Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Architect and the Silversmith

In the last blog, I wrote about Robert Jarvie the silversmith. When Jarvie had a problem with design, he often turned to his friend, George Grant Elmslie, the architect. They worked together on a number of projects including items for sale at Carson, Pirie, Scott & Company.

In 1912, the Aero-Hydro Club of Illinois sponsored an International Aviation meet in Chicago. Jarvie was asked to design a trophy for the winner of a ten-mile hydroplane race. He turned to Elmslie for help on the design. “The trophy’s angular column and rounded bowl, embellished with delicately designed flying fish and seaweed, create a perfect setting for the model hydroplane perched on top.” You can see a picture here. For some reason the trophy was never awarded and now resides in the Chicago History Museum.

George Grant Elmslie, the architect, was born February 20, 1871, on a farm called Foot O’ Hill in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, near the town of Huntly. His formal education began in the Riggens School in Gartly and continued in the famous and highly disciplined Duke of Gordon School in Huntly. His father came to Chicago in 1883 and was employed by the Armour Company. The family arrived one year later.

At the age of 16, George Elmslie began training with J. L. Silsbee where he worked with Corin, Maher and Frank Lloyd Wright. He followed Wright to Louis Sullivan where he worked for 20 years and was considered a devoted assistant. During that time, he detailed the exterior of the Wainwright Building in St. Louis and designed the ironwork entrance and interior finish of the Carson, Pirie, Scott building in Chicago.

“Craig Zabel writes of architect George Grant Elmslie who believed he never got proper credit for work done in Sullivan’s office. Still, Elmslie was so respectful of Sullivan that after his death he destroyed Sullivan’s diaries, thus keeping secret part of the master’s personal life and depriving historians of a rich resource.” (Chicago Tribune, March 21, 1991, pg G14.) He also designed, along with William L. Steele of Sioux City, Iowa, the monument erected on Louis Sullivan’s grave in Graceland Cemetery.

On September 14, 1910, Elmslie married Bonnie Marie Hunter. He was 39, and she was 29. William Purcell said “No man was happier in winning his bride than George Grant Elmslie.” They moved to their new home in Minneapolis, where George Elmslie had just become a partner in the firm of Purcell, Feick and Elmslie. According to her death certificate, she was admitted to a Chicago hospital in late August, 1912. She died of a blood clot in the lungs after an appendectomy, September 8 1912, and is buried at Graceland. I found one picture of the couple on the Internet. He was profoundly affected by the death of his wife and often worked himself into a state of exhaustion which required hospitalization. He never married again and there were no children.

Elmslie died April 25, 1952 and is buried in Graceland Cemetery with his wife and three members of her family.

The Internet lists some 400 projects where Elmslie was listed as the architect. Just a few of his commissions are listed below. For more see Fox Valley Arts Hall of Fame which is now located in Elgin, Illinois.

  • Henry Babson house, 277 Gatesby Road, Riverside, IL.
  • People’s Gas Light & Coke Co. 4839 W. Irving Park Rd., Chicago
  • Healy Chapel, 332 W. Downer Pl., Aurora, IL.
  • “Windy Pines” 1421 Milwaukee Rd., Glevniew, IL. 
  • Edison Jr. High School, Hammond, IN.
  • Lake Lawn Hotel, Lelavan, WI.
  • St. Charles Country Club, St. Charles, IL.
  • Maxwelton Braes Resort Hotel, Baileys Harbor, WI.
  • The Airplane House, Woods Hole, MA.
  • Purcell-Cutts House, Minneapolis, Minnesota
  • Merchants National Bank Building, Winona, Minnesota

I don’t know that Elmslie was a member of the Illinois Saint Andrew Society but his office was in the People’s Gas, Light, & Coke building on Michigan Avenue. Here he would have been surrounded by Scots including John Williamson. There is one record of a gift from George Elmslie supporting the Scottish Home in 1924. He also signed the admission request for the Jarvie’s to the Scottish Home.

