Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Donald A. Gillies (1931-2011) A man who loved all things Scottish and a close friend is dead.

I first met Don Gillies in the fall of 1985. Rev. Arthur T. Guscott brought us together for lunch at the University Club in Chicago. The Scottish Home was seeking to hire an Administrator and I was being interviewed. I suppose his findings were passed along to the search committee and my next interview was with Peter Georgeson and Bob Black at the Scottish Home. I was hired in December of 1985 and reported for work in January, 1986.

Don was a very demanding boss and called almost every day to check on my progress. We developed a strong bond and became close friends. Our last lunch was also at the University Club, but I am not sure of the date. He was struggling with his Parkinsons disease but there was not the slightest verbal hint that anything was wrong. We talked of past days and perhaps both of us understood that this would be our last lunch. We shook hands for a long time and then parted. I will always consider Don Gillies a close, personal friend.  Our Society is much indebted to him for his years of service and his dedication to our work.

His obituary was printed in the Chicago Tribune, August 22,  and a memorial service will be held this Saturday at 11 a.m. at the Lake Street Church, 607 Lake Street, Evanston, IL. If you would like a copy of his obituary, you may call the Society office or email me at He is survived by his wife Judith, a daughter Beth and a sister Jean.

Here are some comments from the obiturary.

Graduate of Denison University and J.D. at Northwestern University
Member of Phi Beta Kappa
Board of Trustees, University of Chicago - 1977 to 1983
Board President of The Baptist Theological Union - 27 years
Vice President and Board of Directors, Baptist Retirement Home
President of the Illinois St. Andrew Society - 1986 to 1988
Member of the Skokie Country Club in Glencoe since 1976
Frequently traveled to Scotland with his wife to play golf
Loved bagpipe music and all things Scottish
Partner with Altheimer & Gray, which he joined in 1961
Counsel with Holland & Knight from 2003 until retirement
Specialized in taxation and estate law.

Wayne Rethford
President Emeritus
Illinois Saint Andrew Society

Monday, August 22, 2011


PLEASE NOTEThe History Club meeting scheduled for September 10 has been rescheduled for September 17.

I have had several emails wanting more information about the Auditorium building and the seating capacity of the theater. The story of the Auditorium is a great story and someone should write a book if it hasn’t already been done.

There are several different numbers about the seating capacity of the Auditorium Theater. When the first events were held there was no permanent seating. Folding chairs were used along with overflow spaces. This may be where the 9,000 number originated. (It could also be that the reporter was wrong with his estimate.) Later there is a statement in the Tribune saying that the theater was built to seat 4,237 "and was the largest permanent theater every constructed in the world up to that time.”

During the first political convention, folding chairs were used and the newspaper reports that there were 5,000 spectators, 2,000 reporters plus the delegates. In 1889, the Tribune reports that 5,000 opera-chairs were furnished by “the old and reliable house of A. H Andrews and Co.” Today, I understand the Theater seats 2,327.

The Tribune in 1887, lists the original stockholders and more than 100 names are listed. The officers of the corporations were: Charles L. Hutchinson, John R. Walsh, N. F. Fairbanks, A. L. Coe, Charles Counselman, A. A. Sprague, M. A. Ryerson, W. E. Hale, William Penn Nixon, Henry Field, and Ferdinand W. Peck. Mr. Peck served as President.

It is the only major Adler and Sullivan Building remaining in Chicago and was marked by grand stairways, magnificent arches, stained glass, 22-karat gold leaf and an acoustically perfect auditorium. Upwards of 60,000 sq. ft. of plate glass was used in the building. On top of the Auditorium is an 8-story office building. Not sure how the office building is used today but, it once recorded the official temperatures for the city of Chicago and was the tallest structure in town.

The opening performance on December 11, 1889, was a “Grand Italian Opera production of Romeo and Juliet.”

The building was among the first to be totally wired for electricity and one of the last great buildings to rest on sand and mud without a foundation of caissons. The area of the site is about two acres.

A 10-foot duct brought in air from the roof and was cooled by sprays of water in the summer and the air was heated in the winter. The vast stage with its elevators and backdrops was designed in Vienna.

The Chicago Opera Company used the theater for 40 years but the building was never a financial success and by the Great Depression the Chicago Auditorium Association was bankrupt. Bids to demolish the building were taken in 1930 and 1931, but the cost of demolition was greater than the value of the land. The question of who had authority to demolish the building, the land owners or the Association, became a legal issue and made it all the way to the Supreme Court.

During World War II, the Auditorium served as the USO and the great stage was turned into a bowling alley.

Roosevelt University bought the building in 1946 for $400,000 and a promise to pay back taxes of $1,300,000. The Founders had originally chosen the name of Jefferson University but when President Roosevelt died on April 12, 1945, the name was changed. The University began restoring the Theater in 1960 and it was reopened in 1967.

