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The History of Halloween

Although people around the world view Halloween as a thoroughly American holiday, it has a far more complicated story than that. In fact, Halloween is a mash-up of ancient Celtic paganism, early Roman Catholicism, nineteenth-century American immigration, modern suburbanism and commercialism, and much, much more.

It all started about two thousand years ago, when the ancient Celts made sacrifices around sacred bonfires in celebration of the harvest’s end. Think of this as the moment the earth makes its transition from abundant autumnal life to silent wintry death, and—perhaps—a moment when the boundaries between the worlds of the living and dead are blurred.

When the Roman Empire sprawled into Celtic lands in 43 AD and remained there for the next four hundred years, it mingled culturally with existing pagan rites. After the Roman Empire took on Christianity as its official religion in 313 AD, rather than continue the Celts’ tradition of honoring ancestral spirits, the Church focused instead on honoring religious martyrs. Sometime in the 8th century, the pope named November 1 “All Saints’ Day,” the Middle English term for which was “All-hallowmas.” The night before, October 31, became known as All-hallows Eve—today’s Halloween.

A few particulars of the Celtic and Catholic celebrations stand out as familiar to us today. The Celts left out food and wine as offerings for the dead in order to appease them and prevent them from entering their homes—think of it as the earliest form of trick-or-treating, except instead of little children in colorful costumes arriving at the door, it would be a spirit with malicious intent. This practice of food offerings was replaced later in the Christianized version of the holiday by “soul cakes,” food given to the poor rather than to the dead. “Going a-souling” became a child-friendly activity within a community where beggars would go from door to door to receive food or alms.

Dressing up has early roots as well. Fearful they would encounter evil spirits on this unusual night, people wore masks to conceal their faces and stay safely unrecognized. Also, the “trick” in trick-or-treat owes its presence to a centuries-old history of pranks and jokes—perhaps a reference to the kinds of acts people feared from spirits on their one, restless night back among the living. These Halloween pranksters also wore masks to conceal their identities—except this time they would have been more concerned with being recognized by the living. And finally, the harvest has always contributed greatly to the All-hallows Eve atmosphere, with games, parties, and superstitions involving autumn produce such as apples, turnips, and nuts.

Student Halloween party at the University of Southern California, ca. 1890. USC History Collection.

Student Halloween party at the University of Southern California, ca. 1890. USC History Collection.

A Halloween dinner in Vermont, ca. 1900. The Poultney Historical Society.

A Halloween dinner in Vermont, ca. 1900. The Poultney Historical Society.

 

Halloween in America

So how did these traditions migrate from the British Isles to America? An intense period of immigration in the mid-nineteenth century (a period that gave Chicago—and other major cities—its historic Irish, Italian, German, and Swedish neighborhoods) brought Old World traditions to a new country. Millions of Irish in particular, fleeing the potato famine of 1846, had inherited the blended Celtic-Roman tradition of celebrating the dead, and helped make Halloween an American tradition by the end of the nineteenth century, during the period known as the Gilded Age. House parties and celebrations in Irish- or Scottish-American homes often included retellings of legends from the old country or a reading of Robert Burns’s poem ”Halloween.” They influenced their neighbors to join the fun of dressing up and going door-to-door asking for food, treats, and money. And of course, pranks abounded as well, mainly harmless ones such as taking a neighbor’s gate off its hinges. 

People in the Gilded Age were also fascinated with death. Group séances, spiritualist mediums, and sentimental memento mori were all wildly popular in the latter half of the nineteenth century. Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol and other, more frightening tales of the era reveled in the possibility that the dead may return to earth and speak to the living. This existing trend in the cultural imagination may have made people more receptive to Halloween taking root in American life.

 

Howard Chandler Christy, Halloween, 1915.

Howard Chandler Christy, Halloween, 1915.

1930s newspaper headline in The Oregonian, in which columnist Marian Miller advocating for a safer Halloween holiday. To read the full article, click here.

1930s newspaper headline in The Oregonian, in which columnist Marian Miller advocating for a safer Halloween holiday. To read the full article, click here.

The Gilded Age was, if anything, an age of industry in America. The rise of factories, railroad networks, mining operations, and commercial farming defined an era of unprecedented economic prosperity. Between innovative industrial processes in factories and extra spending money at home, the commercial delights of Halloween were soon as much a staple as the old traditions. The first producer of candy corn, a sugary nod to autumnal harvest, was the Wunderle Candy Company of Philadelphia in the 1880s. Dennison Manufacturing Company published its first catalog for Halloween decorations and stationary, including tips for holiday entertaining, in 1909.

After the turn of the century, the Gilded Age faded into the Progressive Era. In the same spirited mood of reform that would address public issues and fears such as sanitation, poverty, and alcohol consumption, some Americans agitated for change. They wanted to steer the focus of the Halloween holiday away from the dark, superstitious—and, many felt, sacrilegious—spirits and witches of its Celtic roots. They also feared the increasing intensity of pranks and tricks, which could take on the destructive quality of vandalism, especially where other tensions were present. (A late example comes from 1933, when at the height of the Great Depression young men overturned cars, sawed down telephone poles, and taunted the police.) Newspapers urged people to eliminate the grotesque elements of the holiday in favor of fun games that wouldn’t frighten. Accordingly, traditions like parades and parties increasingly focused on children. In the boom that followed World War II, the mass production of candy and costumes added to the storebought goodies that had begun in the Gilded Age. And so, slowly, Halloween evolved into the not-so-spooky, family-friendly, neighborhood holiday it is today.