Wayne Rethford, President Emeritus
Illinois Saint Andrew Society

Upcoming Events:

March 7, 2015 - All about hats, including the Bess Ben hats in the Scottish American Museum. Our speaker is Mary Robak who wants every woman to wear a hat. She and Elizabeth Fanuzzi have been studying our six Bess Ben hats in the hope their original owner could be identified. 

April 4, 2015 - The Town of Pullman. The President is coming to Chicago next week to designate the Town of Pullman, Illinois, a historic site on the National Register. I just heard our speaker, Michael Shymanski, talking about this event on the radio.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Robert Jarvie, Silversmith

A friend of mine recently saw two Onwentsia golf trophies for sale and then I saw two candlesticks made by the same person for sale. We don’t know much about the trophies but the candlesticks came from Oak Park, Illinois, and they sold for $60,000. All three items were made by Robert Jarvie.

Robert Riddle Jarvie was born in Schenectady, New York, on October 24, 1865. His parents, Robert Jarvie and Jane Riddle, were both born in Alva, Scotland. In the 1870 census they were living in Rockford, Illinois.  In the 1880 census the family lived in Minneapolis. The father was 44, the mother was 38 and Robert R. was 15. The father worked in a woolen mill and was perhaps a weaver.

Robert Jarvie came to Chicago in the late 1890s and worked as a clerk in the Department of Transportation. In his spare time, he began to experiment with various metals. “Apparently self-taught he may have also studied at AIC.” (Art Institute of Chicago?)

He married Lillian Gray from Rockford but I couldn’t find a date. Also, one writer says there is no picture of Robert Jarvie or his wife anywhere. She is described in one article as a writer and book seller. There were no children. With the help of his wife, they opened a store in the Fine Arts Building where they sold “candlesticks, lanterns, copper bowls, bookends, sconces, vases, trays, smoking accessories, and desk sets.”

In 1910, Jarvie was commissioned by Charles Hutchinson to produce a silver punch bowl for the Cliff Dwellers Club of Chicago. Both Hutchinson and Jarvie were charter members. This is the only work by Jarvie that I have seen thanks to an invitation from Nike Whitcombe and Brice McDonald to attend one of their events. It is a beautiful bowl and a prized possession.

After 1912, Jarvie’s shop was located on the upper floor of the Old English Cottage at 842 Exchange Avenue in the Union Stock Yards. Here, he designed trophies for the International Live Stock Exhibition. “He won acclaim for his tea sets, candles, and bowls patterned after those of Paul Revere,” He also added furniture making and wool rugs but these were not successful. “These new enterprises failed to sustain him through America’s involvement in World War I and by 1920 he was forced to close his shop. Thereafter he lapsed into obscurity until a recent revival of interest in his work brought him recognition as one of America’s outstanding modern silversmiths.” In 1915, Lillian took a job as secretary at the National Kindergarten College which apparently evolved into National Louis University.

You can see examples of his work in the Hirsch & Adler gallery in New York City, Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago History Museum, and The Metropolitan Museum of Art. No examples of his furniture making have been found. Very little is know about him after his retirement years but he did work in the silver department at Peacock’s for a short time before they entered The Scottish Old People’s Home. At the time, they lived at 2020 Sherman Avenue in Evanston, Illinois.

They entered the Scottish Home, May 1, 1941.  They had no savings but Mrs. Jarvie had a $7,500 life insurance policy and was drawing a $50 a month pension from Northwestern University. She had worked until 1940 as the secretary to William A. Dyche, business manager of Northwestern University. They also rented 2 rooms in their home. They had been recommended for admission by Mrs. Lister of Evanston, George Elmslie (the architect), and John Jeffrey of 810 Greenleaf Avenue, Glenview, Illinois. She died October 6, 1941 at the age of 70 from cardiac arrest.

The application for Robert Jarvie shows that he had no personal property, no real estate, no pension or benefits, and no life insurance. He was a Baptist and in case of serious illness the Home was to notify Mrs. Raymond Sheets in Rockford, Illinois. It would be interesting to know where they lived in the Scottish Home but those records may be gone. One month after his wife died, Mr. Jarvie was visiting someone in Chicago when he suffered a fatal heart attack. He was 76 years old.

