May 17, 2012 § 9 Comments
One hundred and four years ago today (May 17, 1908), the Illinois State Journal reported on a party at the Lawrence House:
One of the most unique and charming social events of the spring was the party given yesterday by Mrs. Susan Lawrence Dana of South Fourth street for Miss Harry L. Hampton, formerly of this city, now of Denver, Colo. The event was given for the friends of Miss Hampton, and about twenty guests were present. The morning was devoted to playing bridge whist in the east room, and at 1 o’clock luncheon was served.
The decorations were most exquisite throughout the beautiful home. The appointments of the luncheon table were typical of spring and the long centerpiece which adorned the table was a veritable flower garden. The centerpieces extended down the entire length of the table and were composed of crimson and geraniums massed together with green ferns and leaves. The spring garden was carried out in detail and the favors were in the form of miniature rakes and garden hose[s]. At each place was a verse and the name-card, the verse being typical of the gardening spirit. The strawberries were set in fern leaves in baskets and the ices were roses placed on rose leaves. The decorations throughout were typical of spring and gardening time.
In Chapter 9 of Susan Lawrence; The Enigma in the Wright House, I refer to many such occasions from 1905 until 1912. The local newspapers documented party after party at the Lawrence House, and the Frank Lloyd Wright designed table was frequently the center of the festivities. I wonder what the table could tell us about the conversations that transpired at those events. Did the woman gossip? Did they exchange recipes, fashion secrets, or child-rearing tips? Perhaps they complained about their husbands or servants.
I once took a woman through the house who had been a secretary for the C. C. Thomas Publishing Company when the house served as corporate headquarters in the 1940’s. She recalled that the members of the typing pool all sat at a long table in the dining room while their supervisors walked across the musician’s gallery to keep an eye on the women. She could not tell me for sure if the table they used was Wright designed, but if it was, the conversations the table heard were undoubtedly quite different from those of Susan’s guests. In my imagination I can hear work related conversations as well as grumblings about deadlines and bosses, updates on social lives, and tips on how to make ends meet on a working girl’s salary.
This Saturday night the table will hear twenty-first century conversations for the first time. Since the state of Illinois bought the Dana-Thomas House in the early 1980’s, the table has been untouchable, and food has been served on it only a few times. However, the Dana-Thomas House Foundation is hosting a magnificent fund raiser Saturday night that includes a five course dinner at the Frank Lloyd Wright table. Thirty members of the Foundation (It was first come, first served, and there is a waiting list.) have each paid $300 to enjoy the ambiance that Susan’s guests experienced. Those conversations may include the current presidential election campaign or how the Illinois fiscal crisis is affecting the support of the house by the state. Only 30 people and the table will know what they talk about. Let’s hope the Foundation plans similar events in the future so more of us can talk around that historic table.