The Story of a House

A Glessner Homecoming

On Friday August 3, 2012, a very special event took place at Glessner House Museum.  More than two dozen people gathered for the first ever Glessner family reunion.  Included in the group were three great-grandchildren, seven great-great grandchildren, and seven great-great-great grandchildren, along with spouses and partners.  A special guest was Nigel Manley, director of The Rocks Estate, the Glessners’ former summer estate in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.  The age range of the guests was 5 to 85, with participants traveling from California, Connecticut, Maryland, Montana, New Hampshire, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Vermont. 

After the initial gathering, family members posed on the curved porch in the courtyard, recreating a classic shot of Mrs. Glessner’s Monday Morning Reading Class taken in 1902.  Dinner and a presentation on John Jacob Glessner followed, and the evening concluded with tours of the museum.

Saturday activities included the Chicago Architecture Foundation architecture river cruise, and tours of important Tiffany sites including the Chicago Cultural Center, Marshall Field, and Second Presbyterian Church. 

The weekend concluded on Sunday morning with a visit to Graceland Cemetery, where family members visited the final resting place of John and Frances Glessner and their infant son John, along the west shore of Lake Willowmere. 

The reunion was one of the most significant events of the 125th anniversary celebration.  In spite of the architectural significance of the house, first and foremost the house was a family home, a place of gathering for generations of the family and their friends.  The warm and cozy interior, a stark contrast to the bold rusticated granite exterior, was a specific request of the Glessners, who wished for their family and friends to always feel welcome when visiting.  A few excerpts from The Story of a House, written by John Glessner in 1923 for his children, give a glimpse of the Glessners’ idea of home:

“This story is addressed to my son, John George Macbeth Glessner, and my daughter, Frances Glessner Lee, for whose pleasure and profit it has been my pleasure and their mother’s to do many things, and especially to give them a happy home and a happy childhood, and to fit them for the responsibilities of living.”

“Mankind is ever seeking its comforts and to achieve its ideals.  The Anglo-Saxon portion of mankind is a home-making, home-loving race.  I think the desire is in us all to receive the family home from the past generation and hand it on to the next with possibly some good mark of our own upon it.  Rarely can this be accomplished in this land of rapid changes.  Families have not held and cannot hold even to the same localities for their homes generation after generation, but we can at least preserve some memory of the old.” 

“The description of this home may give some indication of how a man of moderate fortune would live in the latter part of the 19th century and the earlier part of the 20th – an average man with a modicum of this world’s material possessions, but by no means rich, except in family and friends.”

“We have lived with (our possessions) and enjoyed them; they are a part of our lives.  We don’t realize how many they are and how much a part of us they are until we begin to catalogue them in our minds.  We don’t know what we should do without them nor what we can do with them.  The best we can do now is to make this imperfect record, together with these photographs, to perpetuate or at least suggest the spirit of the home.  That home was ever a haven of rest.  It was no easy task to make it so, but it was so made and so kept by the untiring and devoted efforts of your mother.”

(A full reprint of The Story of a House, including the full text and more than sixty illustrations, was produced in 2011 as part of the 125th anniversary celebration and is available for sale in the museum store).