They are both buried in Greenwood Cemetery, Rockford, Illinois.

Wayne Rethford, Past President
Illinois Saint Andrew Society

Upcoming Events:

February 7, 2015 - Professor Euan Hague of DePaul University. "From Christmas Day 1950 to September 2014 - A history of modern Scottish Nationalism.”  The September 2014 Scottish referendum was a remarkable event. Around 85% of the electorate voted, and a majority decided that Scotland should remain in the United Kingdom. The bigger story, however, was that of the Scottish nationalists who gained 45% of the vote for independence and separation from the United Kingdom. This promises to be a very informative meeting for our members. 

March 7, 2015 - “Hats, including our Bess Ben hats.” The speaker is Mary Robak who wants every woman to wear a hat. She and Elizabeth Fanuzzi have been studying the six Bess Ben hats in our museum. You will find their presentation very interesting and entertaining.

April 4, 2015 - The Town of Pullman. 

The Scottish-American Museum opens at 9 a.m. on the day of our event and the program begins at 10. There is no charge. Reservations not necessary but helpful. Call 708-408-5591. The Scottish Home is located at 28th and Des Plaines, North Riverside, Illinois.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Pullman Town and Scots

In 1996, we chartered a bus and drove to the Florence Hotel in the town of Pullman. After lunch, we held a quarterly meeting of the Society and then took a tour of the town. What we didn’t know at the time was the influence that Scots had exerted on the Pullman Company and the town itself. In November, while reading through obituaries posted in the Chicago Tribune, I came across the funeral for John McLachlan. That led to a call to the Historic Pullman Foundation and our History Club speaker on April 4, Michael Shymanski.

Alexander McLachlan, the father, was apparently a major figure in the building of the town of Pullman. However, there is only one article about him in the Chicago Tribune. It was written by Jeanne McCarthy and published on October 11, 1942. The article says that George Pullman brought Alec McLachlan from Glasgow, Scotland, to specifically build the town of Pullman and the Pullman shops.

He also built himself a home at 24 E. 114th Place. It was a three-story brick house with stone trim. A family man, he enjoyed having his six children around him constantly. “When the young men of Pullman began to frequent billiard parlors, he equipped a billiard parlor in his home for his sons. When they became old enough to be lured to dance halls, he established a ballroom in the house. When physical culture became the fad, he constructed a gymnasium at home. The McLachlan house became the focal point in Pullman.”

There were banquets in the house as well and many of the town’s most elaborate functions were held there. In 1942, John McLachlan, the only surviving son, sold the home to the San Salvador Knight’s of Columbus Lodge. I could not find any information about the lodge on the Internet, so I assume it no longer exists.

John lived with his sister, Mrs. Agnes Vanderbilt, at 11432 Prairie Avenue. He died in 1949. His funeral was held at the Roseland Presbyterian church and he was buried in Oakwoods Cemetery. John was “prominent in Scottish Societies, being a member of St. Andrew’s Society and Lodge 41 of Clan McDonald. He was a bachelor.”

Wayne Rethford, President Emeritus
Illinois Saint Andrew Society

Upcoming Events:

February 7, 2015. Our Speaker will be Professor Euan Hague of DePaul University. Dr. Hague was born and raised in Edinburgh, Scotland. He moved to Syracuse University in 1994 to pursue a Ph.D. that examined the relationship of Scottish-Americans to Scotland. He is now Professor and Chair of Geography at DePaul University, Chicago, Illinois. He is a member of the Board of Governors, Illinois St. Andrew’s Society. The paragraph below describes his proposed speech to the History Club.

"From Christmas Day 1950 to September 2014 - A history of modern Scottish Nationalism.” The September 2014 Scottish referendum was a remarkable event. Around 85% of the electorate voted, and a majority decided that Scotland should remain in the United Kingdom. The bigger story, however, was that of the Scottish nationalists who gained 45% of the vote for independence and separation from the United Kingdom". This promises to be a very informative meeting for our members. 