In Chicago, who owns the land is always interesting. Part of the land, the northeast corner, was owned by the Studebaker Brothers Manufacturing Company. In 1903, that lease was assigned to the Fine Arts Association. The term of the lease was for 99 years. In 1889, Boston capitalists purchased the southwest corner of the property for $232,200. It was leased back to the Auditorium Association for 99 years. Henry J. Willing once owned a major portion of the land. Over time, the University has purchased back most of the land according to an article in the Chicago Tribune dated, February 27, 1947. One lease does not expire until 2085. It was written for 200 years.

We are considering a Fall history tour to visit the Auditorium Theater. The History Club meeting on September 17 will feature the Director of the Auditorium Theater.  Once we have more information, we will send everyone an email with the details.

Wayne Rethford
President Scottish American History Club

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Scots Celebrate Robert Burns in the Newly Opened Auditorium Theatre, 1890

The Auditorium Theater in Chicago was dedicated on December 9, 1889, and the Scottish people held one of the first events in the new building on January 25, 1890. It was a celebration of Robert Burns.  The headlines read “Scotch Citizens pack the auditorium to do the Bard Honor.” The Auditorium was said to seat 9,000 and was the largest building of its kind in the world.

The Highland Association rented the auditorium for the occasion. The Chicago Daily Tribune reported, “well-to-do Scotchmen - and there are scores of them in Chicago - bought boxes and sat in them with their wives and families; middle-class Scotchmen and Scotchwomen occupied the vast parquet and parquet circle, transforming the spacious hall into a sweeping upland of smiling faces.” Young people chose the balcony so that every seat was filled and there was standing room only.

The paper gave an interesting list of those on the platform and indicated they are all Scottish, including Mayor Cregier. Among the other names listed were: General M. M. Trumbull, Peter McEwen, F. B. Williams, George Stewart, Colin Bell, A. G. Hodge, John McLean, John McKinnon, Dr. Reynolds and the Rev. W. Kettle.

The Orator of the evening was the Rev. Dr. Lorimer and his theme was Robert Burns, the Poet of the People. “For Robert Burns, the poor man, the speaker had only words of praise; for Robert Burns, the songster who stirred men’s hearts to a marvelous degree, praise became something warmer and dearer. But higher than all, Robert Burns, the teacher, the poet-philosopher, who spurned the trappings of a monarch’s court and took off his hat to a picture of George Washington, who taught men to soar above narrow-mindedness and in a universal brotherhood to recognize the attributes of an all-merciful Heaven-for such a Burns, Dr. Lorimer’s words were eloquent almost to veneration. And that other side of the poet’s character - the rollicking, ne’er-do-weel, amorous country swain - even that was shorn of its unpleasantness by the kindly portrayal of the orator.”

The highlight of the evening was the singing of young Blatchford Kavanaugh. Not sure of his age, but he was a child and became quite famous for his singing. That evening he sang “Cuddle Doon,” “Annie Laurie” and later in the program dressed in Highland costume sang “Ye Banks and Braes o’ Bonnie Doon.” A reporter wrote that “it looked for a while as if the audience would be crazed with delight.” If you search the Internet there is more information about the child Blatchford Kavanaugh. He must have been an amazing singer. I do not know what happened to him as an adult.

There were other songs, singers and Highland dancers. Of all the dancing, the Highland fling drew the greatest applause. It was a great evening of entertainment and must have been quite a sight to see the Auditorium filled with “Scotchmen in broadcloth and Scotchmen in tartan kilt, Scotch lassies in bran noo gownes, and Scotch guidwives in go-to-meeting clothes . . . ”

Chicago had a large Scottish population. In fact, some have said it had the largest Scottish population of any major American city. We still have a large population of Scottish Americans scattered throughout the greater Chicago area. We would ask all of them to support the Illinois St. Andrew Society and The Scots of Chicago and keep alive their heritage.

For more information go to

Wayne Rethford
President Emeritus

If you don’t know history you are a leaf that doesn’t know its part of a tree.

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Auditorium Theater and Hotel

The Chicago Daily Tribune announced on January 30, 1887, that ground had been broken for the Chicago Auditorium Building which was to be 11 stories high and have a seating capacity of 5,000 to 8,000, and cost $1,500,000. In order to clear the land it was necessary to remove three residences, a large skating rink, and the Hotel Brunswick.

In April the paper reported again with information taken from the specifications of the architects. Now, the building is to cost two million dollars. And be 10 stories high. When completed is was to be a hotel and auditorium. The hotel entrance was to be on Michigan avenue and the auditorium on Congress street. “The auditorium will be the largest in the word, containing 5,000 seats and a full seating capacity of 9,000.” The amount of iron used will be the largest ever made for one building, 4,000 tons of materials.

