Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Ladies, please remove your hats!

A century ago, Frances Glessner created quite a stir when she made a simple request to the members of her Monday Morning Reading Class – please remove your hats.  The request made the news, with the Chicago Tribune reporting that it was “one of the greatest sensations Prairie avenue has ever known.”  To further complicate matters for the well-dressed lady of the day, a similar order had been issued by the management of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. 

On February 20, 1915, the Tribune published an article entitled “Hats Off Edict Rules at Mrs. Glessner’s.”  The article reads as follows:

“The members of Mrs. John J. Glessner’s Monday morning reading class, which for twenty years has been a feature of south side society have met with a great adventure this winter.  It is needless perhaps to describe here the beatitudes of this Monday class, the smartly arranged women who file in from half past 10 onwards, the glossy furs, the becoming hats, the latest importation in work bags over the arm.

“Tout Prairie avenue” is present and not only is the latest reading provided by Mrs. Horace Kennedy, but a delightful informal luncheon is offered by the hospitable hostess, whose Prairie avenue mansion at Eighteenth street has the fine hardy lines of a Roman stronghold.

“The class, numbering about forty or fifty, sits around the long library.  This fall, simultaneously with the stirring order to unbonnet all patrons of the Symphony concert, came the request that members of the Monday class should remove their hats during the morning.

“This created one of the greatest sensations Prairie avenue has ever known, for the hat of the woman who has ordered her household, looked over her mail, telephoned several times, and been to market, all before 10 o’clock, usually covers a multitude of sins of omission.

“But, trying as it was, the ground rules have obtained, and careful observers say that the women of Prairie avenue are now much better coiffed than formerly.

“Although the unhatting rule does not extend to the boxes at the Friday concert – and how one does enjoy those women in the loges whose hats and hatpins are not dropping to the floor every few minutes – it is noticeable that Mrs. Glessner always sits hatless in her box, the center of the grand tier, and in no way profits by the immunity to which her location entitles her.”

The issue did not end there.  Two months later, the Tribune ran another article entitled “Unbonneting Rule at Symphony Irksome” written by a columnist identified only as “Cinderella.”  In this article, we learn a bit more about the impact of the order, the journalist vividly describing what a woman must go through to comply - the picture of which “would be enlivening in vaudeville.”

“The rule to unbonnet during the concerts grows more and more unpopular.  It is considered a very arbitrary ruling and rather inconsistent, as the box holders, who are amply supplied with hooks and chairs and mirrors and extra space, are outside the law and sit triumphantly in their most becoming hats looking down upon the sea of disordered hair and oddly variegated coiffures beneath them.

“Always excepting Mrs. Glessner, of course, who has the central box in the horseshoe and takes off her hat, presumably because she likes to.”

“The unhatting is especially irksome to certain elderly ladies who have been subscribers to the concerts ever since their beginning years ago.

“Their experience now at the erstwhile beloved symphony concert would be enlivening in vaudeville.”

“First comes the handbag, then the wraps folded across the knees, then a scarf, then a small knit jacket.  Piled on top of that a muff and fur stole and high on top of the pyramid the hat perched jauntily with its hatpins, effectually cutting off from its owner’s view the graceful and poetic evolutions of Mr. Stock leading the orchestra.

“The lady desires her handkerchief, pokes for it in her handbag, and, O, help! the whole thing slides off her lap into the aisle.

“Younger women do not wear so many wraps, but they positively hate going forth in the late afternoon gayeties with their hats on crooked.

“After all, this unhatting phase seems rather provincial, and more worthy of a small German town under military rule, than of a large city.  One hears that the back seats and the last row of side seats have suddenly become very popular because the women in them are permitted up to date to wear their hats.”

