Friday, October 20, 2017

THE FIRST LADY OF EVANSTON - Cornelia Gray Lunt - BOOK I, Chapter 6 - The Eavesdropper

This is the next installment in the autobiography of Cornelia Gray Lunt of Evanston, Illinois: Sketches of Childhood and Girlhood, Chicago, 1847-1864.  For more about the life and times of Miss Lunt, please see the first installment:                           

Chapter Six
The Eavesdropper

September, 1851.

THE LITTLE GIRL was in her secret place.  The long curtain hung in concealing folds; and with feet drawn under she cuddled herself into the corner of the window seat.  She had discovered and fled to that hiding place several times of late, especially when she feared to be called upon to help look after baby George.  (Note:  George Lunt 1850-1895).  The new little brother, a rosy-cheeked blue-eyed baby with a mop of golden curls, seemed always sunny and smiling.  Since his advent nearly a year ago, Horace of four had grown fast, was big by comparison and was fond enough of baby brother to amuse him by the hour; but more and more the sister's life became peopled with fancies and new interests.  She cared less and less for romping and playing with the children.  She had no sisters to keep her company; but lately a little girl of her own age had become almost one of the family, and Mother had said she would soon be our cousin Joe.  So we two had often run away from the inflicted cares of service, and left to Nurse Mahaly and little Horace, the task of caring for baby when Mother was otherwise occupied, and the aunts busy with their many pleasures and many visitors.

Since the young lady, Miss Kate Cutting, had been visiting my Aunts there always seemed more company coming and going, and much gaiety and pleasure seeking, and I felt the liveliest interest in all the bright and attractive things about my home.  I was easily enchanted and quickened.

There, hidden behind the curtain the book in my lap remained unopened.  Eyes rested idly on its title - "The Priest and the Huguenot" - my thoughts all on an hour of the day before, when seated comfortably by the window looking out upon the Lake, the trees all yellowing and clouds drifting slowly and softly, something in the air stirred in the blood.

I had heard queer comments on myself that now came freshly back.  One of my aunts had quietly approached and beckoned to the other - I had not noticed until both leaned over me and one in a whisper exclaimed - She is reading "The Preacher and the King," and the other under breath "How can Cornelia let this young one read everything she lays her hands on."  And the first replied. "It will be "The Priest and the Huguenot" next - Why on earth can't she be satisfied with Fairy stories like other children?" - And that sent me to search far and wide, in closets and bureau drawers, for the present volume that someway did not suit the dreamy loveliness of the afternoon.  Everywhere a tremulous whisper of Autumn in the air, and breezes rippling the surface of the Lake.    

The familiar thing that a child wonders at or loves becomes a charm throughout life.  And my Lake, the Ocean, great bodies of water, are to me vivid in beauty and power beyond even the mighty mountains.  The Lake, born as I was within sound of its waves, often made me breathless and jubilant as a child, and has been to me a whole Orchestra and Picture Gallery ever since.  Imagination has its uses at every age.  It creates - It intensifies - It delights.  My world never seemed small to me because I was always happy; but a growing mind reached out from my unchanging world for other things than the simple days afforded, and I found them in romance - in my books.

When I began a new one it was with a brightness of anticipation and the entrancing tales seemed true as the life about me.  New delights unfolded understood or not; fresh joys always awaited me in reading and just that early period had much significance.  I recall absurd lines I made, queer little efforts at high expression - There was one - "An Ode to Lake Michigan" which my family greeted with amusement that I sensed and resented.  A child learns early to keep her thoughts to herself.  She cannot explain that which grips and urges her to expression or action.  She knows nothing of the sequence of things in life.  In that undisciplined stage of childhood to secure information and satisfy curiosity seems an inevitable accompaniment of strange processes of feeling that defy analysis.

I was just then feeling a curious hostility to criticism of my Mother, or of my reading - I did like fairy stories - Not silly ones like "Jack the Giant Killer" or "Little Red Riding-hood" and many like them in small books with foolish pictures; but I loved when the Fairy Prince came and kissed Sleeping Beauty, and I loved "Pilgrim's Progress," and The Arabian Night's" and "Days of Bruce."

I loved words - the music of words - and had formed an entrancing diversion very early in the printed page.  To child as to adult there flood entrancing fancies in which one lives; and often in a spell I would repeat whole sentences that had magic in them, over and over to myself.  And that evening words of the printed page were whispering in my ears: all about me the sweetness the mystic whisperings of wild life of Romance beyond all comprehension; and strange music sounded afar off, strange surging sounds inaudible to other ears.

As the twilight came on, the stir of entrance made me peep through the concealing curtain to behold my pretty Aunt Helen, and the tall, thin Father of the two little Davidson's who lived round the corner.  He had lately come very often to our house, and many others to call and make merry.  The two in the sitting-room, after my instant recognition, passed out of mind for a little; the talk going on so near me had not reached me at first.  I had no conscious interest or intention to spy and listen.  Indeed I did not know what such a course meant, although I had heard them say several times that "Little Pitchers have big ears" whenever I came suddenly into view.  Yet their gaiety, their talk of lovers, and various adventures related to my parents had stirred the nascent romance in me - and I had tried to understand when Mother told me Miss Kate was engaged to Uncle William, and that they would be married before long, and the I would have another Aunt; just as she told me that Aunt Margaret, when she came back from Grandfather's, - her home in Maine, was going to live with little Joe Evans and her Father.

So my mind worked.  I strive to gather in and remember the vision that, at a louder spoken sentence, gave me a thrill of adventure, and stirred suddenly vague impressions to distinct sight and sound.  My pulse quickened to the vibration in his voice.  Exuberant romance in me was about to be satisfied.

Children seem to me to have a queer outlook and their egotism is so unconscious.  They are often artistic as well as sentimental.  The first words I caught held me entranced.  "I implore you Miss Gray - You must listen, we could be so happy - They say love is blind - Mine isn't - I know it, - Oh believe me." - I was instantly all alert as he pronounced the words that have been quoted from that day to this  in hilarious merriment.  "Come with me - We will spend our summers in some quiet watering place, and our Winters in the Orange Groves of the Sunny South."  My presence undivined, the eagerness increasing, I parted the curtain slightly and leaned forward as he tremulously continued, - for I had thrilled as to a trumpet - "Do you object to my children?" he asked.  "No I object to you" - my Aunt replied in very clear accents, and I wish you would never again - The sentence remained unfinished for certain movements caught her eye.  The curtain swayed in my excited grasp and showed a revealing outline.  "Neanie, come here," was the sharp order, as crestfallen I slipped into view and moved slowly forward.  

I didn't comprehend the comedy, nor the absurdity of the whole picture I helped to create.  The burlesque of his insistence in words that painted what he supposed would allure and tempt, was wholly beyond me.  It sounded beautiful to me.  I had no faintest notion that in futile efforts to make marriage look attractive he had made a fool of himself.  All I saw or remember was his black, angry look at me, - My Aunt's flushed face, and the cold good-bye that imperatively dismissed the forlorn lover.

Just before the proper reprimand could be administered, Miss Kate and my Aunt Margaret appeared, the former crying - "Has that old bean-pole been proposing again, he looked furious and rushed by us without a word."  My own face of course must have suggested the eavesdropper and told its own story, as eloquently as Aunt Helen's vivid account and manifest annoyance.  But that could not save her - "Tell us Neanie, what did he say? and like a young parrot I promptly responded, - and peals of laughter followed, that made my Father just entering the house, having ridden as usual on horseback from his warehouse far down on Water Street look in.  "Oh Orrington," cried Aunt Margaret, "Listen to what old Davidson said," and at half-hysterical demand, I repeated solemnly - "We will spend our Summers in some quiet watering place, and our Winters in the Orange Groves of the Sunny South" and my Father's hearty laugh encouraged me to add - and he did say, too "Do you object to my children? and Aunt Helen said, "No, I object to you," - at which another burst of merriment quite convinced me for the moment that I was of extreme importance and very clever too.

Later, alone with my dear Mother, I was taken to task; informed that I had hurt my Aunt's feelings, that I was not funny; but that I had listened to what had not been intended for me to hear.  The moral was sharply pointed that to listen out of sight when no one knew it, was bad in every way.  "It was bad form and it made her ashamed.  It was not kind, not fair, not honourable.  It was trespassing, and she never wanted to think I could do such a thing again."  As a trespasser,I was thoroughly and properly humiliated; ashamed for years to remember the scene and my own share in it; which, as a burlesque, was repeated and reported again and again by the heroine herself, as one of the drollest of all her experiences.  It became classic as a tale of early days, and my verbal memory has kept it ever clear so that I can recall its every detail.  It was a compelling curiosity and longing that drove me that day to listen, when I knew instinctively I must keep still, and not be found out!

