Monday, June 30, 2014

The Glorious Fourth of July

The Fourth of July was celebrated in grand style at the Glessners’ summer estate, The Rocks, in 1911.  The event included a parade in which the Glessners’ seven grandchildren and their friends participated, along with their horses and ponies – a total of 17 children and 13 horses.  A grand stand was erected in front of the farm house, where lemonade was served following the spectacle.  John Glessner served as the master of ceremonies and orator of the day, delivering the following speech to explain the holiday to his grandchildren:

“My dear children – I wonder if you know just what the 4th of July means.  More than 135 years ago this country was a colony of Great Britain and all the laws were made in England, and a large amount of the taxes collected here were spent there.  This was so unjust and burdensome that the people here determined to change it and make a new nation and choose their own rulers to make their laws and collect and spend their taxes here at home.  And they resolved to do this even if it meant a long and bloody war, which it did.  So on July 4, 1776 they made their Declaration of Independence and it is this that we now celebrate every July 4th.  For a great many years the celebration was largely in fireworks and shooting guns and cannon.  I don’t know why this way was chosen unless because people like the blaze of fire, the smell of gunpowder and the noise of explosion, but a great many persons were hurt by it and some were killed every 4th of July and a great deal of property was burned up, until now in many places fireworks etc. are prohibited by law and this is why we have our pleasant little celebration.”

A program was printed giving the details of the parade, with the various grandchildren and their horses assuming the roles of characters from mythology, fairy tales, and literature.  Isaac Scott and Helen Macbeth (Frances Glessner’s sister) made the banner which read, “THE ROCKS, JULY 4th.”  Frances Glessner Lee, in her usual highly efficient manner, served as “stage manager,” coordinating and the details of timing, props, etc.  Following a variety of races and another parade, this time on bicycles, John Glessner awarded prizes to the participants.  Not surprisingly, every child won a prize – a crisp new $1.00 bill.

The printed program, entitled “THE GLORIOUS FOURTH OF JULY, Patriotic Celebration at THE ROCKS 1911,”  announced the following participants and activities:


Grand Marshal on Horseback
Which is Mrs. George Glessner on Dixie Crow

Herald riding Boabdil and carrying Banner
Frances Glessner and Bob

Queen Mab bestriding Pegasus
Emily Glessner on Queen

Cobweb and Mustardseed
Diminutive fairy princesses, drawn by miniature horses in midget jaunting car
Frances and Martha Lee with ponies

Queen Elizabeth in Chariot of State
Drawn by black charger Bucephalus
Elizabeth Glessner in cart with Harry

Titania, Queen of Fairies
Mounted on Firefly
Frances Sullivan on Bessie

Cinderella, escorting Prince Charming in Pumpkin Coach
Drawn by Æsculapius
Barbara Beattie and John Glessner with Doe

Oberon, driving Ginger and Blue Blazes in Carriole
With Hyacinth and Squash Blossom in back seat
John Lee and Florence and Loyal Betts, with Ruby and Belle in pony wagon

Mercury on a Heaven-kissing Hill
Togo in solitary grandeur

Flower and Other Fairies with the horses of Helios
Driven by Phaethon in the Chariot of the Sun
Sam and Topsy in Charibanc, driven by Charlie Green, and containing the three Maxners and three Greens

Exhibition of Lady Equestriennes
(Excuse the Tantalogy)
Barbara Beattie on Doc
Frances Sullivan on Dandy
Frances Lee on Buster
Frances Glessner on Queen

RACES—Open to All
Marathon—Prize for Fastest Runner—No Handicap
Sack Race
Uni-legged Contest
Bi-legged Competition
Tri-legged Struggle
Quadrupedal Effort



It sounds as though it was a glorious Fourth of July indeed!

Next week:  The Chicago Museum, Part II

Monday, June 23, 2014

A Forgotten Chicago Museum, Part I

Chicago is known for its world-class museums.  People travel from across the globe to visit the Field Museum, the Art Institute, the Museum of Science and Industry, and of course, Glessner House Museum.  Very few people, however, are aware of the short-lived “Chicago Museum” that opened here 140 years ago.  In this article, we will explore that museum.  Next week, we will discuss the architect, Thomas Tilley, as well as the second “Chicago Museum.”

