Keeping Cool

July 25, 2012 § Leave a comment

The quest to keep cool is universal. Like other well-to-do women of their day, Susan and her mother sought escape from the Springfield summers by traveling to a cooler climate. In August of 1899 Susan and her mother were in Oregon where Susan’s husband Edwin was supervising mining operations for her father Rheuna. Rheuna remained in the Springfield family home (the same house that Frank Lloyd Wright would “remodel” in a few years) with Susan’s grandmother and cousin Flora. He wrote letters almost daily to Susan, and excerpts from two of those letters describe how the Springfield branch of the family coped with the heat using brand new technology–electricity.

August 5, 1899:

Our electric fixtures are all right with slight exceptions in one or two of them. I got a fan. It makes noise, but it makes lots of wind. Mrs. Maxcy [Susan’s maternal grandmother] has it in use much of the time. When it is hot, she lays down on the lounge, and Flora starts the fan, and she sleeps for hours. She is in love with it. Talks fan all the time.

August 11, 1899:

It is one of the damp hot sticky days. It has been hot for several days. I tell you the electric fan is a good thing. Mrs. Maxcy likes it greatly. It makes a great change in the house.

I could challenge Rheuna’s last sentence. I’m old enough to remember living with electric fans throughout the house in a futile search for some relief from the heat. Then new technology evolved. Theaters began to be air conditioned, and we flocked to the movies. The lure of cool air was as attractive as the film that was on the screen. Soon other commercial establishments were attracting customers with air conditioning, and then window units for the home became available. I remember vividly the summer our young family worked, played, ate, and slept in the one room in our house that had a window air conditioner.

Today cool is a life style. Virtually everyplace, including Rheuna’s “remodeled” home and its carriage house, has central air conditioning. Each time I lead tours at the Dana-Thomas House during this prolonged heat wave, I am grateful that the effort to maintain historical accuracy at the House did not extend to electric fans.

From the Lawrence House to the State House

July 19, 2012 § 2 Comments

The Dana-Thomas House Foundation is hosting “Jazz in Bloom,” its annual fund raiser, Saturday night. One hundred guests are expected, and I was reminded of a party Susan gave which I reference in Chapter 9 of Susan Lawrence: The Enigma in the Wright House. This is the report of the event in the April 15, 1909, Illinois State Journal:

A reception for the Chicago women who are in the city in the interests of the suffrage bill was given yesterday by Mrs. Susan Lawrence Dana at her residence on South Fourth street.  Before the reception, luncheon was served in the north dining room to the distinguished guests, numbering more than a hundred.

The decorations were simple but perfect in appointment.  Yellow, the suffrage color, was in general evidence.  Yellow tulips were scattered here and there about the table, one at each plate, and great candles with soft yellow shades cast a soft glow over the half darkened room and when the guests departed, each wore a tulip.

The Springfield news story continued with the names of all 115 guests. Jane Addams of Hull House fame topped the list.

I discovered in an April 15, 1909, issue of the Chicago Tribune what the suffragists did the rest of their day in Springfield. According to the reporter identified only as C.S.R., the women came to testify before Illinois lawmakers. Evidently the group walked the three blocks between the Lawrence House and the State House and descended on the legislators with yellow “jonquils” (according to C.S.R.) in hand at 2 o’clock in the afternoon. They began their testimony in support of the Billings bill in the Senate chamber before the Senate Elections Committee. The measure would grant state-wide suffrage to women. Actually only the chair of the committee and one other senator were present as four of the suffragists (including Jane Addams) spoke to a chamber filled with women. The chair then allowed two representatives of the Illinois Association Opposed to the Extension of Suffrage to Women (IAOESW) to speak. Mrs. J.C. Fairfield, secretary, and Mrs. Caroline Corbin, founder and president of the organization, argued that women’s suffrage would undermine the traditional family and ultimately harm women. (Click here for more details.) Their remarks were met with brief “hisses” from the biased audience.

