Sunday, September 1, 2019


When you were young, did you ever play the game where a bunch of people sit in a circle and the first person whispers a secret into the ear of the person on one side, they whisper it to the next, and it goes around the circle, only to end up being an entirely different secret?  According to the Internet this game is called "Telephone" or "Chinese Whispers" or "Broken Telephone" or "Whispers Down the Lane."  The point of the game is that if a story is told to enough people, the fundamentals of the story often get changed.  That seems to be what happened with the story of Therese Porter of Evanston, Illinois.

When I was young, on hot summer afternoons my family often went to Evanston's Lee Street Beach.  Lee Street Beach is on the shore of Lake Michigan along Lake Shore Boulevard from Lee Street north to Greenleaf.  Opposite the beach along Lake Shore Boulevard are several big, old Evanston homes.  Walking from the beach back to our car my Mother often pointed to one of the big old houses and said "that's where the woman lived who was very wealthy and quite eccentric.  After her husband died, she had his car put up on blocks and never used it again."  My Mother was a native Evanstonian and knew lots of great stories about Evanston in the old days.  Like most children when their parents were telling tales from the old days, I half-paid attention and didn't give it any more thought.

Fast forward to January of 2019 when I was writing the story of Shirley Cedarquist Johnson who was photographed for the newspaper feeding canaries in the mausoleum at Memorial Park Cemetery in Skokie.  Shirley's family ended up contacting me and giving me lots of additional information and photos.  Almost as an afterthought, Shirley Johnson's niece Wendy Wright sent me an email that said:

Question for you.  My sister and cousin really like your blog posts, and all your work on the details.  They were on the phone tonight (as usual) and were talking and thought it would be great if you researched the woman who lived by the lake whose groom died at their wedding. We all grew up hearing the story and my mom had pointed out the house.

So, reaching back into the depths of my memories I responded "Was that the woman who had her husband's car put up on blocks after he died and never used it again?"  Wendy said it was and I agreed that it would make a great story for the blog - but how to go about digging up the real facts?  I Googled "Evanston groom dies on wedding day," and "Evanston woman puts dead husband's car on blocks," and even "Evanston wealthy recluse," all with no success.

In the meantime I mentioned the story to my friend Mike Kelly, who knows a tremendous amount of obscure facts about Evanston history.  Mike hadn't heard the story (from his Mother or anyone else), but suggested I get the addresses of the houses facing Lee Street Beach and research each one on Google.  I said I would and even tried it with the 1931 Evanston City Directory with no success.  Luckily Mike is more persistent than I am.  

The very next day Mike sent me this email:

This appears to be the gal you're looking for, Jim...Mrs. Albert B Porter lived at 1024 Lake Shore Blvd for many years...

And here is picture of her home...

Apparently her maiden name was Therese Study, if this school yearbook is correct...

Oddly enough, Evanston Directory listings over the years recorded her under various names...Theresa Porter (1927), Mrs. Anna B Porter (1935 & others), Mrs. Albert B. Porter (1948)
She died in 1953 per these scattered references...Mr. Porter died in 1909. 

Mike came through for me again, as he had done so many times in the past.  Once I had the name Therese Study Porter and the address of 1024 Lake Shore Boulevard I was ready to start digging.  But before we uncover the true story of the death of Mrs. Porter's husband, and his car up on blocks in the driveway, let's see what we can uncover about the Porters.  We'll start with Therese.

Therese Amelia Study was born in December of 1870 in Centerville, Indiana to Thomas Jefferson Study (1842-1914) and Therese A. Widup (1837-1915).  Therese had one brother, Richard Study (1879-1943).  Thomas Jefferson Study was an attorney.  Apparently Therese's nickname in the family was "Iba" because that's how they listed her in the 1880 US Census.  In addition to Thomas and Therese, and their children Richard and Iba, there were two other people living in the house at 35 Seventh Street in Richmond, Indiana:  Therese's mother also named Therese Widup, and a servant, forty year-old Delia Eagan. Unfortunately that area of Richmond is all commercial properties today.