The city recovered rapidly from the devastating fire of 1871.  By 1874, the downtown area had been largely rebuilt, and the population of the city was growing.  This provided the perfect opportunity for entrepreneurs to open businesses that would provide recreational activities for residents and visitors alike. 

Work on a new museum building was announced in an article in the Chicago Tribune dated May 5, 1874:

“A new theatre and museum, talked of for some months, is to be commenced immediately.  Mr. Thomas Tilley, author of the now famous ‘Eureka’ plan for the Court-House, has submitted designs for the building, which have been adopted, and the work will proceed without delay.  The theatre is to be a credit to the city, and will cost $250,000 in all.  The projectors of the enterprise are Messrs. E. F. Runyan and R. T. Race, the former of the law-firm of Runyan, Avery & Comstock, the latter of Irving Park.  The lessee of the theatre is W. Van Fleet, formerly manager of the Dearborn Street Theatre.”

The building was situated on the north side of Monroe mid-way between Dearborn and Clark.  Immediately to the east stood Haverly’s Theatre on a site occupied by the U.S. Post Office and Custom House prior to the Fire.  The museum had a frontage of 102 feet on Monroe and extended back 190 feet.  A desirable feature of the site was that a 40 foot wide court known as “Custom House Place” ran along the east side of the building and another 40 foot wide court ran along the backside of the building back toward Dearborn.  In a city where the fire was still very much on peoples’ minds, this had a great advantage:

“The arrangements for emptying the building is unequaled in this city, as it can be cleared in a little more than one minute, all doors opening on open thoroughfares.”

The overall style of the building, as shown in the illustration at the top of the article, taken from the June 1874 issue of The Land Owner, is clearly Second Empire.  The Tribune article gave specifics on its exterior design:

“The elevation of the principal façade on Monroe street shows a high style of French renaissance.  It presents a front divided into four stories above the basement to the main cornice, and a picturesque and artistic Mansard roof surmounting the whole.

“The main and second stories are treated in Doric, the third in Ionic, and the fourth in Corinthian, all enriched with ornamentation.  Each order carries its own entablature on each story, and the main cornice – in Corinthian – is worked up in detail in the most artistic manner.  On the cornice will be lettered ‘Chicago Museum’ – the name of the building.

“The treatment of the Mansard is in full accord and unison with the elevation, and with its corner and central domical towers, will be an elegant crown of the whole front of the structure.  As a whole, the façade is rich, both in design and decoration, and will be, when erected, second to none of its kind in Chicago.  The side, or eastern elevation on Custom-House place, as well as the rear elevation on the court on the north, are treated in a manner becoming the principal front, and are tastefully arranged in brick and stone trimmings.

“The principal entrance is on Monroe street, and is of a design unsurpassed for elegance of style in this city.  Projecting from the main building on each side of the entrance hall, are clusters of columns fluted and enriched in pure Roman-Corinthian style.  The columns carry Persian caryatides which support an ornate entablature on circular pediment.  From the entablature of these columns springs an elliptic arch, beautifully lined and molded.

“Back some few feet from these columns are similar ones, carrying another elliptic arch chastely enriched.  The keystones of these two arches will bear faces in relief representing Tragedy and Comedy.  Twenty feet back from the latter columns are placed their like, and the space between is devoted to a grand vestibule.  Another entrance will be placed on Custom-House place, leading direct from Dearborn street, which will be of an ornate design.”

Due to the depth of the building and the ability to access it from three sides, the arrangement of the interior provided for stores along the Monroe side at ground level and basement with offices above.  The museum and the theatre occupied the back half of the building on all floors, but could be accessed from Monroe as well as Custom House Place.  The Tribune article continued with a description of the ornate interior:

“Entering from Monroe street, and through the magnificent portico and vestibule, a person will find himself in a beautiful decorated hallway, eighteen feet wide and eighteen high, and mounting evenly-dispersed and easily-rising steps, will bring one to the doors of the Floral Hall. 

“This is an entirely new and original conception of Mr. Tilley’s.  It will be eight-six feet long and forty-two feet wide, and will run parallel with the Lecture-Room.  It will occupy the eastern portion of the rear of the lot.  As its name implies, it will be a conservatory.  In the centre will be placed a magnificent fountain, sixteen feet in diameter, and twenty feet high.  It will be of a rich floral design, exposing to the view half-screened naiads, etc.  The basin of the fountain will be circular; but, equi-distant from each other, will be built in it six beautiful urns, placed on tripods and pedestals, bearing fragrant flowers.

