Frederick Wessels

100 years ago, Christmas lights come to the Glessner house

Frances Glessner’s journal records an amazing amount of information on the house, including the yearly Christmas celebrations which took place.  Because of this, we know that it was exactly 100 years ago – 1911 – when the Glessners first used electric Christmas lights on their tree.  The following excerpt from her journal records this modern technology being introduced to the family and their guests:

“Cheney the electrician spent all of Saturday and Sunday (December 23 and 24) over our Christmas tree, and it was wonderfully pretty.  Mrs. Tramonti came to breakfast on Sunday morning and was here nearly all day helping to decorate the tree.  The tree itself was one of six that came from The Rocks, and was placed in an alcove made of curtains in the main hall, had many and various colored lights that “flashed” and twinkled; there were spot lights of various colors thrown on it, and snow fell from the canopy over it.  It was lighted first at 9 p.m. for our company at Sunday supper – 19 in all at table, and again at on Christmas morning for the benefit of the children and our guests and the servants – 36 or 37 in all, so that the tree blazed for about two hours on Sunday night and about two hours on Monday morning and then was taken down.  It had its day and was no more.  And before evening we were back to the original condition with only the memory.”

Guests included architect Hermann H. von Holst and his wife, and a number of individuals connected with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra including conductor Frederick Stock and wife,  Frederick Wessels (Treasurer and Business Manager) and wife, Henry Voegeli (Asst. Treasurer and Asst. Business Manager) and wife, and harpist Enrico Tramonti and his wife Juliette.   The Tramontis, who lived at 2218 S. Prairie Avenue, were favorites of the Glessners, and Mrs. Tramonti sent the following note the day after Christmas:

“My dear Mrs. Glessner,
I have not thanked you half as much as I felt yesterday, for the beautiful Christmas you made for us!  It will be a long remembered one, the beautiful, inspiring tree, the fine family dinner, our beautiful present, and above all the sweet comforting feeling of being in a family (and such a one!) and being made almost to believe you belong to it – all that is above words, but I just want to tell you that we feel it deeply!
Thank you for all, dear Mrs. Glessner and believe me yours, all devoted
Juliette Tramonti”

No photograph exists of the Christmas tree from 1911.  The photo above shows the current tree on display in the museum, which also came from The Rocks estate.  It will be on view through December 31.