Still in Susan’s Footsteps

April 25, 2014 § 6 Comments

While in New Orleans, I discovered that Susan spent a good deal of time in the Big Easy and was evidently very socially active there.  One of her visits was announced in the January 9, 1910, Daily Picayune :

Mrs. Susie Lawrence Dana of Springfield, Il., is spending a short time in New Orleans and after a short stay at the St. Charles Hotel, is the guest of her cousins, Mrs. George Halbert and Mrs. J. M. Latimer, 1511 Polymnia.

Photo and research by Gretchen Bonfert

Photo and research by Gretchen Bonfert


I couldn’t resist investigating, and, thanks to the helpful staff of the New Orleans Public Library, I discovered that Susan’s cousin’s home is still standing on a shady New Orleans street.  Of course, I got a picture to share with you. 

The fate of the St Charles Hotel was not as positive.  An urban shopping/office mall looms on the spot where the hotel once stood.  However, I did discover that it was an elegant place to stay in 1910.  Click here to read the fascinating history of the New Orleans St. Charles Hotel.

The news story that reveals most about Susan’s relationship with New Orleans was in the May 26, 1912, society column of the Daily Picayune. It read:

Cards have been received by friends in New Orleans announcing the marriage of Mrs. Susan Lawrence Dana to Mr. Lawrence Joergen-Dahl, on Tuesday, March 19, in Philadelphia, Pa. [For details, see Chapter 10 of Susan Lawrence: The Enigma in the Wright House] At home after the 1st of December, Lawrence House, 327 East Lawrence Avenue, Springfield, Ill. The bride, who has visited New Orleans a number of times, is the cousin of Mrs. George Halbert, Mrs. J.M. Latimer and Mrs. Elizabeth McAllister White. She is a very charming and cultured woman, and has traveled extensively in this country and abroad. Mr. and Mrs. Joergen-Dahl are traveling in Europe for the summer and will on their return go to Indianapolis, the latter’s home since her childhood. During her different visits to New Orleans the bride made a number of friends who will be greatly interested in the announcement of her marriage.

We can draw two conclusions from this story.  First, no proof reader at the Daily Picayune checked the reporter’s work.  If one had, Susan would not have been moved from Springfield to Indianapolis by the end of the paragraph.  Second, Susan certainly made an impression on New Orleans society.



Training to New Orleans

April 12, 2014 § 4 Comments

In Chapter 3 of Susan Lawrence: The Enigma in the Wright House I wrote:

Easy travel was a relatively new concept in the 1890s. At the beginning of the 19th century, rivers, canals, and horse-drawn coaches were the primary modes of transportation in America. The emergence of the train provided speed and the ability to travel regardless of the weather. With the addition of Pullman’s sleeping cars and the new concept of dining cars, those who could afford it moved from one city to another in luxury…The Lawrence/Dana family took advantage of the convenient and comfortable way to travel the country…In February of 1895, Susie, her mother, and [her husband] Edwin attended the Mardi Gras in New Orleans.

This 1895 trip to New Orleans by Susan was the first of several that I found reported in newspaper articles or letters. Her cousin, Mrs. George (Mary) Halbert, lived in the Crescent City. In March of 1900, for example, Susan and her mother escaped to New Orleans from a severe Springfield winter. George Halbert died in June of 1918, and Susan spent a month in her cousin’s New Orleans home before bringing the widow back to Springfield for another month of recovery. Each of the trips was by trains with what were then the modern conveniences of Pullman sleepers and dining cars. I plan to make that same train trip this week. The Amtrak train that I will be riding will follow the route that Susan’s trains took and will also provide sleeping and dining accommodations (with contemporary amenities, I assume). I don’t often get the chance to re-live one of Susan’s life experiences, so I look forward to the 17 hour journey.

Louis Sullivan designed Union Station

Louis Sullivan designed Union Station

One essential thing will be different. When we arrive in New Orleans, sadly I will not disembark into a Louis Sullivan designed train station as Susan did. Completed in 1892, New Orleans Union Station was the only train station Sullivan designed. Historians say that Frank Lloyd Wright, then Sullivan’s head draftsman, was involved in the final work on the building. Sullivan’s New Orleans Union Station was demolished in 1954 and replaced with the New Orleans Passenger Terminal where I will arrive. After re-tracing Susan’s steps for almost a day, I will be thrust back abruptly into my contemporary world in this modern building. I’ll try to adjust.

New Orleans Passenger Terminal

New Orleans Passenger Terminal

More Moving Thoughts

April 6, 2014 § 4 Comments

It’s been a month since I wrote my last post (see “Moving On”) on this blog, and I’ve missed it.  I found that I cannot escape the call of history.  Many of you have encouraged me to continue writing, and Susan and her house keep popping up into my life.  I have decided that the story of Susan and her house and the current management of that house are two different issues.  I have no problems with the former, and I am in no position to change the latter.  Consequently, I plan to continue to share with you my discoveries and observations without the inspiration gleaned from leading tours through the house.

An article I read in the March 10, 2014, issue of The New Yorker magazine is an example of how Susan and the house keep intersecting my life.  In an earlier post I discussed how 1902 workers might have moved the cottage on Susan’s property across the railroad tracks to its current location (click here).  In the same post I wondered how movers were going to transport an entire Frank Lloyd Wright designed house 1,300 miles as reported in the New York Times.  I found the answer to that question in the New Yorker article.

Since 1988 Sharon and Lawrence Tarantino owned and restored the Wright designed Bachman Wilson home on the shores of the Millstone River in New Jersey.  When frequent flooding threatened the 1954 Usonian home, the couple sought a buyer who would move the house to a new site.  The Crystal Bridges Museum of America in Bentonville, Arkansas, agreed to purchase the house and to place it in the beautiful natural surroundings of the museum.  To move the house, Sharon, a designer, and her architect husband Lawrence first removed all the furniture, both free standing and built-in.  Then they created a dismantling plan.  They spent this past winter painstakingly numbering components of the structure.  This spring the house will be dismantled, and the components will be bundled, placed on three tractor trailers, and driven from New Jersey to Arkansas.  There the house will be reconstructed following the Tarantino’s plan.  To read the complete story, click here.

If I can draw one conclusion from all of this, it is that moving on, beyond, across the tracks, and across country are all extremely complicated.


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