March 7, 2015 - “Hats, including our Bess Ben hats.” The speaker is Mary Robak who wants every woman to wear a hat. She and Elizabeth Fanuzzi have been studying the six Bess Ben hats in our museum. You will find their presentation very interesting and entertaining.

April 4, 2015 - The Town of Pullman. 

The Scottish-American Museum opens at 9 a.m. on the day of our event and the program begins at 10. There is no charge. Reservations not necessary but helpful. Call 708-408-5591. Please join us in Heritage Hall, the Scottish Home, 28th and Des Plaines, North Riverside, IL.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

2015 History Club Schedule

January 10, 2015 - The I&M Canal - This coming Saturday is our first meeting of the new year. Our speaker is Ana Koval. She is the Executive Director of the Canal Corridor Association. The canal was constructed between 1836 and 1848. Ana Koval has been described as Aengaging, accurate, knows current trails, packet boats, projects, and history.@ The weather will moderate by Saturday so I trust you will plan to attend. The museum opens at 9 a.m. and the program begins at 10 a.m. There is no cost and we will have hot coffee, tea and scones available. Reservations are not necessary but helpful. Call 708.447.5092.

February 7, 2015 - TBA

March 7, 2015, Bess Ben Hats - Mrs. Mary Robak and perhaps Mrs. James Fanuzzi will be our guests. They study hats and are particular interested in the six Bess Ben hats in our museum. It=s a wonderful story and you will enjoy their presentation. More information in the coming days.

April 4, 2015, The Town of Pullman - The Scottish influence in the town of Pullman will be one area of our program. Our speaker will be Michael Shymanski who is president of the Historic Pullman Foundation. His wife is also involved in the preservation of the Thomas Dunbar house. More information as it becomes available.

May 2, 2015 – TBA

June 6, 2015 – TBA

No meetings in July or August

Mark your calendar for the fall dates of September 12, October 3, and November 7. More information about these meetings will be forthcoming. There is no meeting in December.

Dr. John A. Kennicott, of Scottish descent, came to Chicago in 1836 and served as a circuit doctor riding a horse from place to place. John and Mary had seven children and among them was the arctic explorer Robert K. Kennicott. A. T. Andreas tells the story of Dr. Kennicott=s horse. The horse had a long and useful life but was finally old and tired. Dr. Kennicott turned the horse loose and it found a home around the court house square. The citizens of Chicago took compassion on the horse and decided to give him a Adonation party.@ They set a date and assembled in the court yard with food and building supplies. A shed was constructed and filled with food. A parade was held and the old horse marched at the head with Amartial music of fife and drum.@ He lived through the winter but when spring came, ADeath mounted the pale white horse, and rode him to the happy hunting grounds. Peace to his mane.@ Join our Facebook page for more stories like this!

There is more information about Dr. John Kennicott in The Scots of Chicago, page 17 and 18.

Wayne Rethford, President Emeritus
Illinois Saint Andrew Society


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Elderly Network Loses its Angel

By Eric Zorn
April 13, 1993

(My friend Bob Carlton found this story and sent me the link. Eric Zorn writes so well about this Scottish lady named Jessie Conaughton. What I find interesting is that she and her husband worked for James E. McMillan, the Ovaltine man, and he left Jessie a small annuity from his estate. Here are the words of Eric Zorn.)

They are the people you don't often think about, and they live in apartments you almost never notice.

They are the elderly underground-a quiet, unofficial network of retired domestics, teachers, clerks and others who dwell in modest apartments above shops and businesses in downtown Winnetka.

Most of them are widows. They cook for each other, help each other with errands and housework as needed, fill out forms, keep tabs and provide much-needed company. The small group has never had a name-though every so often someone calls them "the bench ladies," after a bus stop where some of them gather in warmer weather-and now it is struggling on with a wounded heart.

On April 1, Jessie Conaughton, for decades the most visible and active member of the helping network, died at age 87 of complications following a stroke.

