Tag: Chicago

Photos from the Summer of '21

Photos from the summer of ’21

By Nick Wilder
What a relief to venture outdoors without masks and visit friends in their homes. We still wear masks in airports and avoid indoor restaurants. But at least outdoors we can see faces and have conversations without self consciously holding back for fear of the virus. Keven and I have split our spring and summer between Chicago and Door County, Wisconsin. I am always looking for faces and patterns which might make interesting photographs. In Chicago, I gravitate towards people and stories, be that a three-generation graduation celebration or a mother trying to keep up with her daughter on a bicycle. In Door County, my emphasis is on weather, flowers, and animals. Our visit to a local goat farm was a particularly good photo opportunity.
I start this essay with photos I took on walks around our Bucktown neighborhood. I took most of the second group of photos in Sister Bay and Ellison Bay, Wisconsin.
At the entrance to the 606 elevated trail
Our trip to the goat farm in Sister Bay, Wisconsin

6 am from our bedroom balcony
Keven taking a photo from our kayak
Seagull photo taken from our kayak
July 4 fireworks
Schlaumberger Bow

Tiffany & Company in Chicago: Centenary of the Tiffany & Co. Field Museum Gemstone Exhibition’s Move to Lake Shore Drive

By Alexandra Polach


A 148.5-carat  Tiffany & Co. aquamarine was part of a prized collection of Tiffany gems and gemstones that was seen by millions of visitors at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.

In 1894, the entire collection was purchased from Tiffany & Co. for $100,000 and donated by Harlow Niles Higinbotham, President of the World’s Fair, to start Chicago’s premier natural history museum.

In 2009, Tiffany experts set the aquamarine in a platinum and gold brooch embellished with white diamonds and named the piece the “Schlumberger Bow.” Today, the company offers jewelry under their Tiffany Schlumberger tradename to clients around the world.

Photograph taken by the author, Alexandra Polach, at The Field Museum, April 22, 2021

The Tiffany Pavilion in the Façade of the United States Section, Manufactures and Liberal Arts Building at the World’s Columbian Exposition, Chicago, 1893. [1]   

Photo colorized by the author

When LVMH, the world’s largest luxury group, completed its $15.6 billion acquisition of U.S. based global jewelry brand Tiffany & Company in January this year, it marked the largest purchase of a luxury company in history. The latest LVMH earnings report emphasizes the importance of this acquisition and highlights the global popularity of the 184-year-old Tiffany & Co. Brand, which was founded in 1837.  This is no surprise to Chicagoans, as Tiffany is a brand that has now been celebrated and formally exhibited in Chicago to millions of viewers for more than 125 years. But we will begin this story in 1889 in Paris, France when Tiffany showed a major collection of gems at the Paris Exposition.

Photo of Founder Charles Lewis Tiffany (left) in his stunning New York store circa 1887

Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Tiffany & Co. Exhibits Around the World

Paris, 1889 – At the Paris Exposition of 1889, tens of thousands of visitors flocked to view a remarkable Tiffany & Co. exhibition not previously before seen. After the immense exhibiting success and after the closing of the Paris Exposition, it was the goal of Charles Lewis Tiffany, founder of the company, and his gem and jewelry team, to keep this gem collection together for the educational benefit of the greater public. Tiffany, a member of the board of the American Museum of Natural History approached a fellow Museum trustee, mogul, and avid collector James Pierpont Morgan, who agreed to buy the collection for $15,000 [2] and maintain it. Morgan would eventually donate this group of gems to the American Museum of Natural History as the Tiffany-Morgan Collection where it remains an important component of the collection today.

Chicago, 1893 – At the Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893, a second and equally acclaimed Tiffany gem and jewelry collection was formed and exhibited. The collection was prominently exhibited in the Manufactures and Liberal Arts Building at the Chicago World’s Fair, and the exhibits again drew great crowds and admiration.

