I was lucky to go to the Glessner House’s Candlelight Christmas Tour on Saturday. Located on the famed Prairie Avenue, where Chicago’s elite lived 100 years ago or so, the Glessner House is a museum housed in a 18th century home that looks like a fortress. Mr. Glessner made his fortune as an executive for International Harvester.
This holiday season, the museum is decked out for Christmas. They have charming Christmas trees, vintage cards and books as well as holly, garlands and ribbons.
Gifts wrapped in wallpaper
For the evening tour, there were docents in each room who explained about the home’s history and how the Victorians celebrated Christmas. A few nuggets I picked up are:
Victorians used to put a small bough of holly over ancestors’ portraits to remember them.
Holiday wrapping paper wasn’t invented and used till 1910. Before that people wrapped gifts with wallpaper.
As you may know, people lit their Christmas trees with candles. What I learned was that the Glessners (and probably other families) only lit their Christmas tree candles for 10 minutes. According to Mrs. Glessner’s diary, the family gathered at 10 am to see the tree lit. They’d have a bucket of sand and water on hand in case of fire and they only had the candles lit for 10 minutes because of the fire danger.
The tour was informative and so well organized. The docents were approachable and knowledgeable. At the end of the tour, which cost $15, we were offered hot apple cider, water and cookies from Trader Joe’s in the coach house.
The house will be decorated till December 31st and it’s free on Wednesdays.
Yesterday I visited a friend in Milwaukee and we visited the Pabst Mansion. Captain Frederick Pabst built a fortune brewing beer with his brother-in-law for his father-in-law’s brewery (known at Best Brewing). In the late 19th century he and his wife built a mansion on the premier street of Milwaukee, which at one time had 60 mansions.
We were lucky to be the only two people on the 2pm tour. When you visit, you must take a tour and they begin on the hour.
Out docent was knowledgeable and welcomed questions. I learned a lot from this tour. The exquisite painting on the wall covering was amazing as was the art.
It was interesting to learn that:
In the late 19th century, people didn’t keep their clothes in wardrobes, most were up in the attic and the servants would bring down whatever was desired.
Many rooms had wall coverings of painted embossed linen, not wallpaper.
After the Archdiocese moved in they painted over the original woodwork and decorative painting. To figure out the original colors, experts used samples of linen wall covering found in the basement, the colors behind the mirrors or painting and judgment based on the black and white photos Capt. Pabst commissioned.
Capt. Pabst’s office was patterned after a castle in Germany.
8,000 sq. ft. was for the family and 12,000 sq. ft. was used for the servants’ area.
Capt. Pabst preferred wine to beer.
Pabst’s children married into the Schlitz and Miller Brewing families.
I went to Kokomo Indiana’s Seiberling Mansion, known as the best example of the worst architecture. The Seiberling Mansion blends neo It’s a funky, curious mix and suggests an era and family that favored whimsy and imagination as well as comfort and luxury. Arthur LaBelle designed the house for Monroe Seiberling, a prominent and wealthy industrialist, who made a fortune in natural gas, the mansion is a combination of Neo-Jacobean and Romanesque architecture.
The Seiberling family just lived her for a few years. The mansion then was home till the 1940s before University of Indiana used it as a branch campus putting up chalkboards and moving in desks, chairs and university posters.
When the university moved to a larger facility, the mansion was left to deteriorate. Vandals took over and trashed the place. In 1972 the mansion was turned over to the county, which restored its glory and turned it into a museum.
Some interesting features include the brass hinges and door plates with Moorish embellishments, the gas fireplaces, the parquet floors of maple, oak and walnut. Admission is $4 for adults and $1 for children age 3 -12. They have two different scavenger hunts for children and a pretty good video explaining the mansion’s history. The docents on hand are welcoming and knowledgeable.