"I loved her dearly," said Margaret Vieth, 89, a retired nurse who lives alone above a flower shop. "She used to come by every morning to help me make my bed and wash the dishes and carry out the garbage. Then she would ask me what I needed at the store.

"She would never accept anything for it," Vieth said. "I'd thank her and she'd say, `Oh, that's nothing.' but I would say, `No it isn't. You don't know what it means to me to have someone come in with a smile and a friendly word and do these things I can no longer do.' "

"Helping others was Jessie's whole life," said Elise Gieser, 83, a former schoolteacher who drives for the other retirees when they need to go shopping or to the doctor. "I think she just didn't know anything else to do."

For nearly three decades, Conaughton was a pleasant if slightly eccentric figure around the village, a cheery, slight woman with a rich Scottish accent who walked everywhere in a determined stride and always wore tennis shoes.

But her sparkle disguised a bleak and difficult life, Gieser said. When she was a toddler, her mother died in childbirth and left her to be reared by a critical and unaffectionate father, Gieser said Conaughton told her.

She emigrated from Scotland to the United States in her teens and began her lifelong work as a domestic servant. She married Edward Conaughton, a chauffeur, who also was said to be undemonstrative, and the two ended up employed at the lakefront estate of James McMillan, president of the A. Wander Co.

Edward Conaughton died in 1963, and McMillan died two years later. Jessie Conaughton received a small annuity from McMillan's estate, and she and one of her two sons, Patrick, now 52, moved to an inexpensive, one-bedroom apartment above what is now a shoe store in downtown Winnetka.

Such apartments, like the people who live in them, are nearly invisible amid the activities and commerce of small business districts. And they are slowly vanishing in wealthy communities as building owners rehab them to attract upscale tenants or convert them into more lucrative office space, according to Jean Cleland, a program director and case manager at the North Shore Senior Center.

She took in dry cleaning for those who lived in the other apartments around town but couldn't manage it for themselves; returned library books; filled prescriptions; ran to the post office; took in newspapers; anything, everything, and never asked for or wanted payment.

"She finally let me give her an alarm clock because she didn't have one," said Katherine Hudson, 85. "We called her the angel of Elm Street."

In the last year, however, it became clear that the angel was losing her wings. Her trademark stride slowed down, she lost her hearing and she became increasingly forgetful, friends said. She died just two days after entering a Northbrook nursing home.

"No one planned any services, and I felt that wasn't right," Cleland said. "I felt we should not let such a life pass unremarked."

So Cleland organized a memorial gathering for Monday afternoon at the Winnetka community house, an event that Patrick Conaughton said would have embarrassed and surprised his mother.

Shopkeepers and store clerks who knew her from her frequent errand runs turned out, as did several members of the community who said that they had exchanged pleasantries with Jessie Conaughton on the street for years and only learned her name after her death. Speakers included several members of the informal elderly underground, of which fewer than 10 are still alive.

Retired architect Carl Sterner, 87, the only man in the seniors network, struggled to his feet near the close of the 40-minute memorial. "She was a grand lady and I miss her very much," he said. "But I'll struggle along somehow."

So will the rest of them. But it won't be as easy or as pleasant anymore.

You can find the latest news about Eric Zorn on the Internet. Thanks Eric.
Wayne Rethford, President Emeritus
Illinois Saint Andrew Society

Friday, December 5, 2014

The Man from Ovaltine

James G. McMillan was born in Broughty Ferry, Scotland, on July 10, 1881 to a family of modest means. He attended Grove Academy and won many medals in sports, especially swimming. He was a member of an elite group called “Ye Amphibious Ancients” who always opened their swimming year with a dip in the Firth of Tay on New Year’s Day. He was apprenticed to chemists for a total of six years, becoming a pharmacist in 1905.

He moved to London and after a period of time became a detail man for A. Wander, Limited. During World War I, he served in the Home Guard as a second lieutenant. In the fall of 1919, he moved to the United States to manage the Wander Co. Their small factory built in 1917 was located in Villa Park, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. “He ably and constructively filled the position of President and General Manager until his retirement in 1951 at the age of 70.”