Tiffany received national and international coverage for the collection’s triumphant exhibition at the Chicago World’s Fair. The Jewelers Review, a publication from the time, wrote in August 1893 regarding the exhibition that, “Enthusiasts, watching the endless throngs crowding around the Tiffany diamonds at the Fair, have declared that were any single exhibit to be chosen for a special grand prize as the greatest international exposition the world has ever seen, the Tiffany diamonds would know no rival” [3].

Above: Tiffany & Co. display case with diamonds at the 1893 World’s Fair. The photo was featured in the article, “The Tiffany Exhibit at the World’s Fair” in the publication The Illustrated American issue dated May 20, 1893. According to John Loring, acclaimed Tiffany & Co. historian, the set featured in the photo “contained 147 aquamarines, all cut at Tiffany’s gem cutting shop from the same crystal to assure a uniform color and the set also contained 1,848 diamonds.” [4]

Below: “The Tiffany Exhibit at the World’s Fair” article’s scrolling title. [5]

Photos from Tiffany Jewels, John Loring, Harry N. Abrams, 1999, p. 130.

Again, Charles Lewis Tiffany was proud of the tremendous crowds and positive news coverage that his firm experienced in Chicago in 1893.  In a brochure published by Tiffany & Co. that year the house declared, “The testimonials…from the thousands of daily visitors, the almost unlimited generous comments of the press, and the valued technical reviews by art writers at home and abroad, have all been so overwhelming that the house accepts them not in the spirit of a personal compliment, but as a graceful tribute…” [6] The brochure goes on to state what is and was the vision that has resulted in making the Tiffany brand as popular today in the world as any jewelry brand, that Tiffany’s aim was “to excel the past, and to retain by real merit the approval of the public” [7].

 Tiffany was determined to ensure that the public at large would again, as in New York, continue to have access to the remarkable jewelry and gemstones exhibited in Chicago.  As the World’s Fair was ending, “prominent Chicagoans wanted to convert the fair’s collection into a permanent natural history museum” [8]. Just a short time after the close of the Fair in October 1893, Harlow Niles Higinbotham agreed to buy the entire Tiffany gem exhibit for the princely price of $100,000 [9].  This collection would continue to be permanently exhibited over the next 125 years at the Field Columbian Museum, which would later become the Field Museum of Natural History; the collection would grow to include hundreds of specimens.

The acquisition of the Tiffany gems, made possible by Higinbotham, received national coverage.  The New York Times reported at the time that it “forms one of the most interesting exhibits that has been gathered abroad” [10] and that the Higinbotham donation “was one of the most important additions that has been made to the Museum” [11]. The article highlighted standout pieces that were part of the collection, including a stunning Sun-God opal which “is carved in such a delicate way to show the face of the Aztec Sun God.” Other highlights that were part of this exhibition and remain exhibited today include a 154-carat beautiful green peridot, and a collection of golden yellow sapphires, the largest weighing 102.2-carats.

Tiffany Sun God Opal

 The Aztec “Sun-god Opal,” a 35-carat precious white Opal that is exquisitely carved into the shape of a human face. The opal was displayed at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair and is part of the collection that Higinbotham purchased. In addition, “this Opal was mined in Mexico by the Aztecs in the sixteenth century and eventually found its way to the Field Museum in 1893, where it has remained ever since.” [12]

Photo Courtesy of Field Museum






“The Green Goddess” a 154-carat peridot gemstone. The peridot itself was displayed at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair and is part of the collection that Higinbotham purchased. The peridot was set in the gold pendant with diamond embellishment, designed by Lester Lampert of Lester Lampert, Inc in 2009 for a Field Museum exhibit.

Photographs taken by the author at The Field Museum, April 22, 2021

“Sunrise”, yellow sapphires set in a gold bracelet, the largest weighing 102.2-carats. The largest sapphire was displayed at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair and is part of the collection that Higinbotham purchased. The gems were set in the bracelet by designer Lester Lampert in 2009 for a Field Museum exhibit.

Photograph taken by the author at The Field Museum, April 22, 2021

With Higinbotham’s funding secured, the gems and gemstones did stay in Chicago and were moved to and installed in the new Field Columbian Museum, which was housed in the former Palace of Fine Arts Building of the Chicago World’s Fair in Jackson Park. The gems opened at the Field Columbian Museum on June 2nd, 1894, where they remained until 1921.