 

Resources
History.com, “History of Halloween” http://www.history.com/topics/halloween/history-of-halloween
NPR.org, “Halloween for Adults: A Scary Story” http://www.npr.org/sections/theprotojournalist/2014/10/29/359547119/halloween-for-adults-a-scary-history
HistoricUK.com, “Halloween.” http://www.historic-uk.com/CultureUK/Halloween/
Edwardian Promenade, “Halloween in the Gilded Age.” http://www.edwardianpromenade.com/amusements/halloween-in-the-gilded-age/ 

In Paris in the nineteenth century, Jules Chéret and the other grand masters of the lithographic poster—Alphonse Mucha, Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen, Eugène Grasset, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec—took the medium from mere informational advertising to high art, causing the medium’s popularity to skyrocket.

The trend started in Paris but quickly spread, evolving into a lasting and approachable art form that continues the original aims of eye-catching design and powerful communication—whether about a shop, company, event, product, or idea. Let’s take a look at just a few landmark poster artists who owe a debt of history to the poster’s golden age during the Belle Époque, but reinvigorated the medium in keeping with cultural change.

 

Designer: Leonetto Cappiello (1875–1942)

Purpose: Advertisement for the French aperitif Maurin Quina

Year: 1906

Leonetto Cappiello (Born Italy, 1875–1942), Maurin Quina, 1906. From the collection of the National Gallery of Australia, NGA 2005.367.

Leonetto Cappiello (Born Italy, 1875–1942), Maurin Quina, 1906. From the collection of the National Gallery of Australia, NGA 2005.367.

A cunning advertiser who moved to Paris in 1898, Leonetto Cappiello invented the idea of associating one image or character with certain products. We take this technique for granted today, having accepted Kellogg’s Tony the Tiger, the Geico Gecko, and Mrs. Butterworth as regular parts of our modern life.

In one famous example by Cappiello above, an emerald-colored demon with a forked tail cast an atmosphere of devilish allure over the French aperitif Maurin Quina. With this character, Cappiello intentionally sparked associations with absinthe, the infamous Belle Époque drink also known as la fée verte (the green fairy).

 

Designer: John Hassall (1868–1948)

Purpose: Advertisement for Britain’s Great Northern Railway

Year: 1908

John Hassall (British, 1868–1948), Skegness is SO Bracing, 1908. From the collection of the National Gallery of Australia, NGA 81.1989.

John Hassall (British, 1868–1948), Skegness is SO Bracing, 1908. From the collection of the National Gallery of Australia, NGA 81.1989.

English illustrator John Hassall’s hilarious take on Jules Chéret’s flouncing chérettes for a seaside town along Britain’s Great Northern Railway made for one of the most popular poster images of the twentieth century. A chubby, rosy-cheeked fisherman in Wellington boots and a vivid red scarf skips buoyantly along the beach, promising a delightful, good-weather vacation for the whole family. The Jolly Fisherman, as he’s called, is still a beloved icon of the town of Skegness today.

 

Designer: James Montgomery Flagg (1877–1960)

Purpose: U.S. Army recruitment (World War I)

Year: 1917

James Montgomery Flagg (American, 1877–1960), I want you for U.S. Army: nearest recruiting station, c. 1917. From the Library of Congress Print & Photographs Division, POS US .F63.

James Montgomery Flagg (American, 1877–1960), I want you for U.S. Army: nearest recruiting station, c. 1917. From the Library of Congress Print & Photographs Division, POS US .F63.

The first half of the twentieth century saw much of the world engaged in large-scale war. Luxury sundries and entertainment were less prolific in wartime, while the government had great need for poster designs to recruit soldiers, encourage the public, and establish impressions of the enemy. James Montgomery Flagg’s I Want YOU for the U.S. Army is perhaps the single most recognizable American poster. It was published as a magazine cover in 1916. The following spring, the United States officially declared war on Germany. The image then began appearing as posters with a blank space available at the bottom, so the printer could jot in an address for the nearest recruiting station.

 

Designer: E. McKnight Kauffer (1890–1954)

Purpose: Advertisement for The Daily Herald

Year: 1919

E. McKnight Kauffer (Born United States, 1890–1954), Soaring to success! Daily Herald - the early bird, 1919. From the collection of the National Gallery of Australia, NGA 97.641.

E. McKnight Kauffer (Born United States, 1890–1954), Soaring to success! Daily Herald – the early bird, 1919. From the collection of the National Gallery of Australia, NGA 97.641.

E. McKnight Kauffer’s stark image of birds, streaking across a yellow sky as a single mass of geometric black and white, heralded a new era of modernism in poster design. The poster, first printed in 1919 for London’s Daily Herald, embodied new aspirations for the machine age after the conclusion of the First World War. The campaign organizer, Sir Francis Meyness, described it as “a flight of birds that might almost be a flight of aeroplanes; a symbol, in those days of hope, of the unity of useful invention and natural things.”

