Friday, March 27, 2015

I am Lolita Sheldon Armour


My name is Lolita Sheldon Amour. Actually, it’s Lola H. but I changed it in the 1900s. I understand that some of you will be viewing The Scots of Lake Forest in our country home on April 11. It was a wonderful place to live and I am pleased it still exists. Did you know I grew prize winning roses at Mellody Farm? I am sure they must all be gone by now. During the Great War, we also grew acres and acres of potatoes for our troops. We had two other homes but this was our favorite.

I was born in Suffield, Connecticut in 1869. My father was Martin J. Sheldon and he was from an old family in Connecticut. My mother was born in England. Sadly, she died when I was eleven. It was a very difficult time but my dad did the best he could under the circumstances. He placed me in Miss Porter’s school in Farmington. It was a great school and gave the training I needed for all the other phases of my life. My father never remarried and died in 1917. He is buried beside my mother in the Woodlawn Cemetery, Suffield, CT.

It wasn’t easy to travel then but I made several trips to Chicago visiting friends. On one of those trip, I met Ogden Amour. I think it was at a party but I do remember it was love at first sight. We talked and talked about our common interests and Ogden was very persistent, a trait that served him well in business. Three weeks later our engagement was announced.

Three months later, May 13, 1891, we were married in New York City. I was 22 and Ogden was 28. My father lived at the Murray Hill Hotel and we reserved one of the private parlors. It was elaborately trimmed with roses, lilacs, and hydrangeas. We stood under a canopy of roses for our vows and Dr. Gunsaulus of the Plymouth Congregational Church in Chicago read the marriage service. You recognize that name, don’t you? He’s the one who preached The Million Dollar Sermon that had such a dramatic effect on my father-in-law, Philip D. Amour.

It was a very small wedding there were no ushers and my husband didn’t have a best man. I only had two attendants: Miss Murray of Chicago and Miss Farrington of Rhinebeck, New York. Only family members and close friends were present. My father gave me away and I so wished my mother could have been there. She would have been so happy.

You should have seen my wedding gown. It was made in Paris of all places and I remember it like it was yesterday. It was made of white brocaded satin with a full court train and trimmed across the front of the skirt with a frill of old point lace. Ogden had given me a diamond lovers’ knot which fastened my tulle vest and I carried a bouquet of lilies of the valley. My granddaughter wore the same dress when she was married in 1953. I wonder what happened to the dress and the diamond knot? After the ceremony we traveled throughout the south.

By September of that same year work began on our first home, It was located on the northwest corner of Michigan avenue and Thirty-seventh place in Chicago. Such a large house for just two people but the Amour’s had an image to uphold. Ogden loved long halls and grand stairways and this house had both. You will see the same pattern when you visit our country home on April 11. The house wasn’t finished until the end of ‘92 and on January 14, 1893 we had a grand open house. Everyone came to visit. It was like the “who’s who” of Chicago. Just look at these names: Kimball, McNeil, Kellogg, Allerton, Keith, Pullman, Farwell, Buckingham, Peck, Spaulding, McIllwaine and the list goes on and on. It was a wonderful night and our poodles had such a good time.

This is a funny story from our past. We owned the first horseless carriage in Chicago. Ogden bought it in Europe and had it delivered to Chicago. So, one day, I left home to get Ogden from work. His office was in the Home Insurance building at Adams and La Salle. Here I am a woman in 1899 driving the first vehicle in Chicago that was not being pulled by a horse. You should have seen the look of amazement on the faces of policemen and of course the horses snorted and bucked at this strange sight and sound. When we finally arrived home, Ogden declared firmly and finally, “Never again, Lolita, it isn’t safe.” We had such marvelous fun and great memories. If I remember correctly, we also brought the first gas powered automobile to Chicago. It was a Panhard and painted a bright red. Sorry we didn’t keep that car. It was such a favorite.

Since we are talking about cars, and since you are going to visit Lake Forest on April 11, I think this is also a funny story. Arthur L. Farwell brought the first car to Lake Forest in 1904. The town fathers thought it so dangerous that they passed a special ordinance for protection. “This required a man on horseback to ride ahead of Mr. Farwell waving a red flag and ringing a copper dinner bell.”

Our daughter was born in 1897. We didn’t think she was going to live. She was premature and crippled. Most premature children born at that time never lived but Lolita was such a fighter and she made it. Perhaps, I should let her tell her own story some day. It was such a painful time that we never had any more children but you should have seen Ogden when he arrived home and had time to spend with our baby.

Ogden could always make money and he accumulated great wealth which in private he shared freely. We supported many charities but tried to be anonymous when we could. Toward the end of his life, events began to turn against him. I won’t go into detail but we lost everything including the mansion in Lake Forest.