I dreamed a great deal at that period, and someway in early childhood one has ideas of emancipation or of freedom from certain claims; always eager to grasp and gain the centre of the stage.  I suppose we are all a law unto ourselves, and associate early the period of growing up as auspicious, because we can do as we choose, without answering to higher authority or human tribunal.

And impressions however vague that remain with distinctness make for mental and physical development.  I was myself of pioneer stock and earlier of English blood.  I was never in childhood cramped by a single unnatural condition; mine was an enlivening spirit, and independence was growing definite and resolute.  To some natures surroundings are just surroundings, - no more.  To certain ones they become inwoven and are the very fabric of thought and deed.  Always, unknowing it myself, the felicities of my simple home life were very great, even as they have ever continued, and will I pray to the very end.  There were no contending forces and contentment was my lot.    

Friday, October 13, 2017

THE FIRST LADY OF EVANSTON - Cornelia Gray Lunt - BOOK I, Chapter 5 - The Gooseberry Feast

This is the next installment in the autobiography of Cornelia Gray Lunt of Evanston, Illinois: Sketches of Childhood and Girlhood, Chicago, 1847-1864.  For more about the life and times of Miss Lunt, please see the first installment:                           

Chapter Five
The Gooseberry Feast

August, 1850.

THE LITTLE GIRL stood listening, puzzled but glad.  Her Mother was speaking brightly, describing three nice little girls who lived in the new brick house on the same Avenue with us.  She told their ages, their pretty names, Delia and Frank and Eva.  And how the lady who had just called wanted me to spend the afternoon with her young daughters.  We were neighbors, and it would be pleasant to get acquainted, and I must be very quiet and gentle, and behave very nicely, and make them all like to have me come again.

It is so easy to entertain children, and love can find the way to interpret a child's feelings where education and discipline may be alike powerless.  I had listened breathlessly, particularly when my Mother said that "She thought that here was to be a little feast," and all these recollections crowd now into my mind - for that one afternoon, little as I could imagine it, held for me a soul-stirring excitement.  Life before had never offered me any provocation, temptation or opportunity, for the uncontrollable primitive passion of anger, and my own training had so far developed a fearless gaiety and cheerful confidence.

And great was my pride, when on that soft summer afternoon I was taken to the large brick house as an invited guest.  It was all so beautiful to me, the enchanting day, and everywhere an articulate language to which my ears had become attuned.  The flower bedecked earth, that overarching sky and singing Lake both of ecstatic blue, and those white feathery clouds when one looked up into the glorious brightness.

I wonder a great deal about this mysterious cavern of memory that enables me now to set down in exact truth the disloyalty to hospitality, the absence of kindness, and the vision that I saw of one sister leading two others into deceit and a practice of lying; a meanness of treachery that they were too young to understand.  I record it all here, incredible as it seems that a well grown girl of a refined family could treat a guest so much younger with such deliberate deceit, and a malicious enjoyment that added cruelty to the act.  If parental training is lacking, it is a pity that in the curriculum of all schools there is no supplement for a course in courtesy and kindness.  Happily tragedies are soon forgotten when one comes of a good stock, and life is rich with all the personal relations fortunate.  

The back garden where we were ushered for play was lovely with greenery. Along its separating sides, against the dividing walls that shut it in, were heavy bushes,  "The Gooseberry's are ripe and we can have them" cried gleefully one of the little hostesses and in plunged the three little girls to pluck and eat the green and yellow berries.  "Oh' it's a Gooseberry Feast" - I said.  It was my first taste of those juicy fruit-balls, so delicious and desirable; but hardly had the feast begun when a sharp call brought it to a sudden termination.  

As if yesterday I can see the picture.  That high back porch of the yellow brick house, the big sister standing clearly outlined at the top of the steps; the imperative voice as she swiftly descended - "Stop children - Stop this minute - Mother says so."  And when she stood beside us she plunged into the near bushes herself, in search it seemed for more of a delicious fruit, and I thought she was joining us in the feast.  Emerging with a smile she called "Here Neanie - Come - Here's a big one - Come and get it."  Her closed hand was extended - "Shut your eyes and open your mouth" - But an intuitive fear, an instinctive dread made me stand back.  "But it's a nice one for you - Here Eva come - Look - Isn't it fine?" and she half opened the curved hand to show its contents.  As I still hesitated - "Look Frank, - See - Such a fine gooseberry," and she beckoned to the still wide-eyed little sister, and both had nodded at her command.  Once more coaxingly she renewed the tempting offer - "Now shut tight and open wide," and the greedy little visitor complied in faith.

Oh the feel of that strange, dreadful furry substance! its swift spitting forth; the sight of that hairy writhing wet caterpillar as it dropped at her feet - huge it seemed as some nightmare horror - and somewhere there was a burst of loud laughter.  Hot and acrid was the taste in my mouth, a strangling sensation of awful nausea.  Then a blur before my eyes, and a strange faintness of mind and body that for a second made me dumb in a paralysis of terror, while self-centered callousness again expressed itself in cries of amusement and riotous laughter.

I think I said no words aloud, but something within shrieked and cried out - "It was a lie - She lied - Liar ' Liar ' The Fate of Liars," and screaming and panting, notwithstanding sudden overtures from the startled trio, the little victim rushed round the walk; away, away out of that place, down the street sobbing, and running wildly to the home-gate to fall into her Mother's astonished arms, and to relate between gasping sobs the terrible tale of her own undoing.  Washing the child's hot cheeks wet with tears, the Mother made no reproaches, pointed no moral, made no comments on lies and deceits.  To this day, and for all days, the simple words stand forth as law - "We will go no more to the little Gurney's.  That is finished."  

Friday, September 29, 2017

THE FIRST LADY OF EVANSTON - Cornelia Gray Lunt - BOOK I, Chapter 3 - The Christmas Message

This is the next installment in the autobiography of Cornelia Gray Lunt of Evanston, Illinois: Sketches of Childhood and Girlhood, Chicago, 1847-1864.  For more about the life and times of Miss Lunt, please see the first installment:                           

Chapter Three
The Christmas Message

December 24, 1849

THE LITTLE GIRL watched her Father.  He sat before the fire in the big chair, his feet stretched out, his eyes fixed on the bright flames.  Why was he so still?  They had made much noise, she thought, at the table. It was her Father's Birthday.  She had been allowed to sit up for late supper.  She was very proud and happy and tried to understand the stories, and why they laughed so hard while the young Aunt said many things and looked so pretty.

"Father, I am glad you had a Birthday" she said and sidled close up to his knee.  "I am glad you had a Birthday Father" she repeated as he looked down and smiled his beautiful smile.  "I will tell my little girl of a more wonderful Birthday" he answered, lifting her to his knee and putting strong arms about her.  But she felt a little pain as he explained slowly that there was no real Santa Claus that came down chimneys, that the pretty piece she had learned about his Reindeer and the bells on the sleigh, and the pack of presents for good children, was all only a picture, made to show little and big ones how lovely it was to give and celebrate the Birthday of The Christ Child by helping to make everybody happy.

So was the sweet and sacred Story of Manger and Infant Jesus and Wise Men travelling far, and the beautiful Star shining and showing the way to where the Young Child lay, gently told me and the Christmas message repeated, - "Peace on Earth, Good Will to Men," spoken softly.  Say it dear, "Peace on Earth, Good Will To Men." He told me of an indescribable light that shone on the Child's face, and made the wise men kneel and lay gifts before Him.  And so Christmas was the time for ever to love our friends and give gifts.

"Why it's your Birthday too," I said, "Oh Father you were born with the little Jesus" - "No, Oh no, only on His birthday to learn to love Him more," he answered.  And as his dear eyes met mine they were charged with some message he could not utter, and I was silent with the inarticulate yearning of childhood.

Almost three quarters of a century since the revelations of that Christmas Eve, and I can summon back the new feelings about Santa Claus and the Christ Child as I said my prayers that night, and was put to bed in the small Hall bedroom out of the large one, where I had been moved two years before, when the brother beloved of a life-time first opened his eyes on earth.  Often I had been lonely there, and often frightened.

So far it seemed from Father and Mother and the baby boy who slept in my place.  The Lake made a loud song at night.  Sometimes it shook the bed and called out, and I hid under the clothes, and I heard cries when great waves broke and said angry words in a language I tried to understand.  Voices that Christmas night seemed to come nearer and nearer - "Peace on Earth, Peace on Earth," softer and softer.