 

Designer: Heinz Schulz-Neudmann (1899-1969)

Purpose: Promotional poster for the film Metropolis

Year: 1926

Heinz Schulz-Neudamm (German, 1899–1969). Poster for Metropolis, 1926. From the collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Heinz Schulz-Neudamm (German, 1899–1969). Metropolis, 1926. From the collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

The influence of Futurism, an artistic movement that started in Italy in the early twentieth century, is unapologetically clear in this rigidly geometric, monochromatic poster design by Heinz Schulz-Neudamm for a German dystopian sci-fi film by Fritz Lang. Emphasizing the uneasy relationship between man and machine in the post-industrial era, the figure in this poster is arranged almost uncomfortably close to the viewer, with the rigid city skyline far behind. Neudamm’s visual theme here had lasting effect; only look to the 2013 poster for the film The Great Gatsby to see how this style is still associated with the so-called Roaring Twenties.

 

Designer: A.M. Cassandre (1901–1968)

Purpose: Promotional posters for steamship travel

Year: 1931, 1935

A.M. Cassandre (born Ukraine, 1901–1968). Left: L'Atlantique, 1931. RIght: Normandie, 1935. Christie’s Posters sale, 8 June 2014 and 4 November 2015, London.

A.M. Cassandre (born Ukraine, 1901–1968). Left: L’Atlantique, 1931. RIght: Normandie, 1935. Christie’s Posters sale, 8 June 2014 and 4 November 2015, London.

A.M. Cassandre, a Ukranian émigré who landed in the rich artistic soil of Paris, drew inspiration from the latest avant-garde art movements, including Cubism and Futurism, for his travel posters. He arranged flat fields of color in dramatic but simple compositions to convey the strength of these trans-Atlantic ships. Notice how he uses the birds in Normandie and tugboat in L’Atlantique to exaggerate their size.

 

Designer: Lester Beall (1903–1969)

Purpose: Promotion for the Rural Electrification Administration (REA)

Year: 1937

Lester Beall (American, 1903–1969), Rural Electrification Administration, 1937. From the collection of the Museum of Modern Art, 221.1937.

Lester Beall (American, 1903–1969), Rural Electrification Administration, 1937. From the collection of the Museum of Modern Art, 221.1937.

Lester Beall created comforting nationalistic photomontages on bright American flag backgrounds for the New Deal program’s Rural Electrification Commission in the 1930s. They were meant to help communicate technological changes to rural communities across the United States, a vast majority of which didn’t have electricity yet. But as with many paintings, murals, and prints that came out of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, Beall’s modernist vision made this series of posters works of art in their own right.

 

Designer: J. Howard Miller

Purpose: Morale-boosting poster for Westinghouse Electric (World War II)

Year: 1943

J. Howard Miller (American, 1918-2004). We Can Do It!, 1943.

J. Howard Miller (American, 1918-2004). We Can Do It!, 1943.

Although it didn’t become famous until years later, this is another wartime image indelibly stamped on American visual culture. Pennsylvania manufacturer Westinghouse Electric hired J. Howard Miller to produce a poster that would boost worker morale and celebrate the difficult work they were doing to produce wartime goods. Many worker posters of the period showed men with their sleeves rolled up, ready to work for their country, but this one celebrated the contribution of women to the manufacturing industry. Miller created a naturalistic, wholesome illustration here, almost like the popular Normal Rockwell paintings of quiet family life from the same period, but charged it with vivid, attention-grabbing color.

 

Designer: Milton Glaser

Purpose: Record insert for musician Bob Dylan

Year: 1967

Milton Glaser (American, ). Dylan, 1966. From the collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Milton Glaser (American, born 1929). Dylan, 1966. From the collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

The 1960s in America brought a contemporary spin on the florid Art Nouveau styles explored in Alphonse Mucha’s posters of the late 1800s. The psychedelic poster craze combined Art Nouveau’s fluid, nature-inspired lines with the wild colors and dreamlike shapes of surrealism. These images iconized an era of unencumbered exploration of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll in art and culture. In the above poster, specially commissioned by CBS Records to accompany the album Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits, Milton Glaser rendered the music star’s curly hair in swirls of psychedelic color.

 

Designer: Paul Rand

Purpose: Advertisement for computer technology corporation IBM

Year: 1981

Paul Rand (American, 1914-1996). Eye, Bee, M (IBM), 1981 (detail). From the collection of the Cooper-Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum.

Paul Rand (American, 1914-1996). Eye, Bee, M (IBM), 1981 (detail). From the collection of the Cooper-Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum, New York.

With the increasing dominance of photography as a visual medium, posters placed greater emphasis on text and typeface as an expressive graphic element. This is something the grand masters of the late nineteenth century had already experimented with, often writing a cabaret or product name by hand in decorative script. But this poster by Paul Rand takes an emphasis on text to another level. In his minimalistic composition on a field of black, Rand places three simple images, two of which are clever pictograms — an eye and a bee, to communicate the “I” and “B” in the company’s name, respectively — and only one of which, the ‘M,’ is recognizable as part of the company’s now-famous logo.

 

Designer: Shepard Fairey

Purpose: Promotional poster for Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign

Year: 2006

Sheperd Fairey (American, born 1970). Hope, 2006.