It is still painful to talk about his death. Ogden was in London at the time and was staying in the Amour suite at the Carlton hotel. He had contracted typhoid fever and that, combined with a weak heart, was just too much. He was sixty-four and the date was August 27, 1927. We brought him home on the Derengaria and the funeral was held at the Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago. The church was filled with the rich and the poor. They touched shoulders with each other as they paid tribute. Many stood around the edges of the sanctuary. He was buried in the family plot at Graceland.

When you visit our home on April 11, I hope you will think of us and how much we enjoyed this place as our summer home. Remember, the program begins at 2:00 p.m. on April 11, 2015 and the film lasts an hour followed by a reception. I hope this small article of memory will help you appreciate the great mansion and the Scots of Lake Forest. Ogden was always proud of his Scottish heritage, and he was a life member of the Illinois Saint Andrew Society. Please wear your Scottish attire and kilt if you have one.

Click here to register................

Wayne Rethford, President Emeritus
Illinois Saint Andrew Society

Personal Note:  I will be in the Sarasota and Naples area, April 14 through Sunday, April 19 If you would like to have breakfast, lunch or dinner, call me or sent an email to I will be attending a meeting, doing Scottish research, etc.  If you are knowledgeable about Bertha Palmer and her land holdings in the Sarasota area, please contact me. If you are a member of a St. Andrew’s Society, please contact me. I will have a rental car and don’t mind driving to you.

April 4, 2015 - History Club meeting will feature the town of Pullman. Our speaker will be Michael Shymanski. He and his wife live in Pullman and they were founding members of the Historic Pullman Foundation. You will hear about some of the Scots who lived and worked in the town of Pullman. Museum opens at 9 a.m. and the program begins at 10.

Monday, March 23, 2015

The Scots of Lake Forest

The Historical Society of Lake Forest-Lake Bluff will sponsor a premier of the video “The Scots of Lake Forest” on Saturday, April 11 at 2 p.m. The video will be shown in the Amour house of Lake Forest Academy. Once described as the “most beautiful house between New York and San Francisco” it was built as the country home of J. Ogden Amour. At the time, Mr. Amour was described as the second richest man in the world.

He purchased several contiguous farms and accumulated more than twelve hundred acres. They called it Mellody Farm. The architect was Arthur Heun of Chicago and the contractor was a Scot, Morton R. Mavor. I have read they brought in black dirt to cover two hundred acres a depth of two feet around the house. Construction started in 1905 and the residence of 29,000 square feet was occupied on May 5, 1908. It is built in the shape of the letter H. Landscaping was done by Jens Jensen.

When you attend the event on April 11, you will enter the central hallway which is 20 feet wide and 112 feet long. At the far end is a fireplace. From here one can enter the music room, the library, the dining room and a breakfast room at the back. There are pictures on the walls which show how the house was originally decorated. “Displaying tapestries against warm white walls, the entrance was furnished with long, low benches, giant porcelain jardinieres, marble-topped 18th-century consoles, and a Chinese lacquer cabinet on a gilt-wood stand.” The floor of the main hall was of marble tile, but almost entirely covered with rugs. It must have been spectacular!

Between the dining room and the living room is the great marble stairway leading to the second floor. The marble was rose and green with a bronze railing. The stairway was then covered with a magnificently woven carpet. If you use your imagination, you can almost see their daughter, Lolita descending the stairs at her wedding to John J. Mitchell, Jr. in 1921.

The Amour House is the perfect venue for the showing of “The Scots of Lake Forest.” The Amour’s came from Argyllshire, Scotland where the chief town is Campbelltown. Philip Danforth Amour established the great meat-packing business in Chicago and became a benefactor of the arts and education. He provided the funds to establish the Amour Institute now known as the Illinois Institute of Technology. “He was one of the most generous supporters of the Scottish organization known as the Illinois Saint Andrew Society.” J. Ogden who built the mansion was the only surviving son of Philip D. Amour and his wife Lolita Sheldon Amour.

There were four permanent residents in the mansion and each had a bedroom in a corner of the H shaped second floor. Mr. Amour lived on the right and had a study on the main floor with private stairs and an elevator. Mrs. Amour lived on the left but there was no connecting hallway between the two bedrooms. Lolita lived in the back bedroom and the mother of J. Ogden lived in the remaining one. Each bedroom also had a separate sitting room.