“The hall itself will be divided up into promenades, floral grottos, parterres, and pyramidal mounts of sweet-scented flowers, tropical plants, vernal shrubs, dwarf trees, and choice ferns.  This hall will be on a level with the parquet and dress-circle of the Lecture-Room, and two sets of wide double doors will communicate direct therewith.  At each end of this hall will be a grand staircase, wide and easy, the ascent of which will terminate in the Museum proper.

“This will be of the same dimensions as the Floral Hall, but will have an opening in the floor in the centre, looking down on the latter through which the waters of the fountain will play.  This opening will be guarded by an ornamental iron railing.

“From the Floral Hall, half screened by flowers and vines, a stairway will lead below into the labyrinths of an Arcadian Grotto, whose openings, twisting, and turnings will exhibit, through their fissures, distant sea and mountainous views of a novel and unprecedented character.  At the end of the Grotto will be placed an aquarium divided up into reservoirs, in which will be exposed to view members of the finny tribe foreign to the waters of our lake.

“The Lecture-Room will occupy the western portion of the rear of the lot, the stage being at the northern end, and the southern being devoted to the auditorium, which will include parquet, dress-circle, balcony, and family-circle, embraced in three floors.

“Two massive columns will be placed on each side of the stage.  These will be of an order of a new ‘Tilley’ creation, being molded, fluted, and wreathed, ornamented with bas-reliefs and statuettes in full relief, and capped and corniced in a manner hitherto unknown.  There will be two boxes on each side of the stage, one above the other, between these columns, and will be treated in the richness the design affords, and in full accordance with the columns.  Above the boxes will be niches in which statues of Terpsichore and Euterpe will be placed.  Above the entablature, over the outer two of the four columns, will be two large caryatides, representing the muses Melpomene and Thalia, helping to carry an enriched cornice running around the entire girt of the Lecture-Room.  Springing from the entablature of these columns will be the proscenium arch, molded and paneled in an ornate manner.”

The richness of the interior merely served as a backdrop for the collections to be displayed within the Museum portion of the building:

“The contents of the Museum will embrace specimens and curiosities in botany, geology, mineralogy, zoology, etc.  These will be collected from all parts of the world, and Mr. Van Fleet will start at once for Europe to obtain specimens for the Museum, while others will search the Southern Continent of America and other climes to bring back objects for this institution.

“By like stairways as from the Floral Hall an ascent will be gained to the Art-Gallery above the Museum. This gallery will have a similar opening in the floor, and will be filled with the choicest works of art in painting and sculpture.  At one end of this gallery will be erected an elegant stage of moderate proportions, which will be devoted to the use of lectures and other scientific entertainments that are intended to be given.

“Among the many things to be contained in the Museum, will be a ‘Chamber of Horrors,’ in which will be collected such instruments of torture and death in different countries of the present and bygone ages.  As a complement to this will be added life-size casts of the heads of different noted criminals.”

Considering the size and ornateness of the building, it was constructed extremely fast.   Newspapers announced the grand opening of the Museum during the week of December 17, 1874, just a little over seven months after it was announced construction would commence.  Attractions during the opening week included not only the curiosities, but Blaisdell’s Museum Company with John Dillon, Mrs. Mary Myers, and a host of “old favorites” in John Brougham’s comedy of “Romance and Reality.”  Matinees were offered Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, and promenade concerts were held in the large halls on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.  The cost of admission was 30 cents.

Advertisement for December 25, 1874

The offerings of the museum and a display depicting the devil were the subject of an editorial in the Chicago Tribune, published on January 3, 1875.  Entitled “A Pleasant Pandemonium – The Curiosities at the Museum,” the writer stated in part:

“The Chicago Museum, like all other such institutions, possesses some features of a highly ludicrous description.  It is richer in curiosities than most museums in the country, having a better collection of living and stuffed animals than can be often found. 

