Candlelight Christmas Tour

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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.

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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.

Today the Chicago Tribune’s Rick Kogan wrote about this gem, Glessner House.

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Chicago Theater Tour

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It’s Theater Week in Chicago, which means discounts for theater events. I took advantage of the discounts and went on a tour of the Chicago Theater. I’d never been inside before and wasn’t prepared for it to be so palatial. Designed by the Rapp brothers and opened in 1921, the French Baroque theater awes.

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Our guide was informative and upbeat making for a fun experience. He clearly loves this landmark. We learned all about the building, which was run by the Balaban & Katz group (who started in show biz by showing films for a nickel in the back of their parents’ grocery store). The Balaban & Katz group spent $4 million on construction. When it opened, a nickel got you the right to stay all day — from 10 am to 10 pm and to watch the show consisting of two films, a concert and vaudeville, over and over again. Originally, there was no food available in the theater and restrooms were hidden, not for patrons’ use. If you left the theater, you’d have to buy another ticket to get back in. Evening tickets cost 25¢. This theater was pioneered the use of air conditioning, which the owners falsely claimed brought purified mountain air into the theater, which would benefit patrons’ health.

In the 50s, theater attendance slid and the new owners decide to modernize the theater. Essentially, they got rid of all the elegance and panache. That didn’t get the desired increase in ticket sales. The owners let the theater to go pot and by the 1970s there were rats scurrying through the lower seats. The theater was sold and scheduled to be demolished and replaced by another office building. People protested and the mayor canceled the building permits. Thankfully, rather than getting demolished, a committee formed and with the city had it restored to its original glory. The Chicago Theater reopened in 1986 with a Frank Sinatra concert.

I won’t share each fact I learned during the hour tour, but I will share some of the celebrity scuttlebutt. Different celebrities request different amenities when they perform and some won’t go on if their requests (demands?) weren’t met. For example, Jerry Seinfeld requires a bowl of green M&M’s and has years before you could order specialized M & M’s. The reason for the bowl of green M & M’s was that, Jerry could arrive, see the green M & M’s and know that the theater had read the contract and did everything he stipulated.

Katy Perry insists upon 10 white couches, Beyouncé specifies black carpeting back stage and Mariah Carey asked for a kitten to play with. (After her concert, the Humane Society got the kitten back and sold it as “Mariah’s kitten.”)

Since John Mellencamp’s crew was setting up we couldn’t go on the stage or take photos of it, but we did get to see them setting up.

All in all, the Chicago Theater tour is well worth taking, especially on days when the weather’s bad and an architecture tour isn’t appealing.

Goldcoast Glitzy Tour

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Today I went on the Chicago History Museum‘s Goldcoast Glitzy Walking Tour. The tour focused on homes built for the rich between the 1880s and 1930. It’s hard to believe all the changes in styles and technology in just 50s years.

The guide was quite knowledgeable as were some of those taking the tour. We saw and learned about the home Joseph Medill, who ran the Chicago Tribune and arranged for Abraham Lincoln to run for president, bought for his daughter, the home of Samuel Insull, who made and later lost a fortune in electricity before it was a regulated utility, and several families I’d never heard of. It was particularly interesting that a few of the others on the tour knew a lot about Chicago history and chimed in with facts. Also, some would look up property values on Zillow.com and share the prices. Needless to say I’m not about to afford a home on the Goldcoast anytime soon.

I was sad to see the occasional 1960s apartment complex wedged between grand, elegant houses. These families lacked that Downton Abbey spirit to save the family home at all costs.

Zillow: $3.6 million est.

Zillow: $3.6 million est.

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Zillow: est $3.6 million

Zillow: est $3.6 million