The 1890 US Census for Richmond, Indiana is gone, but we do know that starting in 1888 Therese Study was a student at Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana and graduated as part of the Class of 1890.

On September 22, 1892, Therese Amelia Study married Albert Brown Porter in Richmond, Indiana.  The bride was 21; the groom was 28.

Albert Brown Porter was born in March of 1864 in Indianapolis, Indiana to Albert Gallatin Porter (1824-1897) and Minerva Virginia Brown (1824-1875).  Albert was the youngest of the five children born to Albert and Minerva.  Albert's siblings are:  Omer T. Porter (1848-1905), George Tousey Porter (1849-1927), Edward Porter (1851-1909), and Anna Porter (1859-1939).  Albert Gallatin Porter was an attorney and also a politician who served as the 19th Governor of Indiana from 1881 to 1885 and as a United States Congressman from 1859 to 1863. Originally a Democrat, he joined the Republican Party in 1856 after being expelled by the pro-slavery faction of the Democrat Party.

Albert Gallatin Porter

Albert Brown Porter began his studies at Stevens Institute in 1879 at the age of 15. He completed his B.S. in physics at Purdue University in 1884 and then taught for seven years at Richmond High School before beginning graduate studies at Johns Hopkins University. In 1894, he became Professor of Physics and Department Chair at Armour Institute of Technology in Chicago where he remained for 9 years. In 1903, Porter resigned from Armour Institute of Technology to establish "The Scientific Shop", a commercial enterprise for manufacture of precision physical instruments, in particular optical instruments.

Armour Institute of Technology - Chicago, Illinois

The 1900 US Census finds Therese and Albert Porter living at 1232 Forest Avenue in beautiful Evanston, Illinois:

1232 Forest Avenue, Evanston, Illinois
Albert listed his occupation as "Professor," Therese didn't list any occupation.  They had been married 7 years and didn't have any children.  Living with them was 23 year-old Emma Burchardt, a domestic.  Both Albert and Therese had been raised with servants in the house.

In 1904, Albert Porter hired Thomas B. Carson, a carpenter-contractor, to build a ten room brown brick house at 1024 Lake Shore Boulevard in Evanston, facing Lake Michigan.  Here's a photo of the house from that era:

1024 Lake Shore Boulevard, Evanston, Illinois

On Saturday April 17, 1909, people woke up to the startling news that Albert Porter had died very suddenly the night before:

The Richmond (Indiana) Item - April 17, 1909

As per his previous arrangements, Albert Porter's body was brought back to Indiana.  On April 19, 1909 he was buried in the Porter family plot (Section 14, Lot 92) in the Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis:

Myth #1 debunked:  Albert Porter was married September 22, 1892 and died April 16, 1909.  Not only did he not die on his wedding day, he died 16 years, 6 months, and 25 days after his wedding day. 

Local newspapers reported that after his death, Porter's wife donated all of his optical instruments and other laboratory equipment to Northwestern University.

Therese Porter must have been a believer in the old adage "A 'Lady' only has her name in the newspaper three times:  When she is born, when she marries, and when she dies."  After her husband's death, Therese Porter's name was not in the newspapers until just before she died.  We can, however check up on her by looking at the US Census.

The 1910 US Census found Therese Porter still living in the house she had shared with Albert at 1024 Lake Shore Boulevard, although the census taker mistakenly reported the address as 1024 Sheridan Road.  Therese Porter reported that she was 39 years-old, and a widow.  She said that she had her "Own Income," and that she owned the house free-and-clear with no mortgages or encumbrances.  Therese Porter was not living alone, however.  She reported a servant, 31 year-old Carrie Lamson from Norway. 

Not surprisingly, Therese Porter is still living in the same place for the 1920 US Census:  1024 Lake Shore Boulevard in Evanston.  However this time she is living alone.  She told the census taker that she was 45 (she was 50) and a widow.  She could both read and write English and she had no occupation.