Sheperd Fairey (American, born 1970). Hope, 2006

Former president Barack Obama successfully campaigned in a presidential race against Senator John McCain on a promise of “Hope.” This heavily 1960s Pop Art-inspired poster by Shepard Fairey, an American street artist and graphic designer, communicated the message in intense hues of red, beige, and blue. Peter Schjeldahl, longtime art critic at The New Yorker, said it was “the most efficacious American political illustration since Uncle Sam Wants You” (see above).

 
Resources:
“A Brief History of the Poster,” International Poster Gallery. http://www.internationalposter.com/about-poster-art/a-brief-history-of.aspx
“Collecting Guide: 8 poster designers to follow at auction,” Christie’s, October 16, 2015. http://www.christies.com/features/Collecting-Guide-the-most-collectible-poster-designers-6076-1.aspx
“Collection: Egon Schiele: Secession 49. Austellung, 1918.” The Stedelijk Museum. http://www.stedelijk.nl/en/artwork/22610-secession-49-ausstellung
“Edward McKnight Kauffer (1890 – 1954), Soaring to Success! Daily Herald – The Early Bird. Lot essay, Christie’s Vintage Posters sale, 13 May 2010, London. http://www.christies.com/lotfinder/Lot/edward-mcknight-kauffer-1890-1954-soaring-to-5311602-details.aspx
“Hope and Glory: A Shepard Fairey Moment,” Peter Schjeldahl, The New Yorker, February 23, 2009. http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2009/02/23/hope-and-glory 
“Skegness is SO bracing.” The Victoria and Albert Museum. http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O74309/skegness-is-so-bracing-poster-hassall-john/
“The Birth of the Modern Poster,” National Gallery of Australia exhibition 10 February – 13 May 2007. https://nga.gov.au/modernposter/“Top 15 Poster Designs in History,” Sean Coady, Creative Market, May 2, 2016. https://creativemarket.com/blog/top-15-poster-designs-in-history

Our staff is always asked about their backgrounds and how they came to work at the Driehaus Museum.  So we wanted to share some of our amazing team with everyone. And, as always, let us know if you have any other questions.

IMG_9013What role does your position play at the Driehaus Museum?
It is my responsibility to facilitate private museum rentals for individuals as well as corporate clients.  The home was designed by the Nickersons for entertaining and socializing, so seeing events come to life in the Museum is particularly special and exciting!

How long have you worked at the Museum? 
I started in this position in October of 2016.

Where are you from/where do you currently reside? 
I am a born and bred Hoosier, having lived in Indiana most of my life.   I moved to Chicago in 2012 after receiving a job offer right out of school.  I currently live in Logan Square with my significant other and two adorable pups.

What is your education/experience background? How or why did you come to work at the Driehaus Museum? 
I graduated from Indiana University Bloomington with a Bachelor of Science in Art Management.  Throughout my time in school, I was fortunate enough to intern at the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra and Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art.  Through these opportunities, my appreciation and interest in the arts sector grew.  Since then I have made it a goal to create a career path for myself within the museum industry.

IMG_0267If you were a staff member of the Nickerson Mansion at the turn of the century, what role would you have and why?
The head chef without a doubt! Not only do I enjoy cooking as a hobby, but I have a hard time relaxing unless I know that everyone is happy and full.

If you were trapped in the Museum overnight, what would you do?
Assuming that the normal Museum rules don’t apply here, I would invite a group of friends over for a dinner party in the dining room, and maybe a live jazz trio and cocktails after!

Photograph by Matt Ferguson, 2014

Photograph by Matt Ferguson, 2014

What is your favorite holiday/program or event at the Museum?
Nothing is quite like the holiday season at the Museum.  The Holiday Jazz Cabaret is one of my favorites!

Tell us about one of your favorite moments during your time working at the Museum?
One of my favorite moments has been participating in the development process of A Toast to the Gilded Age, a new Museum program which focuses on the history of various libations during the turn of the century.  It has been exciting to do something a little out of the box.

For more information about working with Marissa and hosting your special event at the Driehaus Museum, click here.

 

To see more of Sarah Bernhardt and other stars of the French Belle Époque poster, including Yvette Guilbert, Loïe Fuller, and Jane Avril, visit the special exhibition L’Affichomania: The Passion for French Posterson view beginning February 11, 2017An entire exhibition gallery is devoted to these celebrated stage performers and the poster artists who made them unforgettable.

Join the discussion about Sarah Bernhardt’s exciting life and legacy in this winter’s book club at the Driehaus Museum, Saturday, February 25! Sarah: The Life of Sarah Bernhardt by Robert Gottlieb is the foundation of our discussion about this captivating woman who, despite her scandalous and obscure beginnings, transformed herself into the darling of Paris and one of the most respected actresses who ever lived. For more details and to purchase tickets, click here

 …

Young and stunning, with sculpted eyebrows and a head of rich brunette curls, French actress Sarah Bernhardt first captured the ardor of Paris’s theatre-going elite in the 1870s. The rest of the world’s attention inevitably followed. Admiring critics, resorting to poetic metaphor, likened her voice to pure gold, a nightingale, silver dawn, the stars and moon, and murmuring water.