The Higinbotham Hall of Gems

Photo from Lance Grande and Allison Augustyn’s book, Gems, and Gemstones: Timeless Natural Beauty of the Mineral World. The caption of the above photo as written therein reads, “The Higinbotham Hall of Gems in the Field Museum, 1893.” [13]

H.N. Higinbotham Hall of Gems and Jewels and Tiffany Window

 The entire Tiffany-Higinbotham display was moved in 1921 to the new Higinbotham Hall in the current Museum building, and completely reinstalled in 1941 with “new and highly improved types of exhibition cases on bases of attractive English harewood with view-glasses supported by framework of bright polished bronze…The reconstructed hall, with its colored window of Tiffany glass opposite the entrance, provides a setting worthy of the beauty of the gems and other ornamental objects in the collection.” [14]

Photo courtesy of the Field Museum


Higinbotham’s Role and Legacy

Harlow Niles Higinbotham was well-positioned to step up and fund the purchase of the entire collection and thus to make Charles Tiffany’s dream of permanent public access for his achievement a reality. His rise from farm boy to civic leader was very rapid, even by the standards of fortune building in 19th century America. His family came west to Northern Illinois from New York state in the 1830s. They bought farmland, built a mill, and settled at New Lenox, 40 miles southwest of central Chicago, where he was born in 1838.  Higinbotham became one of the “merchant prince” leaders of the gilded age in Chicago and was a major philanthropist, having made his fortune as a partner in Marshall Fields’ dry goods empire. During the Chicago fire of 1871 he was credited as having used his quick wit and leadership instincts to save the firm millions by quickly moving the finest silks and other of the most valuable inventory and irreplaceable financial records from the path of the inferno to his carriage house in New Lenox. Higinbotham married Rachel Davison in 1865 when he returned from serving as an officer in The Civil War. According to scholar and literary critic Harriet Monroe’s 1920 memoir of Harlow Niles Higinbotham, an interesting fact is that Higinbotham was with Lincoln in the White House on March 8th, 1864 when the president, who Higinbotham knew well, promoted Grant to the rank of commanding general of the Union Armies. 

During the planning of the Fair, Higinbotham served as a trustee, and in 1892 he was made president of the Exposition. He was president of the Field Columbian Museum from 1898 until 1908.

The Gilded Dome of the Administration Building on Chicago Day, October 9th, 1893

 President Higinbotham’s Private Office looked East out over the Court of Honor and onto Lake Michigan.

C.D. Arnold, Photographer, Courtesy of a Private Collection

 100 Years Ago this Month, Marshall Field’s Bequest and Higinbotham’s Plans are realized for the 1921 Building for the Field Museum of Natural History

Closeups of the blueprint for the new Field Museum of Natural History building, dated January 31, 1907. Images show signatures of both Daniel Hudson Burnham, lead architect, and

Harlow Niles Higinbotham, museum president.

 Courtesy of a Private Collection

When Museum benefactor Marshall Field died in 1906, it was revealed that his will included $8,000,000 in funding for a new building to replace the original (and at that point crumbling) location in Jackson Park. At the time, Harlow Niles Higinbotham was serving as president of The Field Museum; having closely worked together on the Fair, Higinbotham immediately hired Daniel Burnham to work with him to design the new structure. By January 1907, the first plans (shown above as a blueprint) were presented to the public.  The Chicago Tribune wrote that the plan showed promise of “a structure which will be unlike anything ever built in Chicago, with the exception of the World’s Fair buildings” [15]. Construction of the stately, multimillion square foot marble-clad structure” which cost an exorbitant $6,750,000 [16], was completed in 1920 and opened in May 1921.