“The modern Museum contains something choice in the way of a glimpse into Tophet.  And it is not in a spirit of irreverence or levity that we remark that hell as there represented is a delightfully absurd institution.  It is hardly possible that the brain which emanated this sublime idea of eternal fire intended to show us the whole of that bad place at one glimpse.  The designer evidently meant to give us a peep, thinking that hell, like Cayenne pepper, must be partaken of but sparingly.  Limited as this lurid corner of the Inferno is, it contains the most interested and interesting person connected with the institution, to wit:  the proprietor, who is a bow-legged and sawdusty individual clothed in red tights.  Evidently he has been long troubled with rheumatism.  His joints bulge out with abnormal angularity, and his trident looks like a worn-out walking-cane, repaired with a toasting fork.  He is thin, - lamentably lean, in fact, - and if, as is supposed, he fees upon the souls of departed Aldermen, his supply of provender must have been short indeed. . . Before this macerated monarch of darkness, whose countenance, claws, and cow-heels express the most determined ferocity, bend in supplication the whitened wax-work spirits of two bad human beings.  One is a man, the other a woman.  Kneeling, they stretch themselves out toward the bandy-legged Beelzebub, and, doubtless, appeal for mercy. . . The wall of this compartment is skirted with little devils of grotesque shape and mischievous tendency.”

It is not clear exactly how long the Museum operated.  In June, 1876, the Tribune announced that a Col. Wood, who by this time owned a half-interest in the Museum, was bankrupt and had lost $40,000 in another museum in Philadelphia.  However, the owners of the Chicago Museum wished to make clear that business would not be interrupted by this “unforeseen event” and that in fact the Chicago Museum had been making money since it had opened.  The other two partners, Messrs. Van Vleet and Marsh were expected to buy Col. Wood’s shares in the operation.

Montauk Block

What is known is that the building housing the Chicago Museum was demolished in 1881, having stood for just seven years.  In its place the next year rose the Montauk Block, designed by Burnham and Root, and, at ten stories in height, generally regarded as the first tall building or “skyscraper” in Chicago and possibly the United States.  That building lasted only twenty years, and was razed in 1902 to make way for a larger building for First National Bank.  Today the site forms part of the large plaza in front of the present First National Bank building. 

Next week:  Architect Thomas Tulley, and the second “Chicago Museum”

Monday, June 16, 2014

Prairie Avenue in 1874

On Thursday June 19, 2014 at 6:00pm, Glessner House Museum Executive Director and Curator William Tyre will give a lecture entitled “A Look Back: Chicago and the World in 1874.”  The free event, sponsored by Friends of Historic Second Church, will take place at Second Presbyterian Church, 1936 S. Michigan Avenue in Chicago’s South Loop neighborhood, and is being held to celebrate the 140th anniversary of the completion of Second Presbyterian’s current church building.  Doors will open at 5:30pm for tours of the National Historic Landmark sanctuary before the program begins.

The Prairie Avenue neighborhood surrounding the church was a thriving residential neighborhood in 1874, and was home to many of Chicago’s leading business and social leaders.  The area was well established by the time of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, and nearly 40 mansions had already been built on the six-block stretch of Prairie Avenue between 16th and 22nd streets.  Building activity increased immediately after the fire, as residents who had been burned out in the fire sought a new location where they could immediately begin building their new homes. 

The illustration at the top of the article appeared in the May 1874 edition of The Landowner, a monthly periodical focusing on the work of architects and real estate developers in and around Chicago.  The image includes eight of the most prominent houses on Prairie Avenue, and one street scene, and bore the following caption:

“Our artist shows in this issue a number of the beautiful houses on Prairie avenue, one of the most fashionable and handsomely built of all our South-Side thoroughfares.  No city in the world can rival Chicago in its residences, a fact which shows that this class of buildings has not suffered by the fire and the consequent turning of capital into the erection of business blocks.

“After all, one of the greatest attractions a city can offer is its homes, for to obtain them is the end of most men’s aspirations, for which they toil and sweat in the counting-room and at the various trades and professions.  Visitors who crowd to Chicago neglect to see the homes of our citizens, being wholly absorbed and astonished by the wonderful buildings put up since the fire in the burnt district.  They should not fail to visit such streets as Prairie avenue, where the home-life of our citizens of means is laid.”