No changes for Therese Porter in the 1930 US Census.  She gives her age as 55 (she was 60) and a widow.  She owned the house at 1024 Lake Shore Boulevard and she assigned a value of $52,500 to her home.  No surprise - she does own a radio.

In the 1940 US Census, Therese Porter is still living alone, and still living in the house at 1024 Lake Shore Boulevard.  She now gives the home's value as $50,000, $2,500 less than in 1930 - but there had been a depression after all.  If Therese Porter was affected by the Great Depression of the 1930s it was only with a nudge.  She said she was 69 years-old (she was 70), that she owned the house and that she had had education post-college.  And it was not a surprise that she told the census taker that she had been living in the same house in 1935.

What was Therese Porter like during this period?  One of her neighbors, attorney George Haight, who said he had a "casual speaking acquaintance" with Therese Porter said, "She was intelligent, highly educated and well read.  She could converse with alacrity on the topics of the day."

But not too long after this, her neighbors began to notice some changes.  It was reported that she let the house run down and weeds grew high in both the front of her house and in the yard.  She broke off any contact she had with distant relatives, and started sending out for meals, having them delivered to her home by taxicab. Although she had many neighborhood acquaintances who regarded her with respect, she was said to have preferred birds and dogs to human company.  She was quoted as saying that "Animals protect you.  They don't talk back.  They are the only true friends man has."  She was often seen walking through the neighborhood in the company of two large dogs.

It was later reported that in addition to the dogs, her house contained as many as 22 cats, although newspaper accounts at the time do not mention any cats - only a succession of dogs.  

All winter she put out food for the birds and vast flocks of them remained in her neighborhood through the snows.  After her death it was discovered that she had purchased the best of clothes but much of it lay unused in her home while she went around in shoes with worn-out soles and dresses long outdated.  

George Haight was convinced that Mrs. Porter's eccentricities were not due to any mental disorder.  Haight did say however, that Therese Porter often expressed a wish to die, accompanied by a fear of dying alone.  

In March of 1953 Therese Porter was hospitalized for three days after she fell in her home.  While she was in the hospital the Evanston Police removed her valuables for her own protection from tomato baskets and hat boxes in the empty house. 

Later that same year, as she realized that her days were short, she moved to the farm home near Palatine of Harry Sall, a chauffeur who had befriended her.

Therese Porter's house circa 1950.  Note the overgrown yard and the torn screen on the second floor window.

On Saturday, September 12, 1953 Therese Porter called Sall and his wife into the room she occupied, asking Mrs. Sall to hold her in her arms.  A few minutes later she died.

Immediately after her death, her remains were taken to the Hebblethwaite Funeral Home at 1567 Maple in Evanston where they waited for someone to appear with authority to order a funeral service.

When word spread of the death of Mrs. Porter, the Evanston Police Department posted a round-the-clock guard at the house to prevent theft or vandalism.  They also reported that they were holding a package of Mrs. Porter's securities worth $239,647 at that time.  The securities has been found scattered throughout the home.  This may have been the same securities that the police reported finding in March of 1953 when Mrs. Porter had been hospitalized after a fall in her home.

Once the death had been announced, attorney Franklyn Bliss, Snyder, Jr. and the Northern Trust Company reported that their records indicated that Therese Porter had prepared a will, but they were unable to produce a copy.

To move things along, Public Administrator Thomas D. Nash was named administrator of the estate, and he made the necessary arrangements for Mrs. Porter's funeral.

Here is Therese Study Porter's Death Notice from the Chicago Tribune of September 17, 1953:

Therese Porter was buried next to her husband in the Porter family plot at Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis:

Her particular resting place is unmarked.

Now the fun began as a search was raised for her will, and relatives came out of the woodwork to place a claim against the sizable estate.