In 1935, a large addition was added to the Wander factory in Villa Park. Their business steadily gained in sales throughout the depression. In 1932 the company had expanded by building a one story building and now they added three more stories with a floor area of some 60,000 square feet. In 1935, the plant used 15 million pounds of grain, half a million pounds of milk per week and the eggs from 70,000 chickens. The new plant contained a bowling alley and was totally air conditioned. There was also a baseball field for the employees to use. During the Great Depression Mr. McMillan was paid $100,000 a year. I have been told it was a good place to work and that employees were well treated. Those of you who live in the area, as I do, know that the plant building has now been converted to apartments.

Not far from the plant was a modern “moving picture” theater of old English design, erected and owned by Mr. McMillan. It appears the building still exists and has recently been converted to three floors and three apartments. The Ovaltine club, carried on the social activities of the company’s employees; they also had an orchestra and three tennis courts. When the plant closed in 1985, it was a complex of 23 buildings on 15 acres with 237,000 square feet of work space. In the 1950s the factory ran at peak production and employed 300 to 400 people.

In March of 1923, James McMillan married Emily Virginia Brady. She was born in 1890 in Lucas, Ohio. Mrs. McMillan died in Passavant hospital (Chicago) on July 22, 1959. She was founder and first president of the Illinois Opera Guild and was president of the Great Lakes Hospital Music League for which she received a Navy citation. Mass was said in Holy Name Cathedral. As of this writing, I do not know her place of burial even though there has been a diligent search.

Mr. and Mrs. McMillan lived at 445 Sheridan Road in Winnetka, Illinois. It was the former home of Albert Pick and later was famous as the home of W. Clement Stone who entertained lavishly in this mansion along the lake shore. McMillan bought the house in 1931 and lived there until his death in 1965. At the time, the house contained 17 rooms and a 3-car garage. The sound of bagpipes could be heard often at 445 Sheridan Rd. Mr. & Mrs. McMillan regularly entertained their Scottish friends. You can see the house and read its history if you goggle: 445 Sheridan Rd., Winnetka, IL.

James McMillan was an active member of the Illinois Saint Andrew Society. He served on the Board of Governors and was made an Honorary Governor when he retired. Under the leadership of Hughston McBain in 1964, the Scottish Home added a 14-bed health care wing to its facility. Total cost, including furnishings was $200,000.  James McMillan was the major donor and so the wing was named for him. He died shortly before the dedication. We have made a diligent search of the burial place of Mr. and Mrs. McMillian without success. If anyone reads this who can help, we would like to pay our respects.

(The last reference in the Chicago Tribune was a wedding announcement, between Suzanne Snells and Franklin Martin deBeers III of Glenview, Illinois, February 15, 1965. “His great-uncle is James G. McMillan of Winnetka.”)

Wayne Rethford, President Emeritus
Illinois St. Andrew’s Society

December 14, 2014 - The annual Christmas Party and a general meeting of the Illinois Saint Andrew Society membership will take place in Heritage Hall at the Scottish Home beginning at 3:00 p.m. RSVP 708-408-5591.

January 10, 2015 - History Club Meeting. Our speaker is Ana Koval, President/CEO of the Canal Corridor Association.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Palmer House I, II and III

In the late 1860's, Potter Palmer was in the process of building two hotels in Chicago. One was called the “Potter Palmer House” and the other “The Palmer House.” The first was to be a moderately priced hotel but the one on State Street was to be luxurious. By the summer of 1870, the exterior of the Palmer House on State Street was finished and work was beginning on the interior. It contained 225 rooms. The hotel would have 7 floors and 150 apartments. The first two floors would be shops and stores. The cost was estimated at $3,500,000.

Potter Palmer now owned a mile of State street and more than 100 buildings in the downtown area. He was also in the process of making Bertha Honore’ his wife. They were married July 28, 1870. The Palmer House, located at State and Quincy, was his wedding gift and they would have an apartment in the new hotel. The honeymoon in Europe lasted six months and Potter Palmer was collecting ideas for another hotel more grand than any other. It would be located at State and Monroe.