She was in a class all her own—the Marilyn Monroe of the French Belle Époque. “There are five kinds of actresses,” declared American writer Mark Twain. “Bad actresses, fair actresses, good actresses, great actresses—and then there is Sarah Bernhardt.”

However gifted and alluring she was, stardom like Sarah’s isn’t made in a vacuum. One of the most captivating aspects of her presence actually occurred offstage, along the open boulevards of Paris. Striking promotional posters by Czech artist Alphonse Mucha catapulted Bernhardt from well-respected actress to international icon at the turn of the century, and have proved as lasting memories of her electric mystique. In turn, Bernhardt made Mucha a major success in the lively Parisian art world.

L: Sarah Bernhardt, about 20 years old in ca. 1864 (Photo by Nadar).  R: Alphonse Mucha, self-portrait in his studio, TK.

Sarah Bernhardt, about 20 years old in ca. 1864 (Photo by Nadar). Alphonse Mucha, self-portrait in his Paris studio, early 1890s (The Mucha Trust).

The pair met serendipitously. Alphonse Mucha, a struggling Czech illustrator, was temping at the massive Paris printing firm Lemercier & Compagnie just after Christmas in 1894, while all the steady professional artists were away celebrating the holidays with their families.

Sarah Bernhardt approached Lemercier, desperate for a poster to promote her show debuting just after the New Year at the Théâtre de la Renaissance, a Greek melodrama called Gismonda. She was director and lead actor, playing a widow of the Athenian nobility who pledges herself to a commoner. Bernhardt needed the poster immediately, so Mucha, despite his lack of poster experience, was asked to draw something up for the esteemed actress. He came up with a stylized, monumental, full-sized portrait of the actress in a glorious empire-waist dress and gold-embroidered drapery, her face in dignified profile and crowned with orchids, grasping a palm branch. The lettering was architectural and exotic, mimicking Byzantine mosaic work. Mucha did what creatives in advertising firms still do today: take a real female human’s likeness and reveal a goddess.

Gismonda, 1894. Alphonse Mucha (Czech, 1860-1939).

Gismonda, 1894. Alphonse Mucha (Czech, 1860-1939).

 

Bernhardt absolutely loved it. A week later, billposters had plastered Mucha’s image all over Paris and Bernhardt had offered Mucha a six-year contract to design posters, stage sets, and costumes for her. Posters for La Dame aux Camélias (1896), Lorenzaccio (1896), La Samaritaine (1897), Médée (1898), La Tosca (1898) and Hamlet (1899) followed. Mucha designed them all with the same elongated, full-length format, almost like altarpieces—with Bernhardt in place of a saint. It’s no surprise she became known to her fans as ‘la Divine Sarah.’

posters1

Lorenzaccio, 1896 (left) and La Samaritaine, 1897 (right). Alphonse Mucha (Czech, 1860-1939).

 

posters2

The Tragic Story of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, 1899 (left) and La Tosca, 1899 (right). Alphonse Mucha (Czech, 1860-1939).

Mucha’s images held Bernhardt’s likeness before the public imagination, and her fascinating performances burned her there. She is still considered one of the greatest actresses to have ever lived. “Something seemed to burn within her like a consuming flame,” said George Tyler, an American producer. “On the stage she loved and cried, not only with her soul, but with all her body,’ said Jules Lemaître, a French critic.

Sarah Bernhardt was born Henriette-Rosine Bernard, the illegitimate daughter of a Dutch Jewish courtesan, in about 1844. Her ambitions as a teenager to become a nun ceased when her mother’s lover put her onstage, where she found another kind of calling. She performed in works by some of the greatest playwrights of past and present: Shakespeare, Victor Hugo, Alexandre Dumas, Jean Racine, Eugène Scribe, Voltaire, and Victorien Sardou. She played Cordelia, Cleopatra, Adrienne Lecouvreur, Phédre, Joan of Arc, Desdemona, Marguerite Gautier, and, daringly, Hamlet, as one of the first known women to perform the title role in Shakespeare’s tragedy. She appeared in silent films and lent her face to advertisements. She toured in Europe, the United States, Canada, South America, Australia, and the Middle East. She owned her own theatre, the Théâtre Sarah-Bernhardt, producing and directing plays as well as acting in them, and training young actors. She toured onstage and acted on film sets well into her 70s, and never retired—she was in the midst of a film project when she died. A few fragments of film and audio survive: here she is as Hamlet (video); as Elizabeth Queen of England (video); in Le Samaritaine (audio); and Phédre (audio).

Bernhardt was arguably the world’s first international star, setting a course for celebrity in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Predictably, her personal life was the subject of much fascination, and her adventures did not disappoint: there was an affair at age 20 with a Belgian prince resulting in an adored illegitimate son, Maurice; a duel proposed by gentlemen defending her honor from journalists; marriage to a foreign man 12 years her junior; an affair with a 27-year-old leading man at age 66; other affairs with the Prince of Wales (the future Edward VII), Victor Hugo, and other famous men. She injured her knee during a dramatic moment in a performance in Rio de Janiero and, as gangrene set in a year later, wrote another of her lovers, a great doctor, demanding her own leg’s removal.

Photograph by William and Daniel Downey, London.

Photograph by William and Daniel Downey, London.