All suddenly I awoke from childhood's slumber and dreaming its dreams.  I started up in the darkness - "I must see what Santa Claus brought?"  No there was no Santa Claus only a cold wind blowing in my face, and around me all the mysterious darkness of midnight, its vastness, its silence, its loneliness.  I can recall only my swift action, but I can still feel the cold night air blowing on my face as I saw the white moonlight filtering over the floor.  The sound of waves breaking on snow and ice-banks called to me out of the great waste of waters.  It was my first Christmas message - "Come and see!  Come and see?"

I crept out of bed - Oh, very softly, and softly on hands and knees I crawled stealthily through the ever open door.  I have not forgotten so much as the pattern on the carpet the faint glimmer of the night lamp, but how dark looked the alcove, how long and strange the shadows, and how far to that fireplace where from the mantelpiece hung two stockings.  The low windows let in a faint glimmer, and as he eyes grew accustomed to its wavering shadow, I stood erect both hands outstretched - I must find out what was left for me.  No one woke to be aware of the little daughters search as she felt, in a tremor of delight, the larger stocking.  Yet even as she stood the chill that has no name swept over her.  A clutch at the heart - a fear that made for pause. There must have been a faint stirring, a suggestion of honour or principle that fought with curiosity and desire but could no conquer it. Once again with lingering loving touch she felt the outline of well filled stockings.  Her cold numb feet hitting something solid beneath, she dropped to the floor to feel for the first time in life the joy of handling books.  It was a gloating delight.  She lifted and hugged them.  Those small books were all hers.  All her very own.  She held them tight in her arms until the stir of the sleepers, or the icy chill, sent the little Trespasser shivering to hide under the blankets, and fall happily to sleep.

Was I the victim of an excited imagination?  My intelligence was not advanced for my years, only the power to read had come without conscious effort.  Over a year before, when I was only five, my Mother had taken me to a neighbouring Dame School, and I sat in a little Rocker she had purchased, while all the other little scholars superior in years, if not in attainment, were at desks or on benches.  They seemed many to me - and the Teacher very cross.  I trembled when she sent the noisy or naughty children to stand in corners, and sometimes even put a tall cap on them and made them sit on a high stool before everyone.  I cried sometimes, but, as the very youngest and littlest, she pointed to me often as the child who learned to read so fast and loved all stories.  Oh! that little Rocking chair, from which I saw and felt, and had those first shrinking impressions of discipline and severity!  The inexpressible dread and the vivid interest of those first school days - and the dislike of the loud voiced teacher.

But that Christmas Eve I had found what was left for me.  Yes, while Father and Mother and little Brother slept peacefully, I had found my treasures.  I had not waited - I could not wait.  The burning ardour in me to see, to discover, to enjoy without delay, had fought the icy breath of winter itself.  I have never waited willingly from that day to this,. I have seized my joys.  It was the hope and eagerness in me then, and the long years were to intervene before learning to hold them in check and to conquer impetuous action.

In the morning when I was shaken awake and heard the "Merry Christmas" calls, and saw little Horace playing with rattle and coloured worsted ball I felt no excitement.  Had I been dreaming?  No.  There before the fire hung my stocking and under the window the pile of little books.  And never, never until that moment when I held those little books in the dark night, had I known the rapture of discovery, or the enchanted silence of the night. 

Friday, September 22, 2017

THE FIRST LADY OF EVANSTON - Cornelia Gray Lunt - BOOK I, Chapter 2 - The Little Dishes

This is the next installment in the autobiography of Cornelia Gray Lunt of Evanston, Illinois: Sketches of Childhood and Girlhood, Chicago, 1847-1864.  For more about the life and times of Miss Lunt, please see the first installment:                           

Chapter Two
The Little Dishes

March 19, 1849.

THE LITTLE GIRL looked down in an ecstasy too deep for words - Then looking up at the smiling faces round the table the barriers broke - "Oh are they mine!  My little dishes!  Oh Mother they are big, not like the others for dolls and babies!  Oh Mother they have little posies and green springs, and a gold band against the green.  They are beautiful, they are beautiful!" she repeated, as she bent lower and clasped her hands in a delight even too great to touch the treasures.

Yes, it was her (6th) Birthday, but who could have thought she was to have such a surprise; All on a tray at her own plate when she came down to breakfast!  Why the plates were as big as saucers, and anyone could drink out of the lovely cups, and there would be plenty of tea for them all in that little Tea-pot with its Creamer and Sugar, almost like the old ones of Great Grand-mother Patten's that Mother loved so much.

But her awe deepened and her heart beat fast at the words she heard - "A party? A real party," and she could ask six little girls that very day for Saturday afternoon!  Addie, their neighbour's daughter three years her senior, would go with her from house to house.  Her spirits overflowed. She rushed for a paper to have her Mother write the names and just what to say; and from that moment the great event took precedence of all others in thought and speech - and the hours were long until the little coat was buttoned tight, the comforter tied about her throat, for March winds were cold and the Lake sang a sinister song - "Don't be too happy little girl!  A storm is brewing!"

What cared the proud little lady holding hands with Addie and tripping along so happily.  "Isn't it great to have a party?  Did you have one when you were six?"  "It isn't a party was the strangely scornful reply. It's just six children.  That doesn't make a party.  It takes lots more.  I had twenty-five once" - and all joy was blotted out.  A queer pain burned in her eyes, she winked away something hot and blistering, and at first Addie's words hardly penetrated to consciousness.  "You could ask them - You know lots of little girls at the school.  I know lots of little girls right round here - Come on - if you want a real party."  And the way was opened.  A sudden sense of power and confidence aroused. - No questions made her hesitate.  It was a party she wanted - and she breathed again with pride, and called at every house in the neighbourhood her companion indicated; and when she saw some children playing in groups near by to each one was repeated carefully her Mother's message, the invitation for Saturday afternoon. Strangely elate (sic), only half understanding Addie's warning, she returned to her "Little Dishes" with no disturbing fears, no terrifying questions, no punitive anticipations, no conscious asking - "Why did ye so?"  Oh no! She was afraid of nothing.  It was to be a real party, and holding that thought to her little heart she exulted and never trembled once.  She had no realization of wrong - Why should she? - Addie said that it was to be a fine party and that she needn't tell anyone.

As clear as today it now rises before me.  It stands high at the very beginning of memory - That Saturday afternoon.  The scene as I first saw it - when  my Aunt called quickly - "Oh look! what can it mean? See all those children coming," and I ran with the others to the door, to behold what to my vision was a regiment of white frocked children!  I see now those colored sashes and switching skirts, and feel the same astonished sensation - inexplicable and dreamlike for the moment, while I looked on breathlessly as they reached the house, fully forty in number when all the different companies arrived.  As I have not so much as forgotten the shining faces, or my sudden shyness as my astonished Mother and Aunts who had time for no single inquiry, made them doubtless as welcome and comfortable as conditions and circumstances permitted.   

The spirit of adventure is of great assistance to disobedience, and there was no piety within to disturb me at that moment.  "A party - a real party." - I had a real party.  And my little dishes.  It was enough - bliss could mount no higher.   What secret feeling in me ascended to its throne?  What nascent delight in hospitality had birth?  What happiness in having and giving brought colour to the cheeks, and warmed a little heart that heard a hundred jubilant notes and not one discord as the enchanting afternoon began?  It might have been imaginary music that sang within - No forebodings - No shadows crowded thickly, the disregarded Mother's directions penetrated to no secret chamber of memory.  Oh the merry hours!  the gladness of my first party, with no fears of a price to be paid or that a profoundly significant lesson must be taught.  Pride and pleasure ran a race as we shouted and played, and my kind Aunts, proficient in ways to entertain, made the hours fly.

I lived in so rich a present there was nothing to be desired, until opening a door into the dining-room, eager for my "little dishes" to be displayed, my eyes beheld a place alive with curious preparations.  Lo! the big table was spread with many dishes, the pyramidal centre-piece with apples, and I saw cakes and candies and nuts and raisins as I peered eagerly, and then rushed to the door from which steps descended to the kitchen.

