Myth Buster

April 29, 2012 § 6 Comments

When I told a reporter who interviewed me after the publication of Susan Lawrence: The Enigma in the Wright House that I found that some stories we interpreters have been presenting on tours are questionable, she called me a myth buster. One of those stories is the furniture sale story. For years we have told tourists that one reason we have so much original Frank Lloyd Wright furniture in the house is because no one in Springfield would buy it at the auction of Susan’s property in 1943. Then I found this paragraph in an article in the July 31, 1943, edition of the Illinois State Register:

Reports that the Lawrence home had been sold were denied today but it was revealed that the owners had a nibble.  The interested party asked that the furniture of the home not be sold until a decision was made whether he would buy the structure.  As a result, sale of the specially constructed furniture has been held up.  In case no sale is made, it is expected that the property will be wrecked later and an apartment building constructed there at the conclusion of the war.

That “interested party” was Charles C. Thomas who was a great admirer of Frank Lloyd Wright long before it was fashionable. Thomas understood even then that every element in the house was essential to Wright’s total design. The furniture never went up for sale, and on April 2, 1944, Thomas bought the whole package. He not only saved the Lawrence House from the wrecking ball, but he adapted it to serve as corporate headquarters of the Charles C. Thomas Publishing Company, preserving and protecting the masterpiece for over 30 years. Those of us who love the house owe a huge debt to Charles C. Thomas!

Lawrence House Reception Area

Generous Susan

April 28, 2012 § 2 Comments

When I am asked what I learned about Susan during my research while I was writing Susan Lawrence: The Enigma in the Wright House, my reply is always the same. I was overwhelmed by her extreme generosity. I cite several examples of her kindness in Chapter 16 of the book, but since it was written, I discovered a new story with a couple twists.

While writing the book, I came across a November, 1941, newspaper picture of Susan cutting the ribbon at the newly remodeled Rolands Department Store in Springfield, Illinois, a building that she owned. Pictured with several male dignitaries, Susan  looked directly into the camera. Since she was forcibly committed to the hospital in May of 1942, this is probably the last photograph taken of her. It would have been a perfect addition to the last chapter of the book. However, newspaper reprints are too grainy for print reproduction, and I could not find the original, so I dropped that idea.

Weeks after the book was released my friend Penny Wollan Kriel told me how much she enjoyed reading the book, and then she casually added, “I have a picture of Susan Lawrence with my dad.” She went on to explain that her parents moved to Springfield for her father’s job as manager of Rolands, and that he was by Susan’s side at the ribbon cutting. She elaborated. At that time Penny’s older brother was a baby in his mother’s arms. Even in her later years, Susan had a soft spot for infants. To the surprise of Penny’s parents, Susan had her driver take her to the Wollan home  the next day where she presented them with a lap blanket and a cake. After that very brief encounter at the ribbon cutting ceremony, Susan chose to give these newcomers to Springfield these thoughtful gifts!

Penny is looking for that photo, but until she finds it, I’ll share this rather blurry last photo of Susan.


April 26, 2012 § 3 Comments

Susan Lawrence Dana loved her Frank Lloyd Wright designed Lawrence House. In a letter dated December 4, 1936, she wrote to Wright, “I have seen no house you have made that compares with it to my mind.” I couldn’t agree with her more. My admiration for this treasure spurs me on to continue volunteering at what we now call the Dana-Thomas House, a historic site owned by the state of Illinois and visited by thousands yearly. This is the thread that binds me to Susan. Despite the fact that she and I appreciate the house under very different circumstances and are separated by more than a century of time, we share the desire to preserve, protect, and showcase the house. In that same letter Susan spoke for both of us when she wrote to Wright, “I would want it to look at its best and do each of us full justice.”

I am not alone in this commitment. There is an army of past and present supporters–volunteers, staff, and visitors– who consider the Dana-Thomas House a major legacy. I wrote Susan Lawrence: The Enigma in the Wright House, Susan’s biography, to enrich that heritage. However, I could not include everything I found in my research in the book. Furthermore, new information has emerged as the result of the publication of the book. It is my intent to use this blog to continue to share Susan’s life in the Lawrence House and to convey some observations and stories about the current activities in the Dana-Thomas House.

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