1882. Photograph by Nadar.

1882. Photograph by Nadar.

1885. Photograph by William Downey.

1885. Photograph by William Downey.

1891. Photograph by Napoleon Sarony.

1891. Photograph by Napoleon Sarony.

 

1922. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division.

1922. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division.

In March 1923, Bernhardt died in Paris. She was 78 years old. Her death induced a worldwide lament. The L.A. Times published a somber announcement: “There is but one sentence today on the lips of Paris – ‘Bernhardt is dead.’ It has been uttered alike by concierges and Cabinet ministers, midinettes and princesses. One hears it spoken softly in cafes and whispered in churches.”

Her funeral, as you’ll see in this video, was a grand, majestic affair. Hundreds of thousands of devoted fans thronged the boulevards of Paris to mourn and pay their respects. For those unable to attend, one might purchase a memorti mori of ‘Divine Sarah,’, an Ophelia-like funereal photograph taken decades years earlier, in which the young actress poses, eyes closed and hands clasped, in the coffin she kept in her room.

Sarah Bernhardt posing in a coffin, late 19th century.

Sarah Bernhardt posing in a coffin, late 19th century.

 

c. 1880. Photography by Sarony.

c. 1880. Photography by Sarony.

In death, as in life, Alphonse Mucha’s masterpieces–in which Sarah is monumentally, vibrantly alive–secured this great performer’s immortality in the cultural imagination.

 

Resources

Encyclopaedia Britannica, “Sarah Bernhardt

Sarah Bernhardt’s Leg,” History Today, by Richard Cavendish, 2 February 2015.

Jewish Women’s Archive: Sarah Bernhardt,” by Elana Shapira

Face of Great Actress Subtle Even in Death,” LA Times, March 23, 1923

The Mucha Foundation, “Sarah Bernhardt

Sarah Bernhardt’s Dramatic Life, Onstage and Off,” NPR book review of Sarah by Robert Gottlieb, September 24, 2010, by Glenn C. Altschuler.

 
 

During the Gilded Age, the American traditions of New Year’s Eve started to transition from the folk celebrations of immigrants to the elaborate soirees we are more familiar with today, especially for those of a certain class.

New Year’s Eve in Chicago and at the Nickerson Mansion

Chicagoans in the Gilded Age celebrated New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day in a similar manner to the way many Americans do today.  The week leading up to New Year’s was full of entertainment, with society leaders like Bertha Palmer and Matilda Nickerson hosting grand New Year’s Eve events where guests danced in the New Year to music played by Johnny Hand’s Orchestra, Gilded Age Chicago’s favorite bandleader.

Johnny Hand conducting his orchestra. Chicago Daily Tribune, “Round About Chicago: Johnny Hand,”. September 15, 1910. The paper noted, “Nobody that was anybody could think of  giving a party until they knew if they could get Johnny Hand to play.”

Johnny Hand conducting his orchestra. Chicago Daily Tribune, “Round About Chicago: Johnny Hand,” September 15, 1910. The paper noted, “Nobody that was anybody could think of giving a party until they knew if they could get
Johnny Hand to play.”

In 1890, the Nickerson’s “Marble Palace” was the site of a lavish New Year’s Eve Reception. The guest list of over sixty-five included the children of neighbors and other prominent Chicago families from both the North and South sides.  The Nickersons followed the common practice of featuring elaborate floral arrangements at receptions.  The marble hall was “decorated with calla lilies” and “the centre-piece on the dining-room table consisted of a bank of delicate pink carnations on a background of maiden-hair ferns.” (Chicago Daily Tribune, “Children Make Merry,” January 1, 1891).

The Chicago Daily Tribune, "Mrs. Nickerson's Party," January 1, 1891.

The Chicago Daily Tribune, “Mrs. Nickerson’s Party,” January 1, 1891.

Dressing Up for New Year’s Eve 

Just as it is customary today to wear something with plenty of glitz and glamour, guests also wore fashion-forward designs in the Gilded Age to New Year’s Eve events. Men wore formal “white tie” dress with black tailcoats while women donned glamorous evening gowns often designed by the preeminent House of Worth in Paris, and received great attention in the society pages of the newspapers.  According to one account, Bertha Palmer wore a “black velvet gown, the bodice studded with diamonds, and a diamond tiara in her hair” at her New Year’s Eve cotillion (“In the Society World,” January 6, 1901).

Left: Cover of Ladies Home Journal from January 1901 Right: Bertha Honoré Palmer. From Address and Reports of Mrs. Potter Palmer, 1894.

Left: Cover of Ladies Home Journal from January 1901 Right: Bertha Honoré Palmer.
From Address and Reports of Mrs. Potter Palmer, 1894.

New Year’s Eve at the Mansions of Newport

Newport, Rhode Island was home to some of the most fabulous mansions of the Gilded Age.  Although initially established as a quiet summer retreat for the newly-wealthy, as the nineteenth century progressed, Newport became a center for the affluent to gather not only during the summer but also during the winter holiday season.  New York society elites, like the Vanderbilts and Astors, threw lavish New Year’s Eve receptions and hosted sumptuous New Year’s Day events reflective of their newly established social status.  Newport celebrations continued to rise in prominence and eventually society reporters began travelling from New York City to cover these spectacular events. While across the nation prominent families of the Gilded Age hosted exclusive and extravagant New Year’s events, Newport was one of the most popular destinations.