The images, beginning at upper left were as follows:

Louis Wahl residence, 2026 S. Prairie Ave.
Prairie Avenue looking southwest at 18th Street
Edson Keith residence, 1906 S. Prairie Ave.
Charles M. Henderson residence, 1816 S. Prairie Ave.
Marshall Field residence, 1905 S. Prairie Ave.
Robert Law residence, 1620 S. Prairie Ave.
George M. Pullman residence, 1729 S. Prairie Ave.
 Dewey residence, 1730 S. Prairie Ave.
(center) Daniel M. Thompson residence, 1936 S. Prairie Ave.

All of the residences pictured have been demolished.  Two of the images are of particular interest.

The view of Prairie Avenue looking southwest at 18th Street is the only known image showing the southwest corner of Prairie and 18th prior to the construction of Glessner House in 1886-1887.  Just to the right of center in the illustration is a three-story double-house with Mansard roof, occupied by the Hitchcock and Galloway families.  John J. Glessner purchased the double-house in March 1885, selling off the south portion of the lot to Osborn R. Keith, and retaining the remaining 75 feet of frontage for construction of his own house.

The other image of interest is that of the George M. Pullman mansion.  Although construction on the house had begun in 1871, it was still under construction in 1874, and in fact would not be ready for occupancy by the Pullman family until early 1876.  Comparing the illustration with a photo of the finished house, one can see major elements missing including the front porch facing Prairie Avenue and the porte cochere facing 18th Street, as well as the iron roof cresting and other finishing touches.

Other building activity during the year included a large $10,000 addition to the William G. Hibbard house at 1701 S. Prairie Ave.  The original house had been built in 1868 with William LeBaron Jenney as architect.  Jenney was also the architect of the addition, seen in the second photo above.  As the house was located on the east side of the street, the back porches faced directly onto Lake Michigan which was just beyond the Illinois Central Railroad tracks that bordered the back of the Hibbard lot.

The home of Daniel Shipman was constructed in 1874 at 1828 S. Prairie Ave.  William W. Boyington, best remembered today for his design of the Chicago Water Tower, was the architect of this house, designed in the predominant Second Empire style of the day.  An interesting editorial about Shipman was published in the Chicago Tribune shortly after his death in 1906.  Shipman made his fortune in the white lead industry, but he and his wife left no children to inherit his fortune.  As a result, his estate was converted into a trust from which the earnings were paid yearly to five charities:
-Illinois Schools of Agriculture and Manual Training for Boys
-Chicago Home for Incurables
-Chicago Old People’s Home
-Hahnemann Hospital of Chicago
-St. Luke’s Free Hospital

The Tribune noted in reporting the disposition of Shipman’s estate:

“In felicitating the five admirable charities which have profited so gratifyingly by Daniel B. Shipman’s will it is interesting to remember that the provisions to be carried out would not have been possible had Mr. Shipman accumulated a large family of children during his many years of married life.  If heaven had blessed him with four, five, or six boys there would be every reason to suppose that the boys who attend the Illinois Schools of Agriculture and Manual Training  would not be the gainers by the liberal endowment fund provided by the terms of the will.  So here is an instance where many boys are benefited in place of a few. . . Perhaps it is not an unworthy thought that Providence may have decreed this charitable distribution and that ofttimes marriages are childless in order that worthy charities may be the substantial gainers.” 

Allen's Academy in 1874

The second home of Allen's Academy, completed 1883

The Prairie Avenue neighborhood was home to a number of private schools to which the residents sent their children.  One of the largest and most prominent was Allen’s Academy for Boys which opened in 1874 in a building at Michigan Avenue and 22nd Street.  The principal, Ira W. Allen, had previously served as the head of Lake Forest Academy.  In 1883, Allen engaged the services of architect Charles Chapman to design a much larger building which was located on the south side of 22nd Street (now Cermak Road) east of Prairie Avenue.  The school closed upon Allen’s retirement in 1892.

One of the most prominent  and important houses on Prairie Avenue was designed in 1874 for John B. Sherman, vice president and manager of the Chicago Union Stock Yards.  Located at 2100 S. Prairie Avenue the house was designed by a new architectural firm in Chicago – Burnham and Root.  It was the second commission the young architects had received into their office, and it was crucially important.  During construction, Daniel Burnham became acquainted with Sherman’s daughter Margaret, and by the time the house was finished in 1876, they had wed and moved into the new house.  Sherman was one of Chicago’s most prominent businessmen, and he used his considerable influence to secure numerous commissions for his son-in-law’s architectural practice  from his Prairie Avenue neighbors and Stock Yards associates. 

