Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Clarence Buckingham

August 28, 2013 will mark the one-hundredth anniversary of the death of Clarence Buckingham.  Were it not for the fountain in Grant Park that was given in his memory he would be largely forgotten today.

Clarence Buckingham was born on November 2, 1854 in Zanesville, Ohio, the eldest of three children born to Ebenezer and Lucy (Sturges) Buckingham.  The family moved to Chicago when Clarence was a young boy, and it was from here that his father rapidly expanded his successful business building and operating grain elevators. 

2000 block of Prairie Avenue looking north
Buckingham house at far left

The family’s North side home was destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire, and in 1875 they moved into their new home at 2036 S. Prairie Avenue.  The new residence housed a valuable collection of art which in time became one of the finest private collections in the city.  An article in the Chicago Tribune dated May 6, 1883 entitled “Some of the Notable Pictures in the Collection of Mr. E. Buckingham, of This City” described in detail a number of the works, many of which were watercolors.  The Buckinghams instilled a love and appreciation of art upon their three children, which would have a profound effect upon those children later in life.

Ebenezer Buckingham died in 1912, leaving a $4 million estate to his three unmarried children (his wife had died in 1889).  By that time, Clarence had become a successful businessman in his own right.  Starting out in his father’s company, he later became a broker and a director of both the Corn Exchange National Bank and the Illinois Trust and Savings Company.  He also served as president of the Northwestern Elevated Railroad Company, and was involved in insurance, steel and real estate. 

Clarence Buckingham’s strong interest in art blossomed in the 1890s when he began assembling a collection of Japanese woodblock prints of exceptional quality and range, assisted by Art Institute curator Frederick W. Gookin and architect Frank Lloyd Wright.  

The Obelisk by Hubert Robert
Gift of Clarence Buckingham, 1900
Courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago
Currently on display in Gallery 218

A director of the Art Institute for more than a decade, he frequently loaned items from his personal collection for exhibition.   He also purchased and gave artworks directly to the Art Institute.

Buckingham died on August 28, 1913, one week after returning to Chicago from his new summer residence at Lennox, Massachusetts.  He had been in good health up to within a few weeks of his death, so his sudden demise at the age of 58 was a shock to his family and friends.  He was interred at Woodlawn Cemetery in Zanesville, Ohio.

Evening Glow by Katsushika Hokusai
Clarence Buckingham Collection, 1925.3201
Courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago
Currently on display in Gallery 107

Portrait of Edouard Manet by Henri Fantin-Latour
Clarence Buckingham Collection, 1967.595
Courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago
Currently on display as part of the exhibition
"Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity"

In 1914, his sister Kate loaned his entire art collection to the Art Institute.  She continued to acquire additional works and in 1925 she formally gave the prints to the museum, along with an endowment to maintain and expand the collection.    The Clarence Buckingham Collection originally contained about 2,500 works and has grown through purchases and gifts to more than 16,000.  (It was also in 1925 that Kate Buckingham razed the old family home on Prairie Avenue when she relocated to a spacious apartment on Lakeview Avenue on the North side.)

The lasting legacy of Clarence Buckingham, of course, is the fountain that bears his name in Grant Park.  Officially called the “Clarence Buckingham Memorial Fountain,” the project was announced in January 1924, when the South Park board of commissioners voted to accept the gift of $250,000 from Kate Buckingham for the fountain’s construction, along with an additional $135,000 for a maintenance fund.  The design of the fountain, twice the size of that of Latona at Versailles, was overseen by Edward H. Bennett of the firm of Bennett, Parsons & Frost. 

Work commenced in August 1925 by which time the cost had increased to nearly $700,000.  It would take two years to complete.  The fountain was officially dedicated on August 26, 1927.  An estimated 50,000 people attended the ceremonies and watched the inaugural performance of the fountain’s water jets and colored lights, set to a live performance of the “Stars and Stripes Forever” performed by John Philip Sousa’s band. 

James O’Donnell Bennett, a columnist for the Chicago Tribune, writing about the fountain just a week after its dedication, said in part:

“In a week the Buckingham fountain has captured the imagination of the town, enlarged its aesthetic sense, and done it spiritual good.  The gift is more than a memorial to Clarence Buckingham.  It is an expression of the lake by which it is fed and which it extols.  As such, Chicago has comprehended it and as such loves it.  It is the lyric of the lake.  It will never grow old or commonplace.  Sunlight and shadow, mounting and waning breeze will ever renew and ever vary its spectacle and its song.  It will go on forever.”