There was my Mother sitting before the slanting cellar door, in her lap a flat-iron with hammer raised above the nuts to be cracked.  She looked up as I looked down, the naughty little girl standing on the top step smiling!  Mother, Mother, where are my little dishes, Can't I have my little dishes?"  and something in her stern glance turned my eyes to busy Mahaly spreading with butter and sugar the thin slices of bread. What did it all mean?  all this activity and haste so manifest.  It was odd and menacing.  I had never before seen excitement apparent , and I stared and repeated eagerly - You said I could have my little dishes." One sudden look - and fright stirred and hurt.  "You are a naughty girl, you will not have your little dishes for a long time.  You have been disobedient - You will be punished when the little girls have gone."  As if I had known punishment instead of indulgence all my six years I shivered - terror for a second shadowed and enveloped me as I backed swiftly out of sight and returned to the merry throng.  The terror was unreal, the party was real, and the feast that followed reassuring.  But as dusk descended the ghost of fear spoke insistently - Don't go yet, please; don't go, please don't - as they trooped away in smiling groups, well filled and well pleased and with no penalties or explanations to meet or make.

As the last one was departing, one little stranger, the guest of a friend who brought her, thanked me prettily for being allowed to come, and gave me a sense of surprised gratification and new importance.  At that moment the intervening door opened and I heard the ominous call repeated, as I hung defiantly back, until without one further word my hand was grasped and dragging feet could no longer help me.  Into the adjacent bed-room we passed, and I remember even a curious creaking of the hinges as the door closed.  I remember how the carved Bureau mirror reflected my Mother's face as in a fog - And how I screamed and screamed.  It was the first hurt of my little life, my first punishment.  With a firm hand castigation of a primitive sort was being administered.  The spanking was not severe in fact but terrible in fancy, and as I felt each deliberate stroke I writhed in futile rebellion and a sense of injury.  I had not realized my offence - its weight or measure could not appeal without adequate explanation.  I shrieked again and again thinking to lessen deserved pain - My Mother's gentle hand had become a sledge-hammer to me.

That same little uninvited visitor who came with her cousin rose like salvation to save me! - Oh Mother, I didn't invite Teresa Foot, I didn't invite Teresa Foot, I didn't, I didn't" over and over as each fresh stroke fell.

Ah' that deep intuitive feeling that excuses and palliates and believes that the climax of full criminality not having been reached, Justice should be stayed.  But I sought redress in vain, and I realize again that stubborn resistance of spirit, of outraged pride.  I was not toned to repentance or to any clear understanding of the nature of my disobedience, - Why! I had not invited Teresa Foot, whose name I will remember as I do my own, and as long - and I had not had my little dishes."

My face was wet with tears under its heavy curls was lifted at last.  Never mind little girl, it is all over.

The storm the Lake threatened had burst and passed.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

THE FIRST LADY OF EVANSTON - Cornelia Gray Lunt - BOOK I, Chapter 4 - The Fate of Liars

This is the next installment in the autobiography of Cornelia Gray Lunt of Evanston, Illinois: Sketches of Childhood and Girlhood, Chicago, 1847-1864.  For more about the life and times of Miss Lunt, please see the first installment:                           

Chapter Four
The Fate of Liars

June, 1850.

THE LITTLE GIRL sat under the Lilac bushes that clustered together to form the hedge shutting the street from view.  Above her head green leaves shook gently, and the great purple blossoms seemed to rise and fall and breathe out sweetness.  The glad voice of her little brother joined in joyous chorus with bright soft wings and sweet scents everywhere, and a quiver of light that sang  with the birds.  That miraculous day, all flowery and intoxicating like childhood's happiness!  And the air was so heavy with the breath of lilacs, a peculiar tenacious sweetness, which only later years could teach her was the very essence of Spring.  

The little brother on the grass among his toys seemed also aware of blossoms and perfume and shouted in the soft summer air until sister gave him a big spray to play with.  The book in her lap had fallen face downward on the carpet of green that stretched from door to gate and all about the yard.  The sky of flowery blue bent lovingly above them, for theirs was a blessed heritage, and the two children were being raised with that gentleness of love prophetic of peace and power to serve.  It was the little one who cried - "See Mother" as she came smiling towards them so slim and tall.  Why did my Mother look always different from other Mothers? - Her hair so curly soft, her face so fair, her gowns so pretty, and now she had on the hat with blue feathers that danced in the circle of sunlight and shadow, and seemed alive as she stopped before us.  She wore her fine lace mantilla too, and had a parasol, and now she was going to make visits, and see the Mother of the little girls who lived in the new brick house, and ask them to come and see me.  "Take good care of your little brother while I am away. he's only three you know and all the little son I have.  And don't go near that gate, or open it.  It is a dirty place and the ugly cow lives there" - pointing to the back yard cut off by a high fence.  "No Mother," was my swift response, and "No Mother" repeated the three year old charge sitting beside me.  His little face looked up at her from under the mass of gold-brown curls.  He was a delicate child; but there was no shyness in his manner, and everyone felt the charm of his beauty.  "Mother's beautiful boy, Mother's own boy" she said, stooping to kiss him, endearments I had heard so often, for his rare loveliness was the pride of all, and I had heard repeatedly how people stopped Mahaly in the street to ask whose child it was? and she always chuckled when she repeated those praises.  "Remember now to be very good and Mother will not be long away, and looking back again, "Remember all I have told you!"  And, "Yes Mother" I said, and "Yes Mother" echoed the baby boy, and played on happily in that June sunshine, while the sister's book remained unopened.

Fragrance floated all around to enwrap us in its magic; but strangely I grew restless and curious, those emphatic orders strangely disquieted me.  Why couldn't I see just through the gate if the cow had come home?  It was a nice back yard with a big tree in it, and the branches came down low.  I walked very slowly to the gate, and childish imagination made a fascinating picture that lured me to push it open - just a little bit!  Something called loudly as fancy picked out wonderful spots in that forbidden cow-yard.  Like other dreamers, something within conspired to make her forget orders, to push the gate wide, to peer in every corner and between slats on one side, as she stepped within, she saw the pretty next door garden where Lily Scammon was playing.

The sun was no more joyous than she as she set her little feet upon the lowest branch of the old, gnarled oak.  The tree cast slanting shadows;  She was not afraid - she was exultant and there were no foes within or without to terrify her.  She had visions to conjure with, as forgetting all troubles she began to climb up higher when a little voice called gleefully - "Take me up, Take me up too."  The shock brought the disobedient sister to earth to see little Horace standing in the filth of the place, proud and smiling, both little hands stretched high.

As smoke rises to reach the sky and falls, so she fell to learn of trouble untasted before!  She was not repentant, she listened to no voice of conscience or duty, but she was miserable; and hurried back only in time to hear the carriage stop.  And the Mother came out suddenly like a gigantic shape.  Without one word she pointed to our shoes.  That look again, that strange look that greatly hurt that she had seen before in her Mother's eyes when she had asked for her "Little Dishes."  It was sharp and piercing now and at the steady gaze she paled in fright.  "You have disobeyed Mother.  You took little Horace into that yard" - All softness and tenderness gone from her look or voice.  

The tide of feeling rising high threatened to submerge me, and I was suddenly hurled into a mad whirl of fear.  "No-No-No - I cried, Mother I did not."  I was rudely taught by something within to  adjust myself to harsh contrasts of life, to the dark side of deceit and disobedience.  The ease of falsehood, first showing itself as means of escape to a child who had before only known love and truth.  "You have told Mother a lie," and eyes were fixed on me from which all softness had fled.  My Mother was suddenly a mystery. - Her voice too was different - Go to your Father's room - shut the door and stay until he comes.  Go at once." 

There was a damp chill in the room that I do not forget, or that as the hours passed the rain began to drum on the roof and splash upon the windows.  The Lake became significant in its noise and nearness; the wind began blowing a gale; low lying mists were travelling quickly as the light faded from the sky.  The sound of the  Lake like the wild whir of leaves had strange threats.  It was a dim night and the twilight very long.  I had thought nothing out, I only waited.  I had acted on deep seated impulse and many experiences come back to me. thrust me back into the agonizing emotions of childhood and frustrated desires, into dreams - dreams - and waking ones indivisible as daily like.  Images come back to me and events  shake me even now, for mine is a heart that cherishes memory.

Presently I heard the step upon the stairs, ascending, drawing near, heavily it sounded.  Never shall I forget that first startled impression.  How large and strange and grave and terrifying!  He had in hand a book and a long switch.  Did it come from the biggest  Lilac bush that had great roots and strong branches?  He laid it down on the table near.  My heart beat very fast at my Father's look.  There was oppression in the air and a threat that stirred to fright.  Suddenly he opened his arms and the sorrow and tenderness in his face I can see again and again as he lifted me close, and I burst into a passion of crying. 