The house broke away from the predominant Second Empire style of Prairie Avenue and featured Ruskinian Gothic details including a hipped roof punctuated by numerous dormers of various sizes and shapes, stone banding delineating the floor levels, and a decorative second level oriel window addressing the prominent corner site.  Louis Sullivan, not usually known for his praise of other architects’ works, wrote (in the first person) about the house in The Autobiography of an Idea:

“There, on the southwest corner of Prairie Avenue and Twenty-first Street, his eye was attracted by a residence, nearing completion, which seemed far better than the average run of such structures inasmuch as it exhibited a certain allure of style indicating personality.”

Monday, June 9, 2014

Happy Birthday Richard Strauss!

Wednesday June 11, 2014 will mark the 150th anniversary of the birth of the great composer and conductor Richard Strauss.  Widely regarded during his lifetime as the greatest composer of the first half of the 20th century, his innovative music, which bridged German Romanticism and early modernism, was championed by the first two conductors of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra during its first half century – Theodore Thomas and Frederick Stock. 
In February 1895, the Chicago Tribune made the following comment at the time of the premiere of his tone poem “Death and Transfiguration” with the orchestra:

“Richard Strauss is an interesting figure in the musical world.  Appointed a conductor at the Royal Opera, Berlin, for 1896, and also to direct the orchestra concerts in that city, he is not yet 31 years old.  At present he fulfills the part of director at the Munich Royal Opera, and last summer was one of the four conductors assisting at Bayreuth.  In Germany he is regarded with favor through his symphonic compositions.

“Of this branch of his work opportunity was allowed to judge in the last orchestra program.  ‘Death and Transfiguration’ was the composition chosen.  In it the composer has given free flight to a remarkably vivid imagination, discarding ordinary artistic rules.  The demands upon the orchestra are prodigious.  If rules are ignored in the writing, difficulties are ignored in the treatment from the executants’ point of view.  In rhythm, complication of themes, and nuances it is redundant almost to the extreme of extravagance.”

Just three years later, in an article entitled “Born for a Baton,” the Chicago Tribune announced:

“The leader of the Royal Orchestra in Munich, Herr Levy, lays down the baton.  There is no necessity for him to wield it longer, as he is soon to wed an heiress.  Richard Strauss has been appointed his successor.

“This is the latest word to reach America concerning musical affairs in the fatherland.  Richard Strauss, who up to this time has occupied the position of second conductor of the Royal Opera, is what the Germans so lovingly designate ‘Ein Munchener Kind,’ having been born in Munich June 11, 1864.  He is not related by blood to the Vienna waltz king, although often erroneously counted as a member of the latter’s family, both bearing the same name.”

Richard Strauss made his debut in America in February 1904.  In a special to the Chicago Tribune from New York, dated February 28:

“The long heralded American debut of Richard Strauss of Berlin, an important figure at the present time in the world’s field of music, was made in Carnegie hall tonight at last in the Wetzler symphony concerts before an immense audience with notable enthusiasm. 

“Mr. Strauss’ compositions monopolized the program, the occasion constituting the first series of festival concerts at which his works will be consecutively exploited, and the composer himself conducted the most important number in the list, his tone poem “Ein Heldenleben,” at his first appearance.”

Strauss’ trip to America also included performances in Chicago.  In the Chicago Tribune, dated March 13, 1904 it was noted that:

“The coming to Chicago of Richard Strauss will in certain respects be the most interesting event of the present season.  There is today no man in the musical world who so completely fills the public eye as does this comparatively young German composer.  His orchestral works and his songs have made their way into every country where occidental music is cultivated as an art, and his influence in both these lines of creative music is already making itself distinctly felt.  We here in Chicago have – thanks to the presence of Mr. Thomas and the Chicago orchestra – been made unusually familiar with all orchestra works of Strauss, and through the efforts of our singers, headed by Mr. Hamlin (whose services in this line should not be forgotten), have made the acquaintance of many of his songs.  We are, therefore, in better position than is any other city in this country to receive Dr. Strauss with understanding and appreciation of what he has accomplished in music.  No other American city heard all of his tone poems so early, and nowhere have they been given with such frequency since that time as here in Chicago, for Mr. Thomas’ keen and constant search for important novelties and his realization of Strauss’ influence in present day music have caused him to place the composition of the celebrated German often before the patrons of the Chicago orchestra.