Monday, August 19, 2013

Nirvana, A Story of Buddhist Philosophy

The Glessners’ library contains a wide variety of books on topics ranging from architecture and design to religion and philosophy.  In the latter category is a book entitled Nirvana, A Story of Buddhist Philosophy by Paul Carus.  The story behind the book, including its author and publisher, is fascinating, as is its construction and printing.

The author of the book, Paul Carus, was born in Ilsenburg, Germany in 1852.  He received an excellent education and obtained his PhD from the university at TΓΌbingen in 1876.  In 1884, he immigrated to the United States, settling in Chicago and then LaSalle, Illinois, where he met and married Mary Hegeler.  He became the first managing editor of the Open Court Publishing Company, founded in 1887 by Edward C. Hegeler, his father-in-law. 

Hegeler was the owner of the Matthiessen-Hegeler Zinc Company, at the time the largest producer of zinc in the world.  He founded the publishing company in order to provide an open forum for the discussion of philosophy, science, and religion, and to make the great philosophical classics available by producing affordable editions.  For over 80 years, the company was housed on the ground floor of the 57-room family home in LaSalle, designed in 1874 by W. W. Boyington with interiors by August Fiedler.  

The house, a National Historic Landmark, is now owned and operated by the Hegeler-Carus Foundation and is open to the public for tours and other programming.

In 1894, Carus published The Gospel of Buddha: According to Old Records, a seminal work on Buddhism.   Modeled on the New Testament, it told the story of Buddha through parables, and was an important tool in introducing Buddhism to the Western world.  During his lifetime, Carus published 75 books and 1,500 articles, mostly through Open Court.  Topics included history, politics, philosophy, religion, logic, mathematics, anthropology, science, and social issues of the day.  He also corresponded with many of the greatest minds of the time including Leo Tolstoy, Thomas Edison, Nikola Tesla, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Booker T. Washington.  He died in 1919 and is remembered today not only through the Hegeler-Carus Foundation, but also through the Carus Lectures at the American Philosophical Association, and through the Paul Carus Award for Interreligious Understanding presented by the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions.  

The book in the Glessners’ library, Nirvana, A Story of Buddhist Philosophy, was published in 1896.  It is not surprising that the Glessners would have owned such a book.  Their library reveals that they had a strong interest in religion and philosophy from many parts of the world.  Raised as Presbyterians, they no longer held a membership in any organized church by the time they moved to Prairie Avenue, although maintaining close friendships with such prominent local clergymen as David Swing and Clinton Locke.   They chose to study many of the world’s religions ranging from Swedenborgianism to Buddhism.  As such, this volume is right at home amongst other similar volumes in their expansive library.

The 46-page book is made of crepe paper with double leaves folded in Japanese style, and is tied together with silk thread.  It was illustrated and printed by T. Hasagawa (Kobunsha) in Tokyo for the Open Court Publishing Company, with Suzuki Kason producing the color woodblock prints.   

The chapter headings are as follows:
-Sudatta, the Brahman Youth, at the Plow
-The Story of the Hare
-What is Nirvana
-Begging for Alms
-The Wedding
-Anuruddha’s Sermon on Happiness
-The Controversy
-The Katha Upanishad
-The Epidemic
-Copying the Manuscript
-Young Subhuti
-The Blessed One

There are several later American editions of the book produced in the early 1900s, but these are not made of crepe paper and do not contain the high quality woodblock images found in the Glessners’ copy.

Open CourtPublishing Company continues today with offices in Chicago and LaSalle, Illinois, and is part of the Carus Publishing Company of Peru, Illinois.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Electricity comes to Glessner House

In last week’s article we looked at the early history of electricity on Prairie Avenue, beginning with the installation of incandescent lighting in the Joan W. Doane house in 1882.  In this installment we will look specifically at electrical service at the Glessner House. 

When the Glessners completed their home at 1800 S. Prairie Avenue in December 1887, the house was lit throughout with gas lighting.  An interesting and “high tech” component of the gas lighting service in the house was a central control panel located in the hallway leading from the main hall to the master bedroom.  This panel (shown above) contained ten pairs of buttons that allowed the Glessners (or their staff) to turn on a single gas wall sconce remotely in each of the ten main rooms of the house – first floor main hall, second floor main hall, library, parlor, dining room, and the five family and guest rooms.  This eliminated the problem of having to walk into a darkened room, providing enough light to enter and then light the other sconces.  The panel only worked for the gas lighting, it was never converted once electricity was brought into the house.

In early 1890, the Chicago Edison Company began advertising for customers on the South Side between 16th and 35th Streets, as they were completing a new power plant on Wabash near 27th Street (see advertisement above, from the January 25, 1890 Chicago Tribune).  One of those interested in obtaining electrical service was John Glessner, who indicated that his house was already wired for service.  Presumably the wiring (which would have been direct current) was installed at the time the house was built, although the building specifications make no mention of it.