He waited patiently until the tempest of tears should pass, and the tearing sobs that shook the little body cease, and then opening the Bible read the verses - "He that overcometh shall inherit all things. I shall be his God and he shall be my son; - but the unbelieving and idolaters and all liars shall have their part in the Lake which burneth with fire and brimstone, which is the second death."  My little girl did not know how terrible it was to lie?  God is our Father - He hates a lie.  It would break Mother's heart to have her little girl a liar - Liars' - why listen to the Fate of Liars.  "All liars shall have their part in the Lake which burneth with fire and brimstone which is the second death."  I was curiously fascinated by the picture of a burning fiery Lake.  My nascent dramatic sense immediately painted it, and I kept whispering to myself "The Fate of Liars - The Fate of Liars," while my Father prayed his lovely prayer to his God of Love to forgive his child who would try to never lie again.  And forgiveness blesses me now as if I had gone to Heaven which I felt was all about me as he prayed.

I clung happily as we passed from the room, restored and comforted by that Child of the Most High - My Father - who was teaching me that humiliation and shame attached to falsehood.  The crime of telling a lie had been impressed upon a mind that worked quickly.  I began to understand how it chokes and destroys.  A vivid lesson in the idea, so dim at first, of loyalty, of the dividing line between truth and falsehood, honour and dishonour, which he illustrated in my case.  My Father was a source of joy forever after, - A refuge - A belief.  Something unfelt, unknown yet intimate and close stirred warmly and merged again into the right merry humour that for hours had forgotten to smile.  Was it the sight of that unused switch, and the droll imitation of the drama that had made him cut and bring it before me, which added to the joy of escape?  Had he merely felt the desire to impress me by a suggested punishment that he never could have administered? 

My Puritan ancestors some way left out the stuff that makes either  martyrs or saints.  There was in me no genius for suffering, to prolong trouble was unnatural.  I was soon above its remembrance even; my liking was for laughter and frolic and I never knew then or since whether it was flesh or devil, or what notion or impetuosity of impulse unchecked might lie in wait to destroy the soul I had not understood I possessed.  Joy and gaiety the native quality quickly expressed itself as, afraid no longer that memorable night, gladness and cheer returning, father and child descended the stairs together.

"I like to be lively, Father.  You know I like to be lively," I said simply clinging to his hand, tears wet on my lashes; but joy in my heart.  

The years go by and explain many vital facts patiently, and I was slowly succumbing without knowledge or clear recognition to the magic of beauty and the love of truth.  

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

THE FIRST LADY OF EVANSTON - Cornelia Gray Lunt - BOOK I, Chapter 1 - The Little Brother

Most people would agree that Orson Welles was one of the giants of American theatre and film.  In his later years he was a frequent guest on TV talk shows where he would regale the host and audience with stories about the places he had been and the people he had known - and he knew them all from the famous to the infamous.  On July 27, 1970 Welles was a guest on Dick Cavett's talk show.  He talked about everyone from Rita Hayworth to Adolph Hitler.  At one point in the interview Cavett asked Welles to speak about the famous people he had known and Welles' reply shocked everyone.  He said " of the most remarkable people I ever knew was somebody called Cornelia Lunt."  Cornelia Lunt?  Who was Cornelia Lunt and why would Welles find her so fascinating? 

Here's the rest of what Welles had to say about Cornelia Lunt: "...and Alfred Lunt used to pretend to be her cousin - they weren't related at all - they loved each other - and she was, when I knew her in her middle 90s and had been a hostess of great importance although very young in the Civil War in America and knew intimately all the great names of the civil (war) and she could tell you what Lincoln said and what my great-grandfather Gideon Welles said to his secretary maybe in the cabinet - a great kind of raconteur on the Civil War...she went over to London or she was at the American Embassy and where she knew everybody in England; all those fabulous people that seemed to have been dead for 200 years you know in the Victorian Age and it was... You could only get her to tell you about these things with great difficulty. She didn't go on and on like I do, you had to drag it out of her and she was delicious.  She was an old lady when she gave a big party...sat on a little stool and she gave you a big chair - if you can imagine an old lady like that - she was very beautiful.  She must have been not very beautiful when she was young but one of those people that old age glorifies.  And she had a little bell and when she wanted everyone to be quiet so she could say something she'd ring her bell and then we'd all be quiet and then she'd make her little statement and then she'd ring it again and everybody could talk.  And she's one of the great people I've known - you know as great certainly as Churchill or Roosevelt or George Marshall and I suppose Marshall is the greatest man I ever met..."   

Wow!  That is quite a testimonial from as great a "raconteur" as Welles himself.  Let's look at what the Chicago Tribune had to say about Cornelia Lunt when she died on December 26. 1934:


Miss Cornelia Gray Lunt, long known as the "first lady" of Evanston, which her father, the late Orrington Lunt helped to found, died in her home at 10:30 o'clock last evening after a brief illness from a heart attack.  Miss Lunt was 91 years old.  She was stricken early last Monday morning, after spending Sunday preparing Christmas presents.  

Present at Miss Lunt's bedside last night were Mrs. Margaret Lunt Gardner, a niece; Miss Rachel McFerran, Miss Lunt's companion and secretary, both of whom lived with her; Horace F. Lunt of Denver, Colo., a nephew, and Mrs. Merrit Morehouse of Mansfield, Ga., a niece.

Miss Lunt was regarded as a leading exponent of Evanston's cultural and community spirit.  She had lived most of her life in Anchorfast, the spacious Lunt homestead at 1742 Judson avenue, built by her father in 1872 after the Chicago Fire had destroyed their former home on the spot where the Auditorium hotel now stands, at 430 South Michigan avenue.  

Interested in Young People.

In Anchorfast Miss Lunt held constant open house for the great and the obscure.  To friends she declared, "I want the river of life always to run through my house, not around it."

Her interest in and deep sympathy for youth distinguished her more and more as she approached the sunset of her years.  She declared that her association with young people prolonged her life.  She did not hold with those who feared for the future of modern youth.

"Young people," she said recently, "are sophisticated now and have more knowledge.  They begin earlier to understand life."  Of her own youthful outlet she said, "Life is a falling down and getting up again, both spiritually and physically.  If I can't run, I'll walk.  Age can be full of vividness and interest."

Campus Chosen by Father.

Miss Lunt was born March 19, 1843, in a home on Michigan avenue between Lake and Randolph streets.  As a girl, she moved with her family "out to the country," to the home that was later swept away in the big fire.  She was one of four children, three brothers having died.  

She recalled her father's excursions more than eighty years ago to what is now Evanston, in search of a site for a university.  Mr. Lunt selected 379 acres of marshy land north of Chicago, paid $25,000 for it, and gave it to Northwestern university and Garrett Biblical Institute. He refused to allow his associates to name the town Orrington.  It was named Evanston after Dr. John Evans, another earl;y settler and one of Northwestern's founders, who later moved west and became one of the early governors of Colorado.

Guest of President Lincoln.

With her father Miss Lunt visited the White House on several occasions as a guest of President Lincoln, a warm friend of Mr. Lunt and Dr. Evans.  In 1864 she was escorted through the came of the Army of the Potomac.

Most of Miss Lunt's life was devoted to leadership in social, intellectual and artistic activities.  Of recent years she made a journey to Europe each summer.  She was said to be the last surviving charter member of the Fortnightly, the oldest woman's club in Chicago.  She was the first president of the Fort Dearborn chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution and was a member of the Chicago branch of the Colonial Dames of America.  She also belonged to the University Guild of Northwestern.  She served for many years as a trustee of Northwestern university, retiring from that post several years ago.

Funeral services will be held from the residence at 2 o'clock Saturday afternoon.  Interment in Rosehill cemetery.

Quite an interesting person, to say the least.  I wish Orson Welles had told us more about those parties he attended at "Anchorfast."  

In June of 1925, Cornelia Lunt privately published what was billed as the first (but turned out to be the only) volume of her autobiography. She called it Sketches of Childhood and Girlhood, Chicago, 1847-1864. Since Miss Lunt was kind enough to leave us her own words, I have decided to let her tell her own story.  Over the next weeks I will share chapters of "Sketches" with you.

Here is a scan of the front cover - she had each volume bound in gold-tooled brown leather:

Here is the inscription page (in fountain pen, of course) from my volume:

It says:

To The Cousin, dearer and dearer as years go by - their shared experiences uniting us with memories that cannot fade.

To Susan A. Lunt.
One of the "Little Lunts" that has fulfilled the promise of early days in spiritual growth; giving unstintedly service of immeasurable value to those she loved that now crown her beautiful age with true devotion and an ever-growing appreciation.