The first Palmer House opened on September 26, 1871, but 13 days later was destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire on October 8. All his buildings, more than one hundred, were lost as well. Bertha Palmer was at their country home the night of the Great Fire, alone, except for the servants. Her husband had gone to New York to attend the funeral of his sister. His arrival home was a discouraging moment and he considered retiring.

An article in the Chicago Sun-Times reported: “It was Bertha who drove a buggy to the nearest town with telegraph wires still intact and wired New York business men seeking a extension of credit for her husband. The Connecticut Mutual Life Insurance Company allowed him to borrow $1,700,000, the largest single loan made in the United States up to that time...”


This hotel opened on November 8, 1873 and was built of brick and iron. It was advertised as the “first wholly fireproof hotel in the United States.” The first two floors were again reserved for stores, 18 on each floor. In the center was the grand court patterned after the Louvre in Paris. Around this great lobby would be a balcony running on three sides. He copied this from Spurgeon’s church in London. “The floors of the barber shop, set with silver dollars between tiles, probably bought more fame to the hotel than any other feature.” From a well, the hotel had its own water supply.

In 1876, Potter Palmer decided to raise the roof of this hotel 30 inches in order to make “the upper rooms more lofty and attractive.”  The roof weighted 3,802 tons. It was divided into 5 sections and using 200 hydraulic jack-screws, manned by 65 men, the roof was gradually raised. At a given signal the levers were all turned at once. Every half-inch the work was stopped and measurements taken so “that there may be a perfect level at all time.” In addition he was also constructing a conservatory over the dining-room on the roof. You could enter by a passage-way on the fifth floor. “It was 45 by 78 feet and 17 feel in height, with a double glass roof, and will be heated by steam. For this special feature Mr. Palmer has purchased the rarest and most beautiful plants and exotics obtainable, which will soon be in position.” This beautiful hotel was replaced by the present building. (Pictures can be found on the Internet.)

Work on the present hotel started in 1924. The new hotel rose 23-three stories and was to be the world’s largest hotel with 2,263 rooms. The cost, including furnishings, was nearly $40 million. Palmer House II was gradually replaced without closing or losing any revenue.

The hotel that we will enjoy on November 22 has had just two owners - Potter Palmer and Conrad N. Hilton. Mr. Hilton purchased the hotel from the Palmer family for $20 million in 1945. It is the longest continually operating hotel in the United States. It was also the first Chicago hotel to have telephone service in all rooms, electric lights, air conditioning and elevators.

The gilded lobby of the present hotel is two-stories high with a formal staircase and a ceiling mural depicting Greek mythology. “The Michelangelo-esque mural was originally created in the 1920s by French muralist Louis Pierre Rigal.” The Palmer House mural contains 21 portraits. Each was a separate piece of canvas, signed by artist, Louis Pierre Rigal. They were painted in France and shipped to the United States in 1926. In 1964 restoration work was being done on the mural when Martin K. Ziegner fell 40 feet from the scaffolding and died. The murals were restored again in 1983 and 1995 by Lido Lippi, a master restorer who also worked on the Sistine Chapel. The most recent restoration took place in 2012 by Anthony and Mata Kartsonas, “who are well-known art preservationists.”

Wayne Rethford, President Emeritus
Illinois St. Andrew’s Society

The Scots of Chicago will meet for the 169th time this coming Saturday night, November 22, in the grand ballroom of the Palmer House Hilton, Chicago, Illinois. Click here to register.

The entertainment is a repeat performance by the Chelsea House Orchestra. These high school students are from Chelsea, Michigan, a town of 5,000 located in the southeastern portion of that state. Jed Fritemeier started CHO in 1996 with 10 students. About 30 students will make the trip to Chicago. The program has been studied as an alternative to the typical school orchestra. I can almost guarantee that you will enjoy this group of high energy young people as they perform “Celtic with a Kick.”