Work on installing electrical service took place during the summer of 1892.  John Glessner provided an update on the work in a letter dated July 26, 1892 and sent to his wife who was already at their summer estate The Rocks.  He wrote, in part:

“The electric fixture men have done better today but by no means well, though I believe tomorrow will get them out of places where I don’t want them to be – the rooms where there are unlocked drawers, etc.  The pictures are down from our bedroom walls; indeed there are only 12 more to be taken down in the house.  George’s have been replaced and I’ll replace those in the rear guest room tomorrow. . . The painters have finished up stairs with the exception of one side of Fanny’s dressing room where the fixture man marked it . . . The light brackets have been replaced in the parlor.  Just 4 weeks this morning since you left.  What a lot of dirt has been made here since then!”

When John Glessner joined his family at The Rocks on Friday July 29th, he reported on a serious incident that had taken place as a result of the conversion from gas to electric.  Frances Glessner recalled the incident in her journal:

“John does not look well.  The weather has been exceedingly hot in Chicago, he has been bothered by workmen in the house and to finish all the night before he left for here, a workman had left a gas pipe open when the gas was not turned on – then when it was turned on in the evening Maggie and John walked through the corridor with a lighted taper not knowing it was escaping and the whole thing exploded, burning them both – John’s neck, ears, hair, mustache were burned – his neck, ears, and a place on his head are blistered.  Maggie was burned worse.  The linen closet took fire – but this was not discovered until the next day.  The plate glass from the loggia door was blown out and blown across the street into McBirney’s stable.  The roof beams were moved out of place but not seriously.   Dr. Dudley, Dr. Kirk and Dr. Adams could not be found.  Dr. Billings dressed the burns.  Maggie’s dress was cut from her arms, her burns dressed and she was put to bed.  John left for here on Thursday morning.  We knew nothing of all of this until he told us.  Lizzie Benson and Alice are taking care of Maggie and the house.”

(Note:  “Maggie” refers to Maggie Charles, a servant in the house).

The installation of the electric fixtures had another major impact on the house – it resulted in the repapering in a number of rooms, presumably because of the need to open up walls to access/install wiring.  The most dramatic example of this was the installation of the William Pretyman designed wall covering in the parlor, but many of the other rooms received new wallpapers as well, all Morris & Co. designs.

Wiring in the basement portion of the house was run through exposed wood conduit attached directly to the plaster walls and ceilings, some of which is still visible today, such as this section in the laundry room.

Although wiring was frequently run directly through the gas piping, which served as a form of conduit, it appears other wiring was run through the walls with no conduit at all.  The wiring above was discovered in the corner guestroom in 2012 while installing modern wiring for new wall sconces and was run along the outside of the gas pipe.

Many of the original gas fixtures, including those in the main hall and parlor were converted to electricity.  Photographs taken in 1923 show other rooms with different fixtures - whether these were installed in 1892 or at a later date is unknown.

Although the house was converted to electricity, it is interesting to note that other forms of lighting were not abandoned altogether.  In 1901, Frances Glessner wrote instructions to the staff that would remain in the house during the summer, taking care of Mr. Glessner when he traveled back to Chicago from The Rocks.  In those instructions, she states in part:

“In closing the house up in the evening, watch the kerosene lamps after they are lighted to see that they do not blaze up too much and smoke.  The lamps in the parlor are very apt to do this. . .  Light all of the kerosene lamps in the library ever night while the gentlemen are at home.”
She also added a reminder to conserve the electricity, adding “Be as careful as possible of the lights, using none where they are not needed.”
Unlike today, where electrical service is standardized, in those early years different companies produced their own version of receptacles (outlets) and plugs.  When you purchased a lamp or other electrical device, you would then attach the appropriate plug that worked with the system in place in your home.  The Glessners utilized the “Diamond H” plugs, manufactured by The Hart Manufacturing Company of Hartford, Connecticut.   The plug was large by today’s standards, and featured two round prongs with a thin flat prong in between. 
This plug is still attached to the Daum lamp which sits on the desk in the courtyard bedroom.
This plug is attached to the lamp which is used on the partner’s desk in the library.  The plug and receptacle still function perfectly today.  Advertisements for the Hart company praised their version of the receptacles, noting that they had a mechanism that closed the holes when the plug was removed, making them dust-proof and dirt-proof.
Interestingly, Frances Glessner does not record her impressions upon returning to Chicago in October 1892 and seeing her house illuminated with incandescent lights for the first time.  It would be the first time she lived with electric lighting - it would not be installed at The Rocks for another twenty years.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Electricity comes to Prairie Avenue - 1882

Electricity came to Prairie Avenue in 1882, five years before the Glessners completed their new home.  Although it is not surprising that the exclusive residential district was the first in the city to be the recipient of the new technology, it is interesting to note that virtually all of the early players in the establishment of electric service in Chicago lived within a few blocks of where the Glessners built their home.  In this installment, we will look at the arrival of electricity on Prairie Avenue; next week, we’ll examine how and when it arrived at 1800 South Prairie Avenue. 

