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.  

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§ 2 Responses to The Double Blade Axe

  • Mary Hudgins says:

    Roberta – while looking for something else I stumbled across this article from the Sangamon County Historical Society about Lora Robie (of Robie house fame): http://sangamoncountyhistory.org/wp/?p=5762.
    Do you know if she and Susan knew each other? She was significantly younger than Susan but they would have moved in the same social circles when their time in Springfield coincided.

    • susanandme says:

      I have done some research, and I can find no connection between the 2 women. It does seem to me that they surely crossed paths at some time. Furthermore, it doesn’t take a large leap to imagine a conversation between them about their shared experience of building a Frank Lloyd Wright home. Springfield certainly had some interesting women!

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