All the while, Frances Glessner was sitting in Box M at Orchestra Hall, no doubt amused at all the fuss caused by a simple rule that she herself had been observing for years.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Miner T. Ames, coal merchant

On January 19, 1890, exactly 125 years ago today, Frances Glessner wrote the following in her journal, while recording the events of the past week, “Our neighbor, Mr. Ames, died early in the week.”  The reference was to Miner T. Ames of 1811 S. Prairie Avenue, who had died on January 13th

This was the second time in just over two years that the Glessners noted the passing of a resident of this particular house, built in 1886.  In early December 1887, the week that the Glessners moved into their new Prairie Avenue home, Mrs. Joseph Coleman, a daughter of Chicago pioneer Silas Cobb, died unexpectedly leaving a husband and three young children – Silas Cobb, Marie Louise, and Joseph Griswold Coleman.  In her will, she left the house to her children, and in August 1888 it was sold at auction to Miner T. Ames.  He made a $10,000 down payment and the balance of $40,000 was to be paid within five years through a series of eight promissory notes to the order of the three minor children.  Ames was living at 3815 S. Ellis Avenue at the time of the purchase.

Miner T. Ames was born in Becket, Massachusetts on July 20, 1839.  Raised on the family farm, he set out at the age of 16 to work as a travelling salesman and within a year obtained a position as a railroad brakeman in Akron, Ohio.  A hard worker, he was soon promoted to baggage master, a position he held for five years before saving enough money to relocate to Chicago in September 1862.  After a few years, he engaged in the coal business, and it was through this venture that he made his fortune, becoming the owner of a large coal mine in Minonk, near Peoria, Illinois, under the name of the Chicago & Minonk Coal & Coke Company. 

Coal mine at Minonk

An interesting story connected with the coal operation involves the installation of electric lights in Minonk.  An article, published years later in a Chicago newspaper noted:

“Knowlton L. Ames, prominent Chicagoan and head of the Booth Fisheries Company was born in Minonk.  It was through the efforts of his father, the late Miner T. Ames, that Minonk was the second town in the United States to have municipal electric lighting.

“A friend of his was working at the time for Thomas A. Edison in his electrical laboratories.  One day he came to visit Ames.  After he saw the mine he offered to install electric lights in the shaft more or less as an experiment.  That was in 1882.  It worked so well, Ames gathered a group of subscribers and had electric lights installed throughout the town.”

With his first wife Emily, Miner T. Ames had three children – Knowlton (who was in his final year at Princeton when his father died), and two daughters, Jane Rose and Harriet Chaffee.  His wife died in 1877, and six years later he married Irene Cowen, by whom he had two more children – Emily Faithful and Miner T. Jr. who were four and two respectively at the time of their father’s death. 

The funeral took place at the family home on Prairie Avenue on January 16th, as reported in the Chicago Tribune:

“The remains of Miner T. Ames were laid to rest yesterday afternoon in Graceland in the presence of his immediate relatives.  The services at the family residence, No. 1811 Prairie avenue, were short and simple.  The Rev. Dr. Simon J. McPherson of the Second Presbyterian Church read several consoling passages of Scripture and offered prayer.  The burial was private, only the relatives following the body to the cemetery.”

Ames had accumulated significant wealth in his lifetime, and on January 21st, the Tribune reported on the assets of the estate:

“Judge E. H. Gary granted to Mrs. Irene C. Ames letters of administration in the estate of her late husband, Miner T. Ames, the coal merchant.  The estate aggregates $560,384.  Mrs. Ames gave bonds in the sum of $200,000.  Mr. Ames left no will, and the property will be divided between the widow and children, Knowlton L. Ames, Jane Rose Ames, Harriett Chaffee Ames, Emily Faithfull Ames, and Minor T. Ames.  The schedule of property includes cash on hand and bills and notes receivable amounting to $37,390; household furniture, $3,100; store and office fixtures, cars and machinery, $42,124; the homestead at No. 1811 Prairie avenue, $90,000; a residence on De Kalk street, $5,000; coal lands at Braidwood, Ill., containing 469 acres, $4,000; about 1,953 acres of land in Woodford and Marshall Counties, Illinois, $175,770; the shaft and mine at Minonk, Ill., with 2,300 acres of coal land, $200,000.  The annual rental of the landed property is placed at $15,000.”

