We Wish you a Mattie Christmas

By Laurie Toth


On December 5th, 2021 the dining room once again became alive as it must have been during the Victorian Era when the Glessner’s entertained.  The room has a lovely warm, Victorian air to it.  The lunch was served to approximately 30 people at two different times.  The menu is as follows:


Tomato Cream Soup with Egg Dumplings


Roasted Salmon and Leek Cream Cheese on a Lightbread Roll

Mattie’s Brown Bread with Horseradish Cheddar Spread

Cranberry Relish

Pear, Fig, and White Stilton Tartlettes


Christmas Bread

Squash (Pumpkin) Pie

Mock Mince Pie


Spiced Cider

Mulled Wine

The premise for the event was that Frances Glessner wished to invite friends for a Christmas luncheon. She worked closely on the menu with her cook, Mattie Williamson, who prepared all the food. During dessert, Mattie was invited to come into the dining room to explain to the guests how the ingredients were sourced, how the food was prepared, and how she scheduled her time for the three-course meal.


Mattie was a much-loved servant in the Glessner household.  She was born in Quebec, Canada in 1862.  She came to New Hampshire in the 1800s to join her brother who worked at the summer home of the Glessner’s, The Rocks.  In 1891, Mattie moved to Chicago to work as a maid in the Glessner’s Prairie Avenue home.   By 1892 she was promoted to Cook, a position she held for twenty years.  Mattie’s job was to prepare three hot meals for the family and staff daily.  Along with the preparation of food for the many parties and events the Glessner family held.   She was unfamiliar with cooking on a gas stove, so was sent to a class at the gas company that offered free classes.   Mattie retired in 1912 to get married and move to California to be nearer to her sister.  The Glessner’s remained in contact with her.  Sadly in 1919, Mattie died at the age of 57 of heart disease.

(Learn all about the range Mattie used in this YouTube video, Secrets of Glessner House Part 22: The Range – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ahDpUBm9_-U )

Mattie is portrayed by Ellie of ElliePresents and has given a number of programs in character, discussing late 19th-century cooking.

Mattie will next appear at Glessner House in the program “Mattie and the Chocolate Factory” on Sunday, February 6, 2022 at 2:00pm. She will prepare bon bons and discuss the history of chocolate in Chicago. (https://www.glessnerhouse.org/programs/mattie-chocolate – note: Please keep checking for updates when it goes live.


Sadly the original dining room table that sat 18 and the sideboard were not located.  A recent large gift has enabled Glessner House Museum to recreate the original oak dining room table and sideboard, both designed by the well-known firm of A. H. Davenport & Co. The 16-foot dining table will be six-feet round with ten one-foot leaves. The sideboard will feature exact copies of the five different intricately carved panels. The pieces will be fabricated by Atelier Burke of Newton, Wisconsin, and should be completed by the end of 2022.

A delightful added feature of this event was that the house was decorated for Christmas, much as it would have been on Glessner’s day.   The house is decorated the day before Thanksgiving, using Frances Glessner’s journals, letters, and photos.  Everything in the place it would have been in their day!  The decorations stay up thru January 1st.

The Christmas tree in the main hallway is usually from the Rocks, which is now a Christmas tree farm.   Due to a fire at the Rocks, which is now a Christmas tree farm,  did not happen this year.

 Small tree decorated in the Schoolroom with antique toys.

Parlor set up with popcorn stringing and “Literary Salad” which was a Victorian Parlor game, on each leaf was written a quote from a book or poem.  Please note the statue of Narcissus in the back with the red ribbon.  This is done every year to remember Katie Fitzpatrick, a maid who worked for the Glessner’s in the 1880s.  She was offended by a “nude male” and would drape it with a towel or turn it to the wall.

The Mattie luncheon is over, hopefully, to return next December.  However, the museum is decorated and open through December 31, 2021, and worth the trip down to Prairie Avenue.

Decorations can be viewed during public tours of the house, offered Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday at 11:30 am 1:00 pm, and 2:30 pm. Through December 31st.   Advance tickets are required, purchase online at https://www.glessnerhouse.org/house-tours