 While the representatives of the IAOESW were speaking, the main event, a joint session of the House and Senate Charter Committees scheduled for 3 o’clock, was convening in the House chamber. The floor of the chamber and the galleries were completely filled with women, and a good number of legislators were in attendance. A petition with hundreds of signatures was dramatically unrolled and wrapped around the pillars of the hall and across the Speaker’s podium. The presiding chair turned the meeting over to Jane Addams who introduced 17 speakers each of whom was limited to three minutes to tell why women should vote. (Miss Addams tapped the speaker on the shoulder if she was going overtime.) Many of the speakers had been on Susan’s guest list.

 The day’s efforts gleaned a small victory. According to C.S.R., five senators who were in favor of the Billings Bill were summoned to the Senate chamber when the chair called for a committee vote on the measure. They made a quorum, voted yes, and passed the bill out of the Senate committee. Of course, it didn’t go any further, but the suffragists were accustomed to setbacks. They continued the fight until 1920 when the 19th amendment of the constitution was passed. I’m sure that very few of their battle days, however, started as pleasantly as the day they were so graciously entertained at the Lawrence House.

When Is an Organ Not an Organ?

July 11, 2012 § 2 Comments

After reading my earlier blog post entitled “Those Magic Rolls,” my friend Robert Dial who is an organ historian and builder sent me a series of emails in which he presented a startling theory. He believes that the device in the Dana-Thomas House that we have been calling a player organ wasn’t an organ at all. Rather it was a roll player device. He sent me this image and explained his idea this way:

I believe a roll player device like this was installed to play the Vocalion [small reed organ] at the Dana-Thomas House.   It can be rolled up to a keyboard and a row of levers actually strike the keys.   When finished, you can roll is out of the way and play the keyboard manually…So, my theory is there were two devices:  The detached Farrand Cecilian player with rolls which played a Vocalion .

One item of interest regarding the Cecilian–there were controls for the operator to control the bass and treble independently, pianissimo to fortissimo lever, and control to emphasize any note–mechanically ingenious for 1902.  So, the player had some control of the music, which may (or not) have added some degree of musicality.

Click here to see how a restored roll player works with a modern keyboard.

After Bob and I took a close look at the space and the device I have been calling an organ but may not be an organ, he has pretty well convinced me that it is possible. He went one step further and searched on line for a restored Farrand Cecilian roll player. He found one in California. Anyone have $1,200 plus shipping and handling to bring it to the Dana-Thomas House for demonstrations?

July 4, 1895

July 4, 2012 § 1 Comment

Postcard from Clear Lake, Iowa.

On this 4th of July I wondered how Susan remembered the birth of our nation, and I found how she celebrated one year in this short article in the July 4, 1895, issue of the Illinois State Journal:

A number of the young society people from the Terpsichorean and O.A.D. clubs went out to Clear Lake last evening and spent a very pleasant evening in dancing.  Hahn’s full orchestra furnished the music.  A brilliant pyrotechnic display was one of the features of the evening. 

Susie” and her first husband Edwin were listed among those present. The couple had moved back to her parent’s home in Springfield from Minneapolis the year before, and they were enjoying the city’s social whirl. I describe that period in Susan’s life in the opening paragraph of Chapter 3 of her biography Susan Lawrence: The Enigma in the Wright House:

Susie and Edwin ascended from near poverty in Minneapolis and Chicago to membership in the “Four Hundred” of Springfield with ease…. The Springfield “Four Hundred” led the social affairs in the Illinois capital city. Their families controlled the money and wielded the power. They partied, they traveled, and they joined clubs.

Among the more popular clubs were the dance clubs whose members met regularly to practice the steps of the day. The titles of the clubs were apt (Terpsichorean Club) or tongue-in-cheek (O.A.D.C.-Our Awkward Dance Club). Club members frequently demonstrated their skills in a ballroom at the Clear Lake Hotel on the banks of Clear Lake, a small lake about six miles east of Springfield. Two enterprising Springfield businessmen had developed a resort-like area which included cabins and picnic areas in addition to the two story hotel. Sailboats, rowboats, and refreshments were also available to Springfield residents who were seeking a place for relaxation in the summer months.

Dancing has been replaced by picnics and patriotic music in my 4th of July world. However, the tradition of pyrotechnic displays remains. I think I’ll go out on the patio and watch the fireworks!

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