were enclosed.  The letter thanks Frances Glessner for a book sent to her as a gift. 

Mrs. Sherwood passed away in New York on September 12, 1903 at the age of 76. 

Monday, July 1, 2013

The House at 1836 Calumet Avenue, concluded

In last week’s installment, we looked at the life and career of prominent Chicago attorney Norman Williams and the home he built for his family at 1836 Calumet Avenue.  After Williams died in 1899, his widow continued to occupy the old family homestead until 1907 when she moved to Washington, D.C. and built a new home on fashionable Scott Circle.  This week we will look at the later history of the Williams’ Calumet Avenue home. 

In 1907, the house was purchased by Charles S. Holt, a Chicago attorney and long-time partner of Norman Williams.  When Williams died in 1899, Holt was quoted as saying the following about his friend in the Chicago Tribune:
“I cannot talk about him now.  We were most intimately associated for twenty-three years.  No man ever had more friends or was more loyal to them.  His whole nature was genial and sweet and he delighted in sacrificing himself for those he loved.  Above all his mental power and professional success he will live in the memory of those that knew him as a man of great and affectionate love.”

Charles S. Holt moved into the house with his wife Camilla McPherson Holt, their two daughters Isabella McPherson Holt and Marian Hubbard Holt, and their son Charles McPherson Holt.  Holt was born in Chicago in 1855 and was prominent in numerous professional and social clubs including the Union League, Chicago, University, Onwentsia, South Shore, Chicago Literary, and Chicago Law.  He was also an active member at Second Presbyterian Church and served as the president of the Presbyterian Brotherhood of America, was a director of McCormick Theological Seminary, and once served as the vice moderator of the Presbyterian General Assembly.  He was a trustee of both the Chicago Orphan Asylum and Williams College. 

Holt sold the house in 1918 and moved to 60 Cedar Street where he died on December 13, 1918 at the age of 63.  His funeral was held at Second Presbyterian Church.

By 1921, the next owner of the house had leased it to the Pestalozzi Froebel Teachers College for use as a dormitory.  A booklet about the College from the 1921-1922 school year provides interesting information about the College, founded in 1896 and incorporated in 1913 as the Pestalozzi Froebel Kindergarten Training School.  Offering a two-year course of training in three departments – Kindergarten, Primary, and Playleaders and Community Service – the school was named after two influential European educators.  Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi (1746-1827) was a Swiss educational reformer credited with eliminating illiteracy in Switzerland and whose motto was “The hands as much as the head and heart.”  His student, Friedrich Froebel (1782-1852) was a German educator who laid the foundation for modern education and created the concept of kindergarten.  His name is best remembered today for the “Froebel Gifts” he developed, including the Froebel blocks made famous through their association with Frank Lloyd Wright. 

The Pestalozzi Froebel Teachers College had its office and class rooms on the 7th floor of the Arcade Building at 618 South Michigan Avenue, designed in 1913 by architect William Carbys Zimmerman.  (Now owned by Columbia College Chicago, the building recently received a new façade which interprets the original terra cotta, removed in 1958).  The 1921-1922 booklet states the advantage of completing the Teachers’ Training Course:
“It is always a good investment for a young woman to take a teachers’ training course.  It not only secures her a desirable means of support, but it extends her general culture and rounds out her education.  This is especially true of the Kindergarten, Primary and Playground training courses.  They provide all that is required for a professional, certified teacher, and at the same time develop a young woman in the most desirable way along cultural and social lines.”
The booklet goes on to state that the Kindergarten is now part of the public school system in the majority of cities in the country and that salaried positions are available from $125 to $200 per month.

About the college dormitory, the booklet goes on to state:
“The College building and the Dormitory, which is conveniently near, both overlook Lake Michigan.  The Dormitory neighborhood is one of the most interesting and historic in Chicago.  In the same block are such well known Chicago land marks as the W. W. Kimball, Mrs. Marshall Field, and the Pullman homes.  At the corner stands the historic Fort Dearborn statue, beyond which the new Field Museum juts into the lake.  Students walk to the College on Michigan Boulevard along the lake front, or take the cars on Eighteenth Street.

“The Dormitory faces the lake, and the rooms are arranged so that most of them overlook the water.  On the second floor the larger rooms for three students open into baths with showers; also an additional alcove with stationary basin, hot and cold water.  These rooms are connected with a sun parlor and a balcony overlooking the lake.  On the third floor the larger rooms for three students open into raised alcoves overlooking the water.  They also have roomy closets.

“The building is heated by a hot water system, supplemented by hot air, and is lighted with electricity.  The dining room opens into a sun parlor that commands a wide view of the lake.  The rooms are furnished with comfortable single metal beds, mattresses, pillows, curtains, study tables, chairs, chiffoniers and dressers.”

Residents were expected to provide their own bed linens and towels, as well as dresser scarves, laundry bags, a waste paper basket and a rug.  Recommended clothing included one simple evening dress, sensible skirts “that do not interfere with free movement,” a rain coat and umbrella, and sensible shoes.  “Extravagant” dress was discouraged.  Each resident was expected to assist with chores in the dormitory following the spirit that “Self activity ought always to be co-ordinated with an activity the result of which is consecrated to others.” 

Rates for board and room for the school year were $360-$400 on the third floor and $450-$500 on the second floor.  This included daily breakfast and dinner, and mid-day meals on the weekends and holidays.

It is not known exactly how long the house was used as a dormitory, but in March 1935, the building was demolished along with the three neighboring houses at 1830, 1832 and 1840 Calumet Avenue.  This was during the widespread destruction of the neighborhood in the 1930s during which time more than one-third of all the houses were razed. Today, the site of the house is occupied by a National Guard Armory which covers an entire block and extends all the way south to Cullerton Street. 

NOTE:  The Pestalozzi Froebel Teachers College survived until 1971, when its assets were purchased by the National College of Education, now known as National-Louis University.  Interestingly, that institution, founded in 1886 as the Chicago Kindergarten Training School, also has a connection to Prairie Avenue.  Its co-founder, Mrs. Rumah Arvilla Crouse, resided at 2231 Prairie Avenue from 1886 until 1914.  The other co-founder, Miss Elizabeth Harrison, also resided at that address from 1886 to 1896.  From 1913 until the mid-1920s, the school was headquartered in the former Sidney A. Kent house at 2944 S. Michigan Avenue, designed by Burnham & Root in 1883, and today, one of the last surviving mansions along that once prominent residential thoroughfare.
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