The Double Blade Axe

August 15, 2014 § 2 Comments

Double-Edged-Axe-This week marks the 100th anniversary of a horrific chapter in Frank Lloyd Wright’s life.   On August 15, 1914, Julian Carlton, the cook at Taliesin in Spring Green, Wisconsin, brutally axed seven people to death and burned what the press called Wright’s “Love Bungalow” to the ground.  The victims were Mamah Borthwick Cheney (Wright’s mistress), her two children, and four Taliesin workmen.  The massacre was the climax of a very public scandal involving Frank Lloyd Wright and Mrs. Chaney.  The sensational story continues to be told today in formats such as the New York Daily News (see January 25, 2014 issue), the factual Death in a Prairie House by William Drennan, and Nancy Horan’s novel Loving Frank.

The drama was a top national news story 100 years ago. Springfield’s Illinois State Journal, for example, featured articles about the slaughter on the front page August 16, 17, 18, and 19.  Follow-up stories appeared on back pages in the August 20, 30, and September 13 issues.  The August 16 Journal linked Wright to Susan with a sentence which follows the front page article:

Frank Lloyd Wright, the architect, planned the beautiful residence of Mrs. Susan Lawrence Dana, now Mrs. Susan Lawrence Joergen-Dahl, on the north west corner of Fifth Street and Lawrence Avenue in Springfield and had a number of acquaintances in this city.

I wonder what emotions Susan felt as this tragedy so publicly unfolded.  She was very close to several of Wright’s family members and had visited the Spring Green complex frequently. Furthermore, because of personal problems, Susan was experiencing a deep depression at the time.  Her second husband, Lawrence Joergen-Dahl, had died a year ago, and she was struggling to recover.  I explain in the opening paragraph of Chapter 12 in Susan Lawrence: The Enigma in the Wright House:

Susan remained cloistered in the Lawrence House for the last half of 1913 and most of 1914.  Her whole world was collapsing around her.  While Europe, her frequent playground, was about to break into World War I, Susan was nursing her cousin Flora back to health and trying to regain her own strength.  The resiliency she had mustered in the past did not come easily this time.

I suspect that in this vulnerable state of mind, Susan was deeply disturbed by the daily chronicles of the dreadful details of the Taliesin tragedy.  Then as today, the media is a double blade axe.  It carves out factual stories but can inflict deep wounds.  Just ask the families and friends of Michael Brown or Robin Williams.  

Some Thoughts on Susan’s Spiritualism

August 5, 2014 § 2 Comments

In a post I wrote last December, I referred to Susan’s belief that ties with the deceased were not severed at death, and she could communicate with them through spiritualism (Click here to read the post).  I elaborate in Chapter 8 of Susan Lawrence: The Enigma in the Wright House:

[Susan] was not alone.  The supernatural permeated America at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries, and women at the top of the social and economic ladders were the most active participants.  At its peak at the turn of the century, spiritualism had over 10 million followers.  The National spiritualist Association of America (NSAA) defines spiritualism as “the science, philosophy and religion of continuous life, based upon the demonstrated fact of communication, by means of mediumship, with those who live in the Spirit World.”  The mediums intervene in a variety of ways either through verbal or physical manifestations.

Not everyone of that era accepted spiritualism.  Most notably, Harry Houdini, the great illusionist, spent the last years of his life vehemently debunking the work of psychics and mediums.  He unveiled hoaxes time and again.

houdini & Beatrice

Harry and Bess Houdini

Since my husband Carl passed away last October, I have given this phenomenon a lot of thought and have come to the conclusion that both Susan and Houdini were right.  I believe as Susan did that ties with the deceased are not severed at death, but like Houdini, I do not believe that we can initiate communications with our loved ones even with the aid of a medium.  Rather, our loved ones come to us when they choose.

I base my conclusion on some personal experiences I’ve had these past months, stories friends have shared, and Houdini’s last “show.”  Houdini’s widow Bess held a séance each year on the anniversary of his death in an attempt to connect with him.  On the tenth death anniversary, the séance was broadcast on the radio world-wide.  A medium attempted to get a message from Houdini for over an hour, and finally Bess proclaimed that she was finished trying to reach him.  She bid him good-by.  As the program went off the air, a violent but extremely localized thunderstorm broke out.  It only occurred over the building that housed the radio station.  There was no rain, thunder, or lightning in any other part of town. (Click here for Houdini’s story)

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