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.)