For weeks throughout the Fall of 1953, the public was titillated on an almost daily basis with tales of the gathering of the assets and the hunt for a will of Mrs. Porter.

On September 16, 1953 the Chicago Daily Tribune reported that the day before an intensive search was launched for the missing will and any assets that the house on Lake Shore Boulevard could contain.  Investigators were unable to locate a will, but the Tribune reported that after a two hour search they removed $3,700 in uncashed dividend checks stashed in a small candy box.  The group sent to examine Therese Porter's home included Attorney Thomas Fitzpatrick, John Damisch chief inheritance tax examiner, Lt. Hubert Kelsh Evanston Detective Chief, Jack Rubens public administrator's investigator and State Treasurer Elmer J. Hoffman.

Hopes were raised about a possible will when at the end of September a black notebook was turned in to Evanston Police.  It has been found "near the house of Therese Porter" by an Evanston schoolgirl.  An unsigned section from 1912 titled "My Will" said that Mrs. Porter wanted Richard Study (her brother) to inherit her property if she died without a formal will.  Other possible heirs were listed by police said most of the names were illegible.

The mystery was solved when on October 29, 1953 newspapers reported that Therese Porter's will had been found:

So, the final requests of Therese Porter would be carried out as she wished - or would they?  

Not if her cousins had anything to say about it.  A formal contest of the will was made by cousins Mrs. Alice Yelvington 101 years old of Gary, Indiana; Mrs. Ella Ellasohn 87, and Mrs. Elizabeth Cranor 96, both of Muncie, Indiana; Mrs. Mary J. Boden 88, of Cambridge City, Indiana; and Mrs. Grace Fleischer 86, of Berkley, California.  

Cousin once-removed Frederick Julian tried to get his share by petitioning to be appointed administrator of the estate which would entitle him to a substantial fee.  He was not successful in this endeavor.

The matter dragged on in the courts for years and was not finally resolved until June of 1955 when a diary kept by Therese Porter came to light.  It contained entries indicating that Mrs. Porter was of sound mind up to a time within a few days of her death.  Among them were comments on current events, an observation that American Telephone and Telegraph Co. stock was a "good buy" and a detailed analysis of the stock market.  The realization that Mrs. Porter had been in sound mind convinced the cousins that it was a good time to settle their claims against the estate for whatever they could get. 

In the end, the estate turned out to be worth over $400,000.00.  Judge Julius Miner awarded the six cousins a total of $22,500.00 to be split amongst themselves with the remainder of the estate being awarded to the Anti-Cruelty Society, Orphans of the Storm, the North Side Animal Shelter and the National Audubon Society (Yay!).

The former house of Albert and Therese Porter and the two adjoining northern lots adjacent to the house were purchased by Arthur and Margaret Leach who made extensive renovations and restoration to the house.  The remodeled home was open to the public for tours in 1973 as part of the League of Women Voters "Housewalk of Remodeled Homes."  Here's how the house looks today:

1024 Lake Shore Boulevard, Evanston, Illinois
So now you know the story of Therese Porter, the wealthy Evanston recluse.

But wait!  What about the story about the car up on blocks in the driveway?  We already know that Albert Porter did not die on his wedding day, so why did his widow put his car on blocks and leave it in the driveway for years?  Here is, as they say, is the "Rest of the Story" from the Chicago Daily Times of Wednesday May 24, 1939:


Prize Legend Fades Before Truth

By Earl Selby

Evanston awoke today with the bereft and cheated feeling of a town which has seen its best and only romantic legend blown up before its eyes.

For years and years Evanston has cherished the romantic story of Mrs. Anna (sic) Porter and her lost love, a fantastic yarn woven around the suitable setting of her unkempt estate on fashionable Lake Shore drive and the ancient auto which stood it its weed grown driveway.

Today the auto was gone and with it the old, old myth.

Tomorrow the ragged lawn will be mowed, the rank shrubbery will be trimmed, the trees will be pruned and the old Porter mansion will look no more mysterious than the houses on either side.