A. C. Badger

A number of small electric companies were in operation during the early 1880s, many of which soon failed or were absorbed by larger and more successful competitors.  The city obtained its first commercial arc lighting plant in 1881.  It was located in the basement of the Central YMCA building, and was built by A. C. Badger (2106 S. Calumet Avenue) and a relative S. S. Badger.  Within two years, the Badger Company built a small plant in Joliet and began supplying arc lighting to that community. 

General Anson Stager

The forerunner to Commonwealth Edison, the Western Edison Light Company, was incorporated on May 2, 1882 by General Anson Stager (1733 S. Michigan Avenue), Norman Williams (1836 S. Calumet Avenue), and John M. Clark (2000 S. Prairie Avenue).  Stager was appointed the first president of the company.

One of the first stockholders was John W. Doane, a wholesale grocer and importer of coffee and tea.  He was in the process of building his mansion at 1827 S. Prairie Avenue, designed by architect Theodore V. Wadskier, and featuring stained glass windows by John La Farge.   Doane made the decision to have his house wires for incandescent lighting, the first house in Chicago to display that new technology.  The 250 bulbs were powered by electric current generated by a small plant in the basement of Doane’s coach house.  The plant, built in August 1882, cost $7,197 to construct, and Doane paid an additional $971 to wire his new house for electricity.

On November 10, 1882, John and Julia Doane celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary and held a party for 400 of their friends to officially christen their new Prairie Avenue mansion.  The Chicago Tribune of November 11th ran a lengthy article about the event, stating in part:

“Mr. Doane has recently completed what is probably the finest house west of New York, and it was fit that he should inaugurate it by a celebration of his silver wedding.  This fete occurred last evening at No. 1827 Prairie avenue, and it was a grand social success.  The interior of the house is as exquisitely rich as taste and art can make it, and last night it presented a scene of grandeur and beauty rarely witnessed.  Mr. Doane has illuminated his house with 250 of the Edison electric incandescent lights, and they made the house brilliant in the extreme, and brought out the elegant toilets in all their rich colors.  From the curb to the door of the vestibule there was spread an awning lighted up with electric lamps, while opposite the house on the other side of the street, were two calcium lights. . . In the reception-room, from the centre of the ceiling, there hung a chandelier of smilax, to which were appended the electric lamps, in the centre of which was a rich and large bouquet of roses.  The elaborate mantel of the parlor was hidden by banks of exquisite flowers, while from out of the brass hearths in all the rooms and in the halls shone forth electric lights, so arranged as to imitate a glowing fire, while directly in front were entwined exotic vines, flowers, etc.”

Within a few months, several of Doane’s neighbors utilized his electric plant to provide power to their homes.  Those houses included Thomas Dent (1823 S. Prairie Avenue), Marshall Field (1905 S. Prairie Avenue), Edson Keith (1906 S.  Prairie Avenue), and Joseph Sears (1815 S. Prairie Avenue).    

General Stager died in 1885 and was succeeded as president by John M. Clark.  Two years later Clark, along with Robert Todd Lincoln and John B. Drake (2114 S. Calumet Avenue) undertook a reorganization resulting in the creation of the Chicago Edison Company which held exclusive rights to provide electrical service in an area bounded by North Avenue, 39th Street, Lake Michigan, and Ashland Avenue. 

In 1892, Chicago Edison Company completed its new 27th Street Station at 2640 S. Wabash Avenue, and it was from this site that the Prairie Avenue district received centralized electrical service.  Another station, located on Harrison Street along the west bank of the Chicago River started up in August 1894.  The company had hoped to have that plant up and running in time to supply power to the World’s Columbian Exposition, the grounds of which were located outside their exclusive boundaries, but that was not to be.  The Fair had a power plant of its own, with Westinghouse and two other firms being the principal contractors. 

Note:  The photo at the top of the article shows the office building of the Chicago Edison Company at 122 W. Adams, after it was remodeled by Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge in 1899.  The building was demolished in 1931 along with the adjacent Home Insurance Building to make way for the Field Building which occupies the site today.
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