Celebrating With Champagne

When attending a New Year’s Eve reception, guests enjoyed novel party favors, refreshments featuring the “delicacies of the season,” a light super (often featuring en vogue French cuisine) at midnight, and plenty of champagne.

moet-chandon

Chicago Daily Tribune, “Moët & Chandon,” December 16, 1901.

French Champagne became a popular drink among wealthy Americans who enjoyed the perceived sophistication of the drink and its intoxicating effects. Beginning in the 1870s, Americans consumed champagne in “astonishing” large quantities and would often pay exorbitant prices for the imported beverage (champagne was subject to import taxes).  In 1894, for example, Americans imported over 70,000 cases of champagne, a significantly greater amount than just twenty-five years before (Chicago Daily Tribune, “Champagne Drank in This Country,” February 24, 1894). Etiquette manuals gave advice on how to host a “bachelor” Champagne supper, and champagne was the drink of choice for celebratory toasts- including on New Year’s Eve. French Brands such as Moët & Chandon catered to the luxury market, with advertisements persuading Chicagoans that the “ablest excerpts” pronounced the brand to be “without question, far superior in quality to any other brands” (Chicago Daily Tribune, “Moët & Chandon ‘White Seal’ Champagne,” May 1, 1900).

Alphonse Mucha, Menu, c. 1899, The Richard H. Driehaus Collection. For more information on this work by Mucha, visit L’Affichomania: The Passion for French Posters, opening February 11, 2017.

Alphonse Mucha, Menu, c. 1899, The Richard H. Driehaus Collection. For more information on this work by Mucha, visit L’Affichomania: The Passion for French Posters, opening February 11, 2017.

New Year’s festivities during the Gilded Age reflected the evolving expectations of celebrations, from the lavish receptions of the wealthy to the café and dancehall revelries of the middle and working classes.  Although at the time celebrating with champagne would have been reserved for society’s elite, champagne is a nearly obligatory part of New Year’s Eve rituals today. We still associate champagne with social status, sophistication, and prosperity. So when you raise your glass of champagne to usher in the New Year, you are making a gesture that is a nod to the past, while also celebrating the future New Year and all of its possibilities.

Sources:

Top image: Wikipedia

Chertoff, Emily. “How Rich People Celebrated New Year’s Eve in the Gilded Age.” The Atlantic. (2012). http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2012/12/how-rich-people-celebrated-new-years-eve-in-the-gilded-age/266663/.

Glover, Ellye Howell. “Dame Curtsey’s” Book of Etiquette. Chicago: A.C. McClurg & Co., 1909.

Sengstock, Charles A., Jr. That Toddlin’ Town: Chicago’s White Dance Bands and Orchestras, 1900-1950. Chicago and Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2004.

Chicago Daily Tribune, "Suppression of Vice: Organizing the Chicago Branch," September 27, 1879.

Chicago Daily Tribune, “Suppression of Vice: Organizing the Chicago Branch,” September 27, 1879.

“The object, purpose, and aim in view of the Society and its branches, as set forth in the constitution and in the brief but pointed talk which followed the making of the report, were to put down the vile traffic in obscene books, pictures, etc., by prosecuting those responsible for it either under the Revised Statutes or the State laws. The extent of the evil, which has shown its ugly head with peculiarly refreshing boldness of late, was dwelt upon to some extent, and the movement met with the unqualified moral and financial support of all present. The constitution was unanimously adapted…”

Right: Original ink drawing for "A Dreadful Predicament" by Samuel D. Ehrhart. Left: Anthony Comstock. By Photographer unknown; author of book Charles Gallaudet Trumbull [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Right: Original ink drawing for “A Dreadful Predicament” by Samuel D. Ehrhart.
Left: Anthony Comstock. By Photographer unknown; author of book Charles Gallaudet Trumbull [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Puck & Anthony Comstock

In the southwest corner of the “Social Commentary” Gallery of With a Wink and a Nod there is a small, unassuming cartoon featuring a woman in “a dreadful predicament” and the lurking figure of Anthony Comstock. The cartoon pokes fun at the woman’s hesitation in bending over to tie her shoelace- a rather innocuous activity that she is afraid Comstock will interpret as an action with lascivious intent. In 1873, Congress passed the Comstock Law, which was the first anti-obscenity statute to be adopted at the federal level. In effect, the law made it illegal to send “obscene, lewd or lascivious” materials and information through the mail.

Anthony Comstock was the United States Postal Inspector, which gave him the authority to enforce the Comstock obscenity law. He also became the leader of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice- and a notorious public figure. He was not just an arbitrator of morality, he had the force of law and order on his side. We may share in Puck’s amusement at the thought of Comstock over-stepping his purview as a regulator of morality, but the Comstock Act did have far-reaching (and even tragic) consequences. Not satisfied with the work being done in his native East Coast, Comstock and the Society for the Suppression of Vice set their sights on Chicago, a city with a notorious reputation.  One of the missions of the Chicago Branch of the Society of the Suppression of Vice was to “prosecut[e] those responsible” for the “vile traffic in obscene books, pictures, etc.” (Chicago Daily Tribune, “Suppression of Vice,” Sept. 27, 1879).