“The conditions under which Dr. Strauss will be heard here will also be peculiarly favorable.  Even the decriers of Chicago and all that is Chicagoan can but admit that the only orchestra in the United States which can compete with our own for technical and interpretative supremacy is the Boston Symphony.  The other orchestras of the country are capable, but they are not of the superior excellency that distinguishes the one we call our own and that which Boston has so long boasted.  Dr. Strauss will not have an opportunity to direct the Boston organization. 

“When he comes to Chicago therefore, he will have under his baton for the first time in this country an orchestra of supreme capabilities.  It is safe to say that Mr. Thomas, while he is no hero worshiper or is not given to lionizing anybody or anything, will see to it that his ‘boys,’ as he calls his players, are in the finest condition possible when Dr. Strauss takes them in charge week after next.”

Strauss arrived in Chicago on Wednesday March 30th, and immediately went to the Auditorium where he led the orchestra in a rehearsal of his works lasting two and one half hours.  The concert was presented in two performances – Friday April 1st at 2:15pm and Saturday April 2nd at 8:15pm.  After the first concert, Chicago Tribune music critic W. L. Hubbard reported, in part:

“That master musician of modern music, that wonderful combination of poet, painter, and composer, the man to whom pictures are audible and tones visible – Richard Strauss – appeared at the Auditorium yesterday afternoon, and for over two hours some 3,700 persons sat beneath the spell his great gifts weave and listened to the tonal tales they enable him to tell.

“It may be that some who heard did not understand, and that many who listened did not fully comprehend.  For fully to grasp all that this maker of musical pictures presents to us would mean that to us, too, the tones of an orchestra were but so many pigments, and that the color and forms drawn in them upon the canvas of the vibrant air were as clear, as distinct, and as definite to our aural vision as they are to his.

“To most of us such hearing is denied – our ears are still too blind to be able to see all the dream pictures Richard Strauss’ magical power would have us see through them.  But while we may be thus blind, and while some of us in that blindness may even question the possibility of such tonal pictures existing – may, in short, doubt the possibility of music performing all the tasks he would have it perform – it was not difficult, while sitting yesterday afternoon in the presence of this mighty weaver of musical mysteries, to catch glimpses of the brilliantly colored pictures he was painting with tones, and to credit the possibility of music doing all he would have it do.”

The program opened with Theodore Thomas leading his orchestra in the prelude to “Die Meistersinger” after which he turned the podium over to Dr. Strauss for the remainder of the concert. 

“A rousing fanfare from the whole orchestra and applause loud and long continued expressed to the celebrated conductor-composer Chicago’s cordial welcome.  He bowed repeatedly, and then raised his baton for the first measures of ‘Thus Spake Zarathustra.

“After the ‘Zarathustra,’ Mme. Strauss appeared, escorted by both Mr. Thomas and Dr. Strauss.  Mme. Strauss is one of the leaders of the dress reform movement in Germany, and her gown yesterday was in this style, an elaborate creation of creamy lace and silk, which was distinctly becoming to her.  Her singing proved interesting and satisfactory from an interpretative viewpoint.  The voice has lost its richness in the upper middle register and in the high tones, but it is of no inconsiderably beauty in the lower half, and it is used throughout with so much of discretion and understanding that it seems adequate for all that is undertaken.  The seven songs heard were beautifully interpreted, and the exquisite accompaniments, played, as they were, in the finest style by the orchestra, made the performance of them in high measure gratifying.”

Richard Strauss with his wife, Pauline Strauss de Ahna

The Glessners were present at the second Strauss concert on the evening of Saturday April 2nd, having just returned that afternoon from a two-month trip to Santa Barbara, California on account of Frances Glessner’s health.  She made the following entry in her journal:

“We had a state room and were very comfortable coming home.  Miss Gillette of Elkhart was on the train.  We got here between three and four.  Frances and Blewett met us – Alice was here at the house.  George had gone to Canada and Littleton.  Helen and Anna (her sisters) soon came.  We had a good talk and a very warm welcome from all. 