The plans for the building were provided by Adler and Sullivan who carefully prepared the foundation. Frank Lloyd Wright as a young man served as a draftsman. The borings for the floating foundation extended 60 feet “into the tunnel clay.” The excavation required the removal of 30,000 cubic yards of earth. (I suppose they only had horse-power, but it is not clear how long the process took.) For the foundation “two transverse layers of twelve-inch timber were first put down. Above these was placed a mass of concrete in which was imbedded railroad bars and T beams.”

For the hotel they dug an artesian well to a depth of over 1,200 feet which would furnish 150 gallons per minute for hotel use. There were nine passenger elevators and four freight elevators. The hotel had 400 rooms, with 100 rooms having a private bath. The dining room was on the tenth floor. We can only imagine how beautiful the hotel was for their special guests.

There was an immense organ in the auditorium. It was built by Frank Roosevelt of New York and contained four-manual, 175 stops and 7,371 pipes and bells. The largest pipes were thirty-two feet in height. It was to cost fifty thousand dollars. I don’t know if the organ still exists.

It was later decided that the substructure up to the top of the second floor would be granite. The rest of the building would be stone A new stone was to be introduced. It was a “fine gray granite, with a rose-colored tint running though it.” The quarries were located in St. Louis County, Minnesota about 80 miles north of Duluth and 50 miles west of Lake Superior. The cutting, polishing and preparations would be done in Chicago by Chicago workmen.

The Auditorium was formally dedicated December 9, 1889 by President Benjamin Harrison. It was now ready for numerous Scottish events including a tribute to Queen Victoria.

There is more to the story and you can find additional information on the Internet.

Wayne Rethford
President Emeritus
Illinois St. Andrew Society

The next meeting of the Scottish American History Club is September 10, 2011. Watch for announcement of special speaker. Subject: “The Scottish Roots of Rotary.”

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Andrew Hervey, Five Times President of the Illinois St. Andrew's Society

Those who attend our monthly History Club meetings know the name Andrew Hervey because he served more terms as President of our Society than anyone. Born in Glasgow, Scotland, in 1820, he kept alive his love for his native land. In fact, he “did not renounce his allegiance to Queen Victoria until 1892." (I assume that means he became an American citizen in 1892?)

He was a graduate of Glasgow University in 1842 and at the age of 30, he emigrated to Canada and began to practice law in Ottawa. He married Miss Mariah Jones whose father was a Loyalist in the American Revolution and moved to Canada for refuge. Mr. Hervey and his wife moved to Chicago in 1852 but Mrs. Hervey must have died shortly thereafter. Sometime later, he married Miss Jeannie E. Graham.

He grew with the legal profession as the city grew. “In his early days he was associated with Abraham Lincoln and other giants in the legal arena.” He was one of the founders of the Chicago Bar Association. One of his most famous cases was the defense of Judge Morris, who was once his partner. The Judge was implicated in a conspiracy to liberate 300 rebel prisoners held at Fort Douglas. He also took a leading role in the defense of 19 Aldermen indicted for bribery in 1872.

During the Civil War, he was too old for active duty but once took “a stand of colors to an Illinois regiment at the front.” (12th Illinois Infantry?) Here, he became acquainted with General Grant. He was always very popular with the “Scotch-American” citizens of Chicago. Between 1857 and 1874, he served five terms as President of the Illinois St. Andrew Society. He was also prominent in the Caledonian Society “and in every way has done good work in the interest of his fellow-countrymen.” He “was regarded by Scotch citizens as their representative on all public occasions.” He was one of the Committee of One Hundred that escorted Mr. Lincoln’s body from Chicago to Springfield.

Mr. Hervey retired in 1887 and invested heavily in certain stocks upon the advice of friends. The company failed and “his entire fortune was swallowed up.” Shortly thereafter his health broke and he became “enfeebled” in mind as well. “In spite of it all and through it all, however, he has kept the charming manners and the gracious bearing which have always marked him as a polished gentleman of the old school.”

 He died December 15, 1902 at his residence 33 Twenty-Fifth street in Chicago. He is buried in Oak Woods cemetery and the Saint Andrew Society officiated at his funeral. Two children survived: one daughter lived in Canada and one son, Robert D., lived in Tonawanda, Iowa. Both children were from the first marriage.

Shortly before his death the citizens of Chicago held a benefit for him at the Auditorium Theater and thousands attended. I will perhaps write about that in the next blog. Gus Noble, the President of the Society and I have been talking about the Auditorium Theater and the Scottish events held there after it was built in 1888. We will be writing more about this later.

Robert Hervey was a great man who served his profession and his community with great zeal.

Wayne Rethford
President Emeritus
Illinois St. Andrew Society

The 95th Annual Scottish Home picnic is this Saturday. I will have the museum open from 10-2. This would be a good opportunity to visit the Scottish Home. More information is on their web site.