Mellody Farm cost 12 million dollars. It had its own water and power sources. There were orchards, a carriage house with a clock tower, stables, and an ice house. There were gold and silver doorknobs, imported marble walls with a bowling alley in the basement and 210 fireplaces. The Amour’s were very wealthy, but not everyone who lived in Lake Forest was and many of those people are featured in the video showing on April 11 beginning at 2 p.m.  The hour-long film touches on many of the almost 1,000 native born Scots and their children who helped establish Lake Forest. The video also recognizes the hardworking Scots who paved the streets, built the school, dug the sewers and ran many of the original stores in town. Over 2,000 vintage photographs were collected for this project. You will also hear about the Scots who founded Carson, Pirie and Scott and ran Quaker Oats and the Zenith Corporation.

Admission fee $10.00. Lake Forest Academy is located at 1500 W. Kennedy Road, Lake Forest, IL. Seating is limited to 150.

Click here to register.

Wayne Rethford, President Emeritus
The Illinois Saint Andrew Society

Upcoming Events

April 4, 2015 - History Club meeting will feature the Town of Pullman. Our speaker will be Michael Shymanski. He and his wife live in Pullman and he was a founding member of the Historic Pullman Foundation. You will hear about the Scots who lived and worked in the town of Pullman.

May 2, 2015 - History Club meeting will celebrate all the May birthdays and we will cover 10 more years of Scottish history in Chicago. Details later.

June 6, 2015 - “Bloody Omaha Beach on D-Day.”

No meeting in July or August

September 12, 2015 - Speaker is Dr. James E. Davis. “Unusual Features of the American Revolution.”

October 3, 2015 - Dr. Euan Hague

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Hats, Pullman, Lake Forest & a Cairngorm Brooch

All About Hats

On Saturday, March 7, 2015, Mary Robak will be our speaker. She will be talking about how millinery evolved from the fur trade to its peak in the 1920s.  We will hear about the “movers and shakers of the industry.”  “The industry of Edson Keith, Fisk and Gage led the wholesale world in the midwest, west and to a lesser extent, other parts of the U.S. Chicago grew many department stores with a significant reliance on their millinery sales.”

As you know, we have six Bes Ben hats in our museum and they will be on display. We had hoped that the hats might lead us back to the original owners but that appears unlikely. We have one hat box with the name Mary Watt on the tag. Mary was a resident at the Scottish Home and died July 20, 2000. She was born in Scotland, February 2, 1903.

On March 7, the museum will open at 9 a.m., the program will start at 10 and finish in about an hour. Reservations are not necessary but helpful. Call 708.408.5591. There is no charge. Coffee and scones will be available.

The Town of Pullman

The History Club on April 4, 2015, will turn its attention to the Town of Pullman and our speaker will be Michael Shymanski.  He is a Pullman resident and founding member of the Historic Pullman Foundation. As you know, President Obama visited the Pullman district in February and established the district as a National Monument within the National Park System. Mr. Shymanski was featured widely in newspaper and radio articles about the event.

You may hear about the Scots who lived and worked in the town of Pullman.

Lake Forest Video

The premiere of the movie The Scots of Lake Forest will be held on April 11, 2015, at the Lake Forest Academy beginning at 2:00 p.m. The hour-long video touches on many of the almost 1,000 native born Scots and their children who helped establish Lake Forest. You’ll learn about the Scots who founded Carson, Pirie and Scot, ran Quaker Oats and the Zenith Corporation.

Over 2,000 old photographs were collected for this project, many from private collections, as well as the Scottish American History Museum and Lake Forest Historical Society’s photograph collection.

The premiere takes place in the Amour Manson at Lake Forest Academy, the former home of Scotsman J. Ogden Amour. Refreshments will follow the movie. Signed copies of Eddi Reader’s CD, The Songs of Robert Burns, which accompanies the film, will be available for a donation of $20.

Tickets are $10 - reservations requested. Tickets may be purchased by calling 847.234.5253 or visiting the Lake Forest-Lake Bluff Historical Society website. You can also call Wayne Rethford at 630.629.4516.

250 Carat, Stirling Silver Cairngorm Brooch

I saw this brooch at the Burn’s Dinner held at the Union League Club in Chicago and it is beautiful and impressive. It was crafted by R. & H.B. Kirkwood who were responsible for making the dirks and sgian dubhs for the Gordon Highlander’s Regiment. A very few Cairngorm Military Brooches were made, most likely for the top ranking officers. Date 1902-03.

The dimensions of this extremely large and impressive brooch are as follows:

Diameter: 4 1/8 inches
Height: This brooch will stand c. 2 inches high when worn on your clan tartan sash
Carats: 250

This unique brooch is now for sale. If interested, please contact

Wayne Rethford, President Emeritus
Illinois Saint Andrew Society