“In the evening we had the Lees and the sisters here to dinner and then we all went to the concert where we heard Richard Strauss conduct the orchestra.  Madame Strauss sang.  Mr. Thomas conducted the first number and Strauss the rest of the program.

“After the first number Mr. Thomas sat with Mrs. Thomas a while, then he called on us in our box.  Mrs. Thomas, Mrs. Johnson, Mrs. Woodyatt, Mr. Baird called before the concert, - Mr. Burnham, Mr. Kramer, Mr. Block and others called in the intermission.  Frances and Blewett went out to the florist in the intermission and sent flowers for me to the orchestra and the Strauss’.”

The Potter Palmer "castle" on Lake Shore Drive

On April 4th, Dr. and Mme. Strauss gave a benefit recital for the Russian Red Cross society at the residence of Potter and Bertha Palmer on Lake Shore Drive.  The event netted $4,500 for the relief of Russian soldiers fighting in the Far East.  The Chicago Tribune reported:

“It was entirely a Strauss recital.  It was a German evening.  Every selection given was of Strauss’ own composition.  Dr. Richard Strauss, the famous composer and orchestra leader of Berlin, did not play a single solo, but presided at the piano as accompanist for every number.  The first, second, and fourth parts of the program were by Mme. Strauss de Ahna, soprano, and the third part was by Paul Meyer, violinist, second concertmeister of the Chicago orchestra.”

The final performance by Dr. Strauss and his wife in Chicago was given at the Auditorium on the evening of Thursday April 14th.  He traveled to Washington to give his final American concert on April 26th before returning to Germany.  During his time in the United States he appeared in 36 concerts, and was received with enthusiasm in every city in which he performed.

NOTE:  In February 1936, when CSO conductor Frederick Stock returned from a vacation, he directed the orchestra in a performance of the tone poem “Death and Transfiguration” by Richard Strauss in memory of John J. Glessner, who had died January 20th of that year. 

Monday, June 2, 2014

Quotations from the past

In September 1895 Frances Glessner began collecting quotations in a book she labeled simply “Volume No. 1 Quotations.”  Over the next 34 years, she filled 194 pages with more than 1,200 quotations gathered from a variety of sources.  Most are written in her own hand, a few are clipped from periodicals.  Reading through the quotations provides a great deal of insight into her character, and the values that she considered most important in her life.  It is believed that the quotations were gathered to be shared with her family over breakfast.
Five quotations, written on the first page following the title page, were presented in an article on this blog published May 20, 2013.  In this installment, we provide a number of additional quotes for thought and reflection.  Some are light-hearted and are included because they elicited a laugh, but some have a much deeper meaning.  Quotations such as these were often inserted in newspapers and periodicals to fill empty space or were gathered together into columns with such lofty names as “Grains of Gold” and “Sententious Sayings.”  In many cases they were unattributed. 

“All persons are requested and positively prohibited not to cross this bridge with more than one horse in two directions at the same time.”

“According to Dr. Darwin and others, it takes a monkey thousands of years to make a man of himself, but a man can make a monkey of himself in a minute.”

“Some people complain because there are thorns on the roses.  For my part, I am glad there are roses on the thorns.”

“Even the elephant is not too large to concentrate his mind upon a peanut.”

“Society is what people are when they think they are watched.”

“Society is made up of concealments and the one who is most adept is the leader.”
(From the Chicago newspaper The Inter Ocean, December 24, 1893)

“All things come to him who waits.”

The next quote reads:
“All things come to him who knows when to stop waiting.”

“God has never tried to make a man who would please his neighbors.”

“It is always surprising how much deeper a hole is after one gets into it.”

“The man who points out our faults is a true friend, but we feel like knocking him down just the same.”
(Notation written in after quote – “Not always.”  The quote is attributed to the American humorist Josh Billings, 1818-1885, who wrote under the name Henry Wheeler Shaw.)

“The man who seeks your friendship has a motive in view; the woman who does so has two or three of them.”

“It is better to know less than to know so much that isn’t so.”

“Women are like religion: you take them on faith, or not at all.”

“I prefer the wicked rather than the foolish: the wicked sometimes rest.”
(Alexandre Dumas, 1802-1870, the French writer best known for his novels including The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers.)
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