From the opening day of the new building, the Tiffany Gems in Higinbotham Hall were a top attraction. One hundred years ago this month, on May 2, 1921, hundreds of guests flocked to stand in line for their maiden visit.  The Chicago Tribune, (which, at the time, was owned and published by Higinbotham’s son in law, Joseph Medill Patterson (“The Captain”) and Patterson’s cousin Robert R. McCormick (“The Colonel”)) described the new Museum’s inaugural exhibits with great praise which has continued to the current day.

Continued Higinbotham-Patterson-Crane Collecting and Support Over Three Centuries

Support for The Field Museum by members of the Higinbotham family has now continued over three centuries. Most significantly, perhaps, was the major donation of a second major collection of Tiffany & Co. gems by Higinbotham’s daughter Florence Higinbotham Crane in 1941. Mrs. Higinbotham Crane was the wife of Richard T. Crane, Jr., heir to the Chicago elevator, plumbing, industrial, and aerospace fortune and a long-serving trustee of the museum.  The donation included a 97.5-carat imperial ruby topaz, which is the largest of its kind in any museum, and a stunning 341-carat faceted aquamarine, shown in photos below.



A Tiffany & Co. 97.5-carat imperial ruby topaz purchased by Florence Higinbotham Crane for the Higinbotham Gem Hall in 1941 set in a rose gold pendant designed and created by Lester Lampert of Lester Lampert, Inc. in 2009 for a Field Museum exhibit. [17]  

 Photographs taken by the author at The Field Museum, April 22, 2021

The “Crane Aquamarine”, a 341-carat faceted gem measuring 60 x 37 x 22 mm purchased from Tiffany & Co. and donated to the Field Museum by Florence Higinbotham Crane in 1941.

 Photograph taken by the author at The Field Museum, April 22, 2021

 Beyond the magnificent gemstones that Mrs. Crane donated to the Field Museum, the family’s philanthropy continued with their focus on advancing the museum’s scientific research. There is an entire hall dedicated to larger American mammals, which in 1942 was named Richard T. Crane Jr. Hall [18], after Mrs. Crane’s husband.  The Cranes’ son, Cornelius Vanderbilt Crane, funded and donated the use of his yacht “The Illyria”, for the Field Museum’s “Crane Pacific Expedition” which took place in 1928-1929 throughout the Pacific Ocean [19]. The expedition prioritized marine research and enabled many Field Museum scientists and specialists to participate.  In addition, donations were made by Higinbotham’s son, Harlow Davison Higinbotham, who collected art and artifacts in South America for both the World’s Fair and as donations for the Field Museum.

In the current generations, a great-grandson, Harlow Niles Higinbotham, and his wife Susan have also served on the board of trustees and as well as head of fundraising committees and events; their children are seventh-generation Chicagoans who will support the museum and its scientific mission well into the future.

Tiffany & Co, Lady’s “H” Monogrammed Diamond and Gold Lorgnette

Not all Tiffany pieces collected by the Higinbotham-Crane family have been donated to museums; pictured is a diamond-encrusted “H” monogrammed lorgnette from the early 20th century held in a private family collection.

 Courtesy of a Private Collection

 In writing this article, it was imperative to see these gems and gemstones in person and visit and support one of city’s most well-known institutions. A photo simply does not capture the gemstones’ magic radiance and I highly encourage you to do as I did and visit the Tiffany-Higinbotham-Crane exhibit. I personally crave authenticity and cherish craftsmanship in the brands I align with today and these gemstones show the highest level of expertise, in the way they were sourced, assembled, and faceted by Tiffany, and displayed to this day by the museum. They remain incomparable to anything you might find in the market today.

 As I opened with Louis Vuitton, I will close with it. My next article will feature the stories of the Higinbotham-Patterson-Crane family’s and friends’ global travels with their hand-made, expertly crafted, and beloved Louis Vuitton trunks, purchased in Paris as early as the 1880s.