The home was the scene of a happy event when Jane Rose Ames was married to Walter W. Ross on May 14, 1891.  The evening ceremony was attended by 150 guests and “the rooms were profusely decorated with potted plants, roses, and violets, white and purple being the only colors used.”  The ceremony was performed by Rev. McPherson from Second Presbyterian Church.  Several hundred guests attended the reception following.

Chicago Tribune, May 27, 1894

Within a couple of years, the Ames family moved and, being unsuccessful at selling the home, opted to lease it out to a series of tenants.  The widow moved to 2108 S. Prairie Avenue, and Ames’ eldest son Knowlton moved to 2412 S. Prairie Avenue.  Occupants of the house included attorney William B. Keep, fire adjuster Joseph Fish, and David Mayer, a partner in the firm of Schlesinger & Mayer.

LATER HISTORY:  Knowlton L. Ames, known as “Snake Ames” during his time as an all-American football fullback at Princeton, later served as chairman of the board of Booth Fisheries and publisher of the Chicago Journal of Commerce.  He committed suicide in December 1931 while despondent over ill-health and financial reverses.  His son John Dawes Ames, took over as publisher of the Chicago Journal of Commerce, which was eventually sold to Dow Jones & Co., publisher of the Wall Street Journal.  John D. Ames was a colonel in World War II and served as military governor of Rome after it occupation in 1944.  A long-time Lake Forest resident, he died in 1987.

Monday, January 12, 2015

George Glessner, photographer

Waterfall at Franconia Notch, Lincoln, New Hampshire, 1889

George Glessner (October 2, 1871 – January 10, 1929) was a highly talented amateur photographer, beginning his serious hobby when he was just a teenager.  During his lifetime he took thousands of images ranging from the documentary to the artistic.  Surviving photographs and negatives from the 1880s and 1890s indicate that he owned at least three separate cameras, utilizing “dry plate” glass negatives in 4”x5”, 5”x7”, and 8”x10” sizes.  

Self-portrait taken at The Rocks, age 16, 1888

Development of the negatives as well as printing and mounting of the photographs was frequently done in his “chemical laboratory,” a basement level space located directly off of the schoolroom.  He also sent his negatives out for professional processing as indicated by a quote from a letter to his mother in March 1889:

“I got the last lot of photographs last night and all I am afraid of now is the bill, but I guess papa will help me out on that, he always has before."

Dresser in George Glessner's bedroom, c. 1888

The Glessners’ Prairie Avenue home was extensively documented by George and his camera within a year of their moving in.  These photos in particular have been invaluable in revealing the appearance of the house at the time, assisting in the placement of original furniture and decorative objects, and in identifying original wallpapers, textiles, and carpets.

Unidentifed fire scene, c. 1890

Additional subjects that were captured through his lens in the last decades of the 19th century include fire scenes and equipment, the World’s Columbian Exposition, trains, Chicago buildings and street scenes, and hundreds of views of the family’s summer estate, The Rocks, in New Hampshire.  By the early 1900s, he began using a film negative camera, and many of these candid shots feature his children and other family members, especially during their annual summer stay at The Rocks.

George Glessner's wife Alice with their daughter
Elizabeth (at left); George's sister Frances with
her son John (at right), 1900

Glessner was meticulous in the way in which he organized and cataloged his photographs.  Virtually all photographs are labeled with subject and date, and all carry the corresponding negative number.  

Typical photo label

Labels, pre-printed with his name and address, were affixed to the back side of the mounted photos, and the front side of the mounts was stamped with his name, often with the word “Amateur” added.  Glass negatives were similarly numbered and stored sequentially in boxes (still housed on the shelves in the schoolroom).

Marine Cafe, World's Columbian Exposition, 1893

George Glessner’s photographs are a valuable part of the Glessner House Museum collection, not only as beautiful examples of the art of photography in the late 19th century, but as visual documentation of the places and events which shaped the lives of the members of the Glessner family.

Hotel Florence, Town of Pullman

Illinois Central train approaching 18th Street

Homes for George Glessner and Frances Glessner Lee,
1700-1706 S. Prairie Avenue, under construction, 1901

Female servants' entrance at Glessner House,
note silhouette of cook in window

"The Ledge Hawk" at The Rocks

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