With the affectionate greeting and assurance of unfailing remembrance-

of her "Cousin Nina"

Cornelia Gray Lunt


Evanston, Illinois "Xmas" of 1925 


Chicago, 1847-1864

To My Dear Nieces,
My Grandnieces
My Cousins, 

In Memory of the Loved Ones Who Have Gone Before
and the Young and Untried Who Come After.

"He Most Lives
Who Most Enjoys
Most Loves
and Most Forgives."


Dearest Aunt:

Many, many a time I entertain myself by recounting the tales you have told from the innumerable experiences of your life. Sometimes the story will come to me in its vivid entirety, but alas - often it is elusive and only the fragrance or color of it remains. These memories of your yesterdays seem to me like myriad colored leaves, caught up and whirled against the Heavens by the winds of Autumn.  The tender green experiences of childhood - the roseate ones of middle life - and the golden happenings of later years!  Will you not immortalize them in this little book?

By writing these "Leaves of Memory" you have it in your power to put at interest whatever this gift may bring you.  Thus all who love you may benefit.  In giving us a record of your memories we shall, as the case may be - enjoy delight - be inspired to noble deeds - or perhaps, reach for the Stars!

Lovingly and Longingly
Regina Lunt Dodge.
Colorado Springs.
January, 1923

"Anchorfast"                                          Evanston, February 4, 1923

Beloved Niece Regina:

When last Christmas brought that attractive Blank Book, blue covered and gold lettered, I smiled at the idea of filling it as your tender words suggested.  I thought of the genuine disabilities of age that are apt to affect our entire conception of the value of various incidents; and of the danger of always an excessive sympathy with oneself which fails to bring out errors or admit deficiencies.  But your letter has moved me by its affectionate claim for the young of our family - and that I may not be wholly forgotten, and at your asking, the tide of existence drifts backwards the films of memory unroll and I recall how unknown to me many small and indifferent currents altered unexpectedly the whole course of life.  There are no little things, all are vital forces which for me could be neither measured nor altered.  The simplest incidents develop in such widely different directions, and make a mark there is no obliterating.   

Most of us in the few years of a very ordinary existence have witnessed many strange things, have stumbled across fundamentally curious ones, and after all have often found ourselves sitting on the wrong side of the fence!  There is nothing in my life remarkable, or worthy of any record as I see it now.  I mean it is distinctly on the average plane, except for the act of enjoyment, and the surroundings of comfort and indulgence, which made for buoyancy and developed ease and freedom.  But if you think that your children will find value, or feel interest in scenes or sketches of their Grand-Aunt's youth, as events are still familiar to a living memory, I will try to tell them what moved me most or delighted me most in those earliest years.  They will be merely pictures of my childhood and young girlhood in descriptions or in episodes as the occur to me, adopting no strict method in the recounting, nor shall I make essential distinctions in following chronologically the time and place.

After over three quarters of a century with the Gulf forever widening, vision to me is not remote only the points of view are changed.  The interest is as poignant today as in those far off yesterdays, and this I can promise you - a truthful summary in accurate detail of those first experiences and lessons - which will show simply the inevitable expression of inborn qualities and tastes - the result of heritage and the product of environment, and of that age.  It is curious to observe under what impulses youth or middle age or old age expresses itself, and I do not wish in what follows to write under impulses any more than I wish to be judged by errors in dates or by seeming contradictions.  One is too apt to offer paradoxes because sophisticated; but if enthusiasm undertakes to grapple with the simple events of a simple life enthusiasm will be rewarded.  It is a pity to travel the path of life without that companion to light up so many intangible and irremediable obscurities; to create a beautiful atmosphere and enshrine harmoniously the commonest associations of common every-day life.  Someone has said that the Unknown is a nut to crack, for in it may lie the secret of the Universe!

Sometimes pleasantly hypnotized, softened by the glare of these late afternoons, watching the changing specks of gold on my Lake; drifting-drifting-drifting out to sea - waiting - no longer speculating on what is to come.  Silence, and a blessed calm, that makes security better than jubilance; here in my lovely back-water cove, my Anchorfast, you ask that I should reinstate myself in the World of activities and excitements, which can so easily again envelop and transfigure as one writes?     

I look out now as I did in babyhood across blue waters under blue skies to the far horizon, and think what a wonderful world it is and that I couldn't have lived but for its beauty.  One has to have fellowship with the trees that give shelter and the flowers that scent the air, and all living things that are a part of our world - and of all living things beings are the strongest and the most interesting for with them lies responsibility.

Oh it has been good to live - I love it.  And very early certain longings beset me not to be merely a passenger but one of the Crew of the Great Ship we call the World.  It was not for me to rule or reign or serve mightily.  I was never in the van of the battle as conqueror or leader.  I was no climber of mountains.  Mine were not gifts that were made for struggle and sacrificial labours or royal victories.  Life never became spectacular or severe but sheltered, joyous, confident with a message of love I wish I could pass on. The lessons I have learned are comforting; that the trees, the flowers, the hills, the forests, the mountains and the oceans are gifts of Heaven in sight; and above all the rich gifts of loving words are Heaven's own Birthday gifts to the world as we speak them - and it is for us to make every day a Birthday of delight or a Christmas of joy.

Walter Pater speaking of the Eternal glamours of childhood says our susceptibilities, the discovery of our powers, our manifold experiences belong to this or the other well-remembered habitation! And so it is that instinctive longings come to us to renew our childhood - "Even in the Shadows where we shall find the ones we have played with and have lost."

And so I greet you Children dear, in the gathering darkness with its sacred message to light the lamp of patience and press on.  You, too, will hear "the still small voice" that says we must all wait in patience, in the beginning as at the end - and strive for life - 

"Life that dares send
A challenge to its end;
And when it comes say
Welcome Friend."

And here are the Reminiscences, Regina, with the tender assurance and devotion of -

Your Aunt
Cornelia Gray Lunt.

Cornelia Lunt at Anchorfast beneath a bust of her father Orrington Lunt

Chapter One
The Little Brother

August 13, 1847.

THE LITTLE GIRL was very patient.  She had made no outcry when awkward fingers pulled hard in making the many curls - "Pretty curls" she had always heard people say when they smiled on her.  And she turned to have the little white frock fastened without protest or enquiry.  Her first adventure, her first going forth from the home nest!  She had been so joyous when her young Aunt told her she was to make a visit at the kind neighbour's - "All day long, and you will see things and have such a fine time" - and so, happy filled was her little heart with a fine sense of expectancy.  But strangely now a little bewilderment shadowed and drove away pleasure.  She suddenly remembered how her Father had lifted her from the little Trundle-bed in the dark of dawn - how he had carried his sleepy burden to her Aunt's side,and how she had clung to his neck as he laid her down.  But soon the blessed slumber of childhood had dimmed its recollection.  Now she wondered, and swiftly fear entered the little heart.  Where was her Mother? - Why did she not dress her and tie with gentle fingers the bright ribbon sash and the little white sunbonnet?  She swallowed hard - and it burst into words, the new ache that frightened her - "I want Mother - Is Mother sick?"  "Oh, no, she is tired now - she will see you when you come back, and hear all about it; and if you have been a very good little girl perhaps Mother will show you something beautiful."

I remember as yesterday the green and gold of that Summer morning, the sky of flowery blue, and always the sound of the Lake that broke in flashing splendor on the piles that made the breakwater opposite.  That music I heard night and day - and this day of days it made its promise.

They showed me many pretty things and spoke kind words, but the hours were long and before the light of the afternoon had begun to fade there crept upon me the feeling of restlessness, of wistful and finally definable desire which yet is the very essence of pain - great tears rolled down as the words formed themselves, tightening the heart, choking in the throat - "I want to go home, I want Mother - I want Mother" - "Don't cry," said the kind daughter of the house wiping away the tears that overflowed - "I'll make you a great big doll like a real baby - See now," and curiosity and kindling interest dried her eyes as she watched the deft fingers that took the pillow from the bed, and tied a long skirt around the middle, another higher up to make the neck, pinned back the corners for a round face, and with a piece of charcoal transformed by rapid strokes that gave hair and eyes and nose and mouth, and fastening a cap that rounded the face she wrapped it in a blanket, and placed it in the eagerly extended arms almost as large as the four year old that held it.  "Oh, can I have it, can I take it home?" she cried in ecstasy, "Why I think there is a little Baby at your house, I thought I saw the Doctor leave one there, - Let's go and see" was the surprising answer that set my little feet flying.