Continue reading


By Nick Wilder



April in Paris lives up to its romantic reputation.  Tulip festivals in the Netherlands offer dramatic displays of color. Cherry blossoms in Door County are a welcome relief from cold, gray winters.  However, my favorite place to be in spring in Chicago. The view from my office is filled with the white blossoms of pear trees. The parkways are alive with tulips, hyacinths, daffodils, and forsythia. Kids love to play in the neighborhood parks. Daily walks from our house make you glad to be alive. Here are some of my favorite spring photos featuring flowers in Paris, Amsterdam, Door County, and Chicago:

Tulips in a pond behind the Riksmuseum in Amsterdam


Keukenhof gardens outside Amsterdam


Keven walking on the Paris high line


Spring flowers in Door County


Trillium solo and covering the forest floor


Keven walking in Ellison Bluff Park


Cherry blossoms and beehives in Door County


Peonies in late May


Keven cutting lilacs over Memorial Day


First signs of spring on my Chicago rooftop garden (day lilies)


Millenium Park in Chicago

First parkway flowers in late March

Magnolias in the parkway

Kids in our neighborhood park

Daffodils up close

Spring Comes to Chicago: An Essay

John Simonds and Mary Jo Field with Bianca.








Spring comes to Chicago like a petulant child told to eat its broccoli.

We sit ceaselessly in of front our gas fireplace waiting for a spring that never seems to arrive, like we have been condemned to do penitence for undisclosed sins. It’s May 3rd and the temperature is 38 degrees, for Pete’s sake.

I am not a climate-change denier, but I see no evidence that the earth is getting warmer if you have to walk your dog three times a day, something I do out of misplaced love for my dog Bianca.

I checked it: officially spring arrived on time this year. The sun crossed the equator on March 20, heralding the arrival of the new season. Unfortunately, Chicago did not get the memo—it failed to set the alarm so that when we returned from Mexico on April 6th, everyone in our Near North neighborhood was wearing L.L. Bean parkas and wool scarfs. That is except those beautiful bodies that flash by on their way to the East Bank Club wearing tights and form-fitting shirts with a Nike logo and running shoes that glow in the dark. I am jealous.

I tell myself that it is time to get back to the gym to start getting in shape before summer comes or I have a heart attack, whichever comes first.

The new upscale playground in Montgomery Park is like a ghost town—with the wind howling at 18 miles per hour, no one ventures into the park, and the nannies, pushing their baby carriages, simply pass by in silence. One carriage was all zipped up and a guy who looked like an unreconstructed hippy was pushing it. Inside sat his cat, perfectly contented.

A truck arrived and four Mexican immigrants emerged and started putting fragrant compost around the trees and shrubs along the River Walk on Kingsbury, a sign of things to come, I prayed. Across the street a small plot planted with brightly colored tulips stands defiantly against the arctic wind.

Before I can file a complaint with our embattled mayor, the miracle of spring arrived on the wings of an angel named Hope. It was May 5th and the temperature soared to 58 degrees; young people sun bathed on the lawn in the park, the birds started chirping and strains of the Halleluiah Chorus could be heard in the distance.

Around the corner at the Erie Café the padlocks came off the furniture on the terrace and the waiters in long white aprons carry drinks on trays raised above their heads, and a group of men gather at a corner table to smoke cigars. Next door at the playground, children play chase and scream with joy, as a newly born flock of geese plied the river below.

Winter Weddings

                                             Secrets of a Wedding Planner


This candle-lined aisle creates the perfect ambience for a New Year’s Eve Wedding.

By Mana Discekici

It is very apparent that I have a big love for the wedding industry. They say wedding seasons come and go but best time to celebrate a wedding is only in the summer. That is not true! Wedding season is all year round, especially when you live in Chicago. Winter weddings are beautiful and they have become much more popular in the wedding industry.



Having worked various kinds of weddings, there are many things I learned about budgeting specifically for a winter wedding and why people should consider winter weddings more often than summer or spring weddings. I have held many internships with different wedding companies in the Chicago area, but the best, most influential and inspiring internship was at Bliss Weddings & Events & Wrap It Up Parties. My mentors showed me how to make a wedding beautiful and memorable no matter the season or the budget.



Personally, I think winter weddings have absolutely the best décor of all the seasons. The white, ivory and gold taste makes a wedding reception look clean and simple, yet tasteful. Not to mention, the pictures of the bride and groom are absolutely gorgeous when it comes to photo shoots in the winter snow.