The auto was moved, and you have Mrs. Porter's own word for this, for a very human reason having nothing to do with a tragic death or an interrupted honeymoon.

She already called up a garage and had it taken away because it was no longer needed to "spite Chief Freeman."  It was moved only one day after Evanston's chief of police, William O. Freeman, resigned his office.  When the tow car came, Mrs. Porter told the TIMES she had let the ancient vehicle stand untouched under her portico for 10 years simply because it was one of the eyesores that made Chief Freeman mad.

And then Evanston's mystery woman and recluse told the true story of her life, a story quite different from the one which has brought hundreds to stare into the unkempt grounds with avid curiosity.

Mrs. Porter was educated at the University of Michigan where she met and married Albert Brown Porter, then a young physicist deep in research on the speed of light.  They had a mutual interest for she also was a physicist.

They came to Chicago in 1899 and Porter became a full professor of physics at the Armour Institute.  IN 1904 they built a 10-room brown brick house at 1024 Lake Shore in Evanston.  Porter, a quiet studious man whose retiring habits were shared by his wife, had a laboratory built on the third floor and spent much of his time there.

Anna Porter, a woman advanced far beyond the customs of her day, worked side-by-side with her scientist husband.  

He died in 1909.  After his death, Mrs. Porter turned his library, his collection of valuable optical instruments and other laboratory equipment over to Northwestern university.

Never much interested in social affairs, she went on in the same quiet way of life the couple had followed before Porter died.


She like dogs and gradually gathered many about her.With her today were three black Scotties and a collie.  She would not say how many others she has.    

She retained her interest in mechanics and in 1928 enrolled in the Evanston township high school for a course in engineering.  because the school had few shop facilities, she bought a second-hand 1922 Cadillac and took it to the school, allowing the whole class to use it for experiments.  The next year she offered to sell the ancient vehicle to the school but took it home and parked it under the portico when the school refused to buy.

It was hot summer then and her dogs joyfully laid claim to the car which provided welcome shade.  Mrs. Porter didn't need it, having an old electric which she preferred to drive and since she didn't "have the heart" to deprive the dogs she simply left it there.

There began Evanston's legend, which sprang up, it is not certain how, and was soon repeated and believed by the town and far beyond.


The story went that Mrs. Porter, a new and radiant bride, was to meet her husband at the 5:15 train from Chicago one afternoon in 1909 and then they were to drive away for a honeymoon trip to the East.

At the station, it was said they brought her word he had died on the train.  Overpowered by grief, she went home, only to return to the station night after night and sit there waiting for the train which was never to bring her husband.

Eventually, they said, she drove the car home after another nightly disappointment and left it under the portico, never to be driven again.

It made a beautiful piece of fiction and hardly anybody thought it queer that a 1922 auto should be the vehicle for a honeymoon in 1909.


Mrs. Porter has her own ideas on how the legend began.  She thinks a local real estate operator thought it up and spread it out of malice when she refused to sell her home.

She knows at any rate that the story spread and many came to stare and question.  She knows there were other annoyances, so many that she eventually became a recluse in fact as well as name.  She allowed the grounds to run down and eventually that brought Chief Freeman complaining to her gate and inspired her to leave the old auto there until today.  

If you want to see where all this happened, the Porter house still stands today at 1024 Lake Shore Boulevard in Evanston, across the street from Lee Street Beach.  As indicated above it looks significantly different than it did in 1953.  Sometime after Therese Porter's death the subsequent owners had the porte cochere removed from the side of the house and sold the two lots immediately to the north, both of which have houses on them today.

(Do not disturb the current residents.)

If you look you can see the driveway that led to the porte cochere where Mrs. Porter parked her 1922 Cadillac that started all the rumors.

If you stand there and listen real hard, you can hear the soft chuckling of Therese Porter who really did have the last word.

Therese Study Porter and one of her Scotties

May Therese Porter and her husband Albert rest in peace.