It is seventy-five years ago, but I can still see the street that stretched beside the lake as we passed out after so many hours of that unforgettable day - And Lo! when breathless I found myself safe at home, I was taken into the darkened chamber!  They lifted me up to see the pale Mother who smiled up at is from her pillow.  And for the first time I saw love made manifest.

Then she looked down upon the little bundle of flannel in her arms, her features irradiated by a passion of tenderness - 

"See, she said - it is your little brother and his name is Horace." 

(NOTE:  Judge Horace Gray Lunt.  Born 13 August 1847, Chicago, Illinois; Died 23 February 1923, Colorado Springs, Colorado.)    

Friday, December 30, 2016


Everyone over a certain age has undoubtedly seen at least one Curt Teich postcard in their lives - and probably many more than one.  If you are researching historical cities, states, hotels, etc. sooner or later you will come upon a Curt Teich postcard.  They were beautiful renditions - often making a site look better than it looked in person. Here are a few examples:

So let's see what we can "dig up" about the man who singlehandedly revolutionized the postcard industry.

Curt Otto Teich was born March 23, 1877 in Greiz, Germany to Christian Teich (1843-1920) and Elise, nee Tamm (1848-1918). Curt was one of seven children born to Christian and Elise Teich. They are:

Rosa  (1871-1940)
Max Louis  (1873-1964)
Frederick Julius  (1874-1946)
Clara  (1875-1945)
Curt  (1877-1974)
Alfred H.  (1880-1931)
Ernest A.  (1882-1962)

Greiz is a village located in the state of Thuringia in east-central Germany.  When Curt was just a boy, the Teich family moved to Lobenstein, a town seventy kilometers southwest of Greiz.  Decades prior, Curt’s great-grandfather, Johann Karl Teich (1760–1845), had been granted a family seat in Lobenstein by his close friend, the Prince of Reuss.  

The Teichs boasted a long line of printers, and a family coat of arms from 1725 illustrates this trade heritage with a display of early printing tools:

Curt's father Christian was a printer, newspaper publisher, and book salesman, and his grandfather, Friederich Karl Wilhelm Teich (1819–1890), published a book of poetry and wrote articles for various periodicals. The printed word was a Teich specialty, and Curt followed in his family’s footsteps with great enthusiasm. After attending high school in Dresden until the age of fifteen, he returned to Lobenstein to work as a printer’s apprentice.

While Curt learned the ropes of the trade in Germany, his father and eldest brother Max traveled to Chicago to visit the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition.  After the fair, Max stayed in Chicago and entered the hotel business.  Some sources say that because of the opportunities he saw available in the United States, Christian encouraged his son Curt to join his brother in the US. Other sources say however, that it was after a disagreement with his father that Teich bought himself a one-way steerage ticket aboard a steamship bound to the United States, arriving in New York on April 5, 1895 without so much as a suitcase under his arm.  Here's a photo of young Curt on his way to America:

Within a few days of docking in New York, he made a humble start in business as a printer’s devil, (a multi-tasking apprentice). Although he was overqualified for the position, he readily accepted it as he needed to earn a living.

After working for a time in New York,  Curt moved to Chicago and opened his own printing firm on January 4, 1898 on 59-61 (now 1258 N.) Clybourn Avenue in the Lincoln Park neighborhood. (A retail with apartment building occupies that spot today.)   His brother Max Teich, who had by this time purchased the Wyoming Hotel and re-branded it as the Kaiserhof Hotel, was his silent business partner and provided the necessary funds for start-up costs.  Within a few years the company was incorporated.  Max owned 130 shares; Curt owned 80 shares; and their younger brother Alfred who had recently immigrated to the United States, owned 40 shares.  As the corporation paperwork reveals, the aims of Teich’s corporation were broad: “printing and lithographing, publishing, importing of art printing, manufacturing and importing of souvenir articles.”

Before he identified his niche in postcard printing, those first years were challenging. Teich describes his experience at the turn of the century: “Business conditions were poor at the time, many visitors to the Chicago World’s Fair had remained, and every profession and trade was over-crowded. [We] specialized in job, newspaper and magazine printing, competition was fierce and price cutting prevalent.  A fair living, that’s all, was the result.” Teich, however, wanted more than earning merely “a fair living.” He wanted his company to be better than the status quo and also hoped to turn a profit.

As was the case with most immigrants of that era, Curt Teich became a naturalized citizen as soon as possible, being granted his US citizenship in Chicago on November 24, 1899.  At that time he was living at 124 (now 117) W. Goethe Street.  A modern townhouse sits on that site today.

Here's a photo of Curt about the time he became an American citizen:  

The first time Curt Teich could participate in the census as a US Citizen was the census of 1900.  Teich reported that he was a "Lodger" at 124 W. Goethe Street.  He was 27 years-old and was a "Printer" by trade.

Here is Curt Teich with his extended family, about 1900:

Left to right: Back row - Ernest Teich, Curt Teich, Rosa Teich, Alfred Teich, Clara Teich, Frederick Teich, Max. L. Teich, Front row - unknown boy, Fritz Teich (Max's son), Christian Teich, Elizabeth Teich (Max's daughter), Elise Tamm Teich

In 1905, a postcard craze took hold of the nation. That same year, Curt Teich boarded a train from Chicago to St. Petersburg, Florida and then, from there, traveled another 2,500 miles by rail to the West Coast.  At each stop along the way, he disembarked, camera in hand, and photographed the businesses populating numerous small towns’ Main Streets.  These images would serve as the basis for his first large print run of illustrated postcards.  At the low price of one dollar per one thousand cards, Teich solicited an astounding $30,000 ($770,000 in today's dollars) worth of orders during this cross-country journey. Needless to say, he returned to Chicago a successful businessman with a plan: to concentrate his efforts in the postcard printing industry. Most American postcard companies of that era printed their materials abroad, but Curt Teich’s ambitions were of a different order: he wanted to print his own postcards. 

By 1907 business was so good that Teich outgrew his Clybourn building, and moved his factory to LaSalle and Ohio Streets. 

But it wasn't all work for Curt Teich.  On July 15, 1909, Curt Teich married Anna Louise, nee Niether (1889-1959).  She was the daughter of Friederich Hermann Niether and Louise Elizabeth, nee Kuhnen (1857-19047).  Friedrich Niether was a bookkeeper by trade.

Here is a photo taken on their wedding day:

1910 was a significant year for the Teich family.  Their first child, Curt Teich, Jr. was April 23, 1910, and the firm installed their first offset printing press.  Here's a photo of the proud parents with Curt Teich, Jr.:

and here's a photo of their offset printing press:

The 1910 US Census finds the Teich family living at 1834 N. Hammond (now Orleans) Street in Chicago:

1834 N. Orleans Street, Chicago

Curt and Anna said they had one child who was alive in 1910, but did not list that child on the census.  Living with them was also a servant, twenty six year-old Catherine Schmidt.

By 1910 Teich realized that he would have to move his factory again.  He moved back north, and purchased a building and adjacent vacant lot at 1733-55 W. Irving Park Road. After renovating the building, commissioning the offset press for printing postcards, and purchasing new equipment, the company moved to the new address in 1911.

Under Curt Teich's leadership, his postcard company continued to grow.  Teich is best known for its "Greetings From" postcards with their big letters, vivid colors, and bold style.  "Greetings From" postcards had originated in Germany in the 1890s, and Teich successfully imported the style to the American market after a visit in 1904.  Teich employed hundreds of traveling salesmen, who sold picture postcards to domestic residences, and encouraged business to create advertising postcards; these salesmen also photographed the businesses and worked with the owners to create an idealized image.  Here are some examples:

Curt and Anna Teich were blessed with five children all together. They are:

Curt Teich, Jr.  (1910-1980)
Walter Ernst Teich  (1912-1972)
Louise Teich Chmelik  (1913-2005)
Lawrence Edward Teich  (1918-1942)
Ralph Donald Teich  (1925-2000)

The 1920 US Census finds the Teich family living at 4712 N. Malden Street in Chicago:

4712 N. Malden Street, Chicago
The family consisted of 50 year-old Curt, 40 year-old Anna, 9 year-old Curt, Jr., 7 year-old Walter, 6 year-old Louise, and 15 month-old Lawrence.  In addition, they had two live-in maids, 24 year-old Marie Linner from W├╝rttemberg, Germany (where the Teich family had lived), and 24 year-old Amelia Koelher.  Curt reported that they owned the house free and clear, and reported his occupation as "Manufacturer of Postcards." 