When we show planning couples examples of previous weddings in different seasons, the bride-to-be is always in love the winter photo shoots. The winter season can also be a more affordable option for the dream wedding you have in mind. Venues around Chicago are most expensive during the summer season as that is when most people tend to get married. The good thing about having a winter wedding is that you can have simple white or red flower with tons of lights and candles and the whole room will look beautiful, all without much effort put into decorating it.


This candle-lined aisle creates the perfect ambience for a New Year’s Eve Wedding.

As I have mentioned before, the biggest trend in winter weddings is dark red and white rose bouquets. The main goal for every bride is to make her reception sparkle with many lights and candles. Nowadays, it’s very common for people to become engaged during the holidays; they feel it’s the most special time of the year. Oftentimes, couples want to celebrate their marriage at the same season during which they became engaged, and I don’t blame them! The truth is, you can make any wedding memorable no matter what season it is, but a glittery winter wedding is something no one will ever forget.


This gorgeous white, gold and fuchsia winter wedding reception truly makes your heart skip a beat!

A great website to find beautiful ideas at is Pinterest. I used Pinterest daily in an internship. It was a great way to connect with different wedding planning companies around Chicago and to share photographs of the weddings you have worked. I get wonderful ideas from this website and it showed me everything I could have imagined about how a winter wedding could look.





Becoming Social on Prairie Avenue




By Melissa Ehret


From the mid-19th century and especially after the 1871 fire that destroyed much of the city, Chicago began to experience astounding growth. Opportunities for advancement were rampant. Farmers’ sons could become millionaires presiding over a department store empire. A man with a vision to design railroad sleeping cars not only amassed a fortune, but, for better or for worse, established an entire town bearing his name. And amazingly, for some 25 years or so, a great majority of Chicago’s wealthiest citizens decided to assemble their palatial new homes on a six-block stretch of one street: Prairie Avenue.



A postcard of Prairie Avenue, circa early 1900s.


Romanesque fortresses and French chateaux began rising on what would soon be dubbed “The sunny street that held the sifted few.” Some of the world’s premier residential architects such as H.H. Richardson and Richard Morris Hunt arrived from the East to witness their extravagant designs take life. Trips to Europe enabled newly rich homeowners to acquire prized antiques and to buy paintings from then-unconventional artists such as Degas and Monet. The Herter brothers, considered to be the finest creators of furniture at the time, populated many interiors with their exquisite cabinetry. Rare, delicate orchids thrived while sleet pounded the glass walls of elaborate conservatories attached to the mansions. All that was left to do was to show the trophy houses to their best advantage. Given all that had been spent on these showcase homes, it was incumbent that entertaining be executed comme il faut.

Some of Chicago’s social elite migrated from the East and South, where they had been raised in affluence. Bertha Palmer, daughter of a wealthy Kentucky family, had been schooled to excel in fine arts and deportment. The brilliant, confident Mrs. Palmer had all the attributes of a social leader and philanthropist. Other women, married to self-made men, were bewildered as to how to navigate the shallow, subtly shifting channels of conduct they had perhaps observed only from afar. How did one assimilate into a new, yet intimidating culture? How, exactly, did one become social?

Matching the extraordinary passion that powered Chicago’s founding businessmen, their spouses were driven to show that they could play the game as well. Whether that drive was borne from the need to provide visiting dignitaries with suitably impressive entertainment, or compulsion to keep up with the Fields and Pullmans, the ladies of Prairie Avenue were relentless in establishing a formidable social order.

According to the 1953 book, Fabulous Chicago, “The chief characteristic of Chicago society was its newness.” The author, Emmett Dedmon, went on to describe how Prairie Avenue was Chicago’s virtual birthplace of luncheons for ladies, perhaps the precursors of the “ladies who lunch.” Calling hours were established as was the leaving of calling cards on silver salvers. Dinner parties started consisting of food that were considerably more elaborate than meat and potatoes.