In 1922, a five-story East Building was erected on the empty lot, designed by Teich's brother Frederick, an architect in Chicago.  The floors in the new building were designed to hold heavier loads than those in the existing building.  Here's a postcard of the factory with the new addition:

In 1925 the Teich family moved to the suburbs - to 535 Longwood Avenue in Glencoe, an upscale suburb of Chicago.  The house has 6 bedrooms and 7 bathrooms.  Curt Teich reported its value in 1930 at $100,000.00; in 2015 it sold for $2,400,000.00. 

535 Longwood Avenue, Glencoe, Illinois
By the time he purchased the Glencoe mansion, Curt Teich was a wealthy man - but that did not change is innate German frugality. One maid reported that  “He would occasionally do ‘spot checks’ of the kitchen vegetable peelings to make sure that they were thin, with minimal loss of the ‘good’ part of the vegetable. If the peelings were too thick, Teich would strongly reprimand the kitchen help.”

Curt Teich in the 1920s

The 1930 US Census finds the Teich family in their Glencoe home. The family consisted of 52 year-old Curt, 40 year-old Anna, and the children:  Curt Jr (19), Walter (17), Louise (16), Lawrence (11) and Ralph (4).  In addition, they had an extensive household staff: chambermaid Lavinia Roma, cook Alice Johnson, "waitress" Gertrude Leisner,  and nurse Ella Hansen.  In their coach-house at the rear of the property lived gardener Joseph Pfetzer with his family, and gardener Henry Lohman.  They told the census taker that they did have a radio, and all of them could read and write except for 4 year-old Ralph.  The Teich family had certainly come up in the world.  In 1930 only Curt Jr. worked for the family firm - as a "superintendent of lithography."

In 1938, Curt Teich declared that his #1 selling postcard was of the White House in Washington.  In second place was his postcard of Niagara Falls, and #3 was Yellowstone's Old Faithful geyser.

Curt Teich suffered two heart attacks in 1939 so he decided to turn over day to day operations to his son Curt Teich, Jr., nicknamed by brother Ralph Teich as "Little Napoleon."       

The 1940 US Census finds the Teich family still living at 535 Longwood Avenue in Glencoe.  The family now consisted of Curt Sr. (63), Anna (50), Walter (28), Lawrence (21), and Ralph (14). The number of live-in servants has been reduced to two: house maid Lidia Huber and cook Mary Schreiber.  Gardener Joseph Pfetzer and his family were still living in the coach-house.  Curt Sr. listed his occupation as "Executive - Lithography," and Walter listed his occupation as "Salesman-Lithography."  

Business was booming at the Teich Company as World War II began and overall World War II was very profitable for the company as millions of people sent and received postcards.  In 1944 Curt Teich, Jr. declared their previous year's sales "almost unbelievable," even though their production of new cards slowed to a crawl.  During the war the Teich plant in Chicago was retooled for defense work, printing over three million maps for the invasions of Europe and Japan as the Teich family joined the ranks of other "Gold-Star" families who lost one of their family members in the war.  

The tragic news came to the family after the fall of Corregidor in 1942. The War Department told the family that Lt. Lawrence E. Teich was missing in action and presumed dead.  The final confirmation of this did not come until 1946, after the war was over.  Here is the notice from the Chicago Daily Tribune on March 31, 1946:


Lt. Lawrence E. Teich, an aviation ordnance officer listed as missing since the fall of Corregidor, has been officially declared dead by the war department.  His parents, Mr. and Mrs. Curt Teich Sr., of 535 Longwood dr., Glencoe, have been notified.  Lt. Teich was graduated from the Northwestern Military academy and from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  He subsequently was attached to his father's firm, a postcard manufacturing company at 1733 Irving Park rd., until he was called from reserve status to active duty in March, 1941.  He was a member of the 692d Ordnance division, 10th pursuit wing, in the Philippines.

Teich's body was never found so he does not have a grave, but his name is listed on the Tablet of the Missing at the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial in the Philippines.  

Curt Teich did many different things to keep busy in his retirement, although filling out questionnaires for Who's Who was not one of them. Curt Teich was listed in Who's Who in Chicago from 1936 on, but his listing consisted of only his name, job title and home and work addresses, unlike that of his brother Max who happily provided all the information requested for his listing in Who's Who.

Curt Teich was interested in preserving the past.  Through the years he had promised the family that he would write a family history, and in 1958 when he was 80 years old he penned the "Teich Family Tree." 
Curt and Anna Teich decided in the mid-1950s that they had had enough of Chicago winters and moved to Florida, eventually buying an ocean-front home at 1000 N. Gulf Blvd., Belleair Shore, Florida.

The Chicago Daily Tribune from January 30, 1959 reported the death of Anna Teich:

Mrs. Curt Teich Sr. 

Services for Mrs. Anna L. Teich, 69, of Antioch, Lake county, and Belleair Shore, Fla., who died in her Antioch home Wednesday, will be held at 1 p.m. Saturday in the chapel at 5303 N. Western av. She was the wife of Curt Teich Sr., owner of Curt Teich Lithographers, 1733 Irving Park rd.  She was president of the North Shore auxiliary of the Addison Kinderheim home, Addison, Du Page county.  She also leaves three sons, Curt Jr., Walter, and Ralph Teich; a daughter, Mrs. Louise Chmelik; and a brother.

Anna Teich is interred in the mausoleum of Memorial Park Cemetery in Skokie, Illinois:

The Teich family finally sold the company in 1974, and the company’s name was officially changed to Curt Teich Industries. Two years later, a Chicago-based printing firm by the name of Regensteiner Publishing Enterprises bought the company. Interestingly, this firm was also started by a German immigrant who immigrated to Chicago in the late nineteenth century.

Curt Teich, Sr. passed away at the age of ninety-six in 1974.  here is his obituary from the Chicago Daily Tribune of January 16, 1974:


Curt Teich Sr., 96, late of 1000 N. Gulf Blvd., Belleair Shore, Fla., beloved husband of the late Anna; dear father of Curt Teich Jr., Louise Chmelik and Ralph D. Teich, all of Lake Forest, Ill., also the late Walter Teich of Morehead City, N.C. and Lawrence Teich; grandfather of five. Founded Curt Teich & Co., Inc., in 1898. Director of National Lithographers Assoc. and the Old Peoples Home in Forest Park. Charter life member of Greater Moose Lodge, No. 3, Mooseheart, Ill. Services Thursday, Jan. 17, 2 p.m., at Drake and Son Funeral Home, 5303 N. Western Av.  Entombment Memorial Park Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, memorials to the Cancer Fund will be appreciated. Visitation after 3 p.m. Wednesday. 561-6874.

He was interred next to his wife Anna in the mausoleum at Memorial Park Cemetery in Skokie:

The family had sold the company in 1974, and by 1978, the Teich name was no longer being used in conjunction with producing postcards.  The Curteichcolor process was subsequently purchased in 1980 and is still used by the John Hinde Company, an Irish firm based in Dublin with a branch in California, to print postcards, calendars, and tourist souvenirs. 

When the Teich family sold the company, they retained all of the postcard files and other ephemera that went along with them.  They had copies of every postcard they ever printed but the purchasers were not interested in any of the old stuff - they were mainly buying the name as well as the processes that Curt Teich had patented.  As has happened so many times in the past, steps were taken to throw out all of the Teich postcard files.  Luckily at the last minute Curt Teich's son, Ralph, rescued truckloads of postcards and files from being thrown in the trash when the company closed.

The collection was first offered to the Chicago Historical Society, but they were only interested in the Chicago cards and Ralph Teich did not want to split the collection up.  The collection was finally donated to the Lake County Forest Preserve District and to "sweeten the deal" Teich also gave them a $500,000 endowment to help pay for the storage and care of the collection.   

The Lake County Forest Preserve District was the proud owner of the collection until 2016 when they donated the collection to the Newberry Library in Chicago, who they felt was better able to "expand the usership" of the collection, that now contains an estimated 3 million postcards and related materials and is considered the largest public collection in the world.  They also donated the endowment which had grown to $527,258 so the collection will now be available for collectors, fans and scholars in perpetuity thanks to the foresight of Ralph Teich who literally rescued the collection from the dumpster - and for that we should be eternally grateful.  I'm sure Curt Teich would be pleased. 

The story of Curt Teich is similar to the stories of many German immigrants who came to this country in the late 1800s (including my own grandfather.)  Teich, like so many of his peers, started his own company and by providing a quality product became very successful. Curt Teich even outshone his peers by becoming one of the most prolific postcard printers in America during the first half of the twentieth century, eventually printing up to 250 million cards annually.

Curt Teich, the Postcard King - may he rest in peace.