One of the most influential figures in elevating the domestic culture of the newly wealthy was Herbert M. Kinsley. An East Coast hotelier and restaurateur, Kinsley experienced many ups and downs in his career prior to settling in Chicago. After opening and closing several restaurants, and experimenting with the first Pullman dining cars, Kinsley finally found success in the 1880s with his palatial establishment on Adams Street. Kinsley’s was not only the dining place of choice for Chicago’s wealthy, but it provided unparalleled catering services. With his Eastern connections and knowledge of fine food, Herbert Kinsley became the premier consultant for at-home entertaining on Prairie Avenue.




Herbert M. Kinsley showed Prairie Avenue how to entertain in style.

Kinsley’s Restaurant, circa 1906.

Kinsley eventually became an arbiter of good taste (no pun intended) for Chicago society. He published books on etiquette, how to conduct proper afternoon receptions, and instructions regarding appropriate attire and jewelry by occasion. He even maintained a glossary of French phrases and witticisms that one could artfully slip into conversations. Existing artifacts from Kinsley’s restaurant, such as the 1885 Gorham soup tureen below, shows an insistence on elegance and quality.


This tureen was manufactured by Gorham Silversmiths in 1885 exclusively for Kinsley’s.

Detail from one of Kinsley’s cookbooks.

Prairie Avenue also became home to an increasing array of sophisticated help: Matrons began to recruit the most sought-after butlers, footmen, cooks and governesses they could find. According to the delightful Prairie Avenue Cookbook, “Few households were as large as the Marshall Field’s, and Mrs. Field was reputed to have on staff ‘a representative from nearly every civilized nation of the globe.'” Families would “borrow” the best of their neighbors’ staff for major parties, no doubt astonishing guests as to the quantity and sophistication of help amassed by these Midwestern hostesses.

The presence and gentle influence of English butlers and French cooks could help confer instant patina upon families whose previous help consisted of a penniless chore girl or two. A butler might be counted upon to pack the Sevres china for a picnic in Jackson Park, as illustrated in Arthur Meeker’s novel, Prairie Avenue. A lady’s maid may have suggested to the lady of the house that a diamond parure was not really necessary for an informal outdoor event.

To ensure they were as culturally informed and conversationally adept as any New York hostess, the ladies of Chicago began to organize clubs, including the Fortnightly and the Twentieth Century Club. According to Fabulous Chicago, the original purpose of the Fortnightly was the dissemination of both “social and intellectual culture.” The same book identifies Mrs. George Roswell Grant as founder of the Twentieth Century Club, who noted that, “when a distinguished foreigner … comes to Chicago, they want to meet the representative society people. They don’t care about being bored with a lot of men who have a local reputation as men of genius… they want to meet people whose names are known as men and women of fashion.”

Mrs. Frances Glessner was a cultural institution in and of herself. The Prairie Avenue resident was the founder of the Monday Morning Reading Class, a group that fostered friendship among Chicago’s intellectually active women and faculty wives from the new University of Chicago. Mrs. Glessner was also a member of the Fortnightly, the Colonial Dames, and the Art Institute of Chicago.


The Fortnightly Club, located since 1922 in the Lathrop House on East Bellevue Place.

The children of Prairie Avenue were seen as extensions of their parents’ accomplishments. For the privileged boys and girls, there were governesses fluent in multiple languages, private tutors before entry into Eastern prep schools, and equestrian instructors. Then there were the obligatory lessons at Bournique’s. It became far more than a dance academy, which was its original purpose when established in 1867. Bournique’s was a place where, per an 1883 Chicago Tribune story, “particular attention is given to gracefulness of motion, courtliness of deportment and modest self-confidence, all of which are so essential and characteristic of well-bred people.” The Bournique’s became sufficiently successful to have opened several locations. The most opulent was in a newly constructed building near Prairie Avenue, designed by the architectural firm of Prairie Avenue resident Daniel Burnham. It boasted a huge ballroom with a dance floor composed of more than 173,000 pieces of hardwood.

The intrepid people of Prairie Avenue were visionary, even in their social legacy.