Souvenir Map of the World’s Columbian Exposition, Jackson Park, 1893. Hermann Heinz Source: Chicago Historical Society (ICHi-27750)

Chicago first drew Comstock’s attention during the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, where he was (in particular) horrified by the danse du ventre famously performed by “Little Egypt” at the Egyptian Theater.

comstockblogimage2

Left: Portrait of Ida Craddock. Circa 1900. Source www.idacraddock.org.
Right: Little Egypt, the stage name of dancer Fahreda Mahzar. By The original uploader was Ratwod at English Wikipedia (Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Anthony Comstock faces Ida Craddock in Chicago

While Comstock found so-called belly dancing to be indecent and obscene, author, High Priestess of Yoga, and leader of “peculiar religion” Miss Ida C. Craddock publicly and passionately supported the dance. In fact, Craddock supported many things that Comstock considered indecent- and he prosecuted her to the full extent of the law for “having circulated improper literature through the United States mails” (Chicago Daily Tribune, “Author Ends her Life,” October 18,1902).

Craddock was arrested in Chicago in 1899 and spent time in prison.  Instead of backing down from the expression of her beliefs, she continued to publish literature and speak to the public about sexual education. Comstock personally arrested her again in 1902, and when she was again convicted, Craddock decided to become a martyr for the cause of freedom of expression.

Ida Craddock’s court battles with Anthony Comstock ultimately helped shape the interpretation of the First Amendment, including freedom of speech and freedom of the press. In 1906, Theodore Schroeder, an attorney for the Free Speech League of New York, was set to debate Anthony Comstock at the Purity conference in Chicago. Comstock did not show, but Schroeder spoke on behalf of free speech to the crowd anyway.  Echoing Ida Craddock, Schroeder argued for the “development of healthy mindedness through sexual education” instead of the current suppression of anything deemed “obscene.” (Chicago Daily Tribune, “Purity Debate One-Sided,” October 11, 1906).

Puck, "A Dreadful Predicament," vol. 12, no. 570, February 8, 1888.

Puck, “A Dreadful Predicament,” vol. 12, no. 570, February 8, 1888.

“O, dear me, what shall I do? My shoe string has come untied, and there’s that dreadful Anthony Comstock just behind me!”

Anthony Comstock saw Gilded Age cities like Chicago as tarnished, and sought to suppress anything that continued to mar the city’s character. Ida Craddock, on the other hand, seemed to recognize that there was greater danger in suppression than expression. Unlike Puck, which just scoffed at the absurdity of the Comstock Law, she worked to combat it.

 

Further Reading/Viewing

For more on Ida Craddock and her crusade: http://www.npr.org/2011/07/15/131878498/a-wanton-woman-the-life-of-ida-c-craddock.

For a motion-picture filmed by Thomas Edison of a “belly dancer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zxZoXJBILbc.

Via The New York Times: The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture opens on Sept. 24 in Washington after a long journey. Thirteen years since Congress and President George W. Bush authorized its construction, the 400,000-square-foot building stands on a five-acre site on the National Mall, close to the Washington Monument. President Obama will speak at its opening dedication.

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Appropriately for a public museum at the heart of Washington’s cultural landscape, the museum’s creators did not want to build a space for a black audience alone, but for all Americans. In the spirit of Langston Hughes’s poem “I, Too,” their message is a powerful declaration: The African-American story is an American story, as central to the country’s narrative as any other, and understanding black history and culture is essential to understanding American history and culture.

To Read the Full Article, Click Here.

Branson: “Why do the rituals, the clothes, and the customs matter so much?” 

The Dowager Countess:Because without them we would be like the wild men of Borneo.”

Downton Abbey®. © Carnival Films / MASTERPIECE

Downton Abbey®. © Carnival Films / MASTERPIECE

Queen Victoria’s son, Edward VII, had a brief reign from 1901 to 1910, but it was a decade marked by peace and prosperity at the height of the British Empire. The Edwardian period was indeed a “Gilded Age,” both in England and America. Yet social relationships were strictly defined, and interactions among and between the classes were governed by a series of complex and rigid rules—what we would call “manners”. The etiquette of the Edwardian era was second nature to the people who lived during this period, but to us it’s the fascinating behavior of a unique cultural moment.

King Edward and Queen Alexandra.

King Edward and Queen Alexandra.

Edwardians never, for example, shook hands. Women never removed their gloves in public. Men removed their hats in the presence of a superior, but not for a member of the lower classes. An Edwardian hostess carefully predetermined every aspect of a dinner party—not only the menu and seating arrangements, but even topics of conversation during the meal.

Alastair Bruce with actor Hugh Bonneville on the set of Downton Abbey.

Alastair Bruce with actor Hugh Bonneville on the set of Downton Abbey.

These are just a few of the kinds of details Alastair Bruce, historical advisor to Downton Abbey® (as well as films such as The King’s Speech and The Young Victoria), has to remember as he works with actors. It’s his job to ensure they mind their Edwardian manners perfectly, from ramrod-straight posture to perfectly starched collars.

Through the lens of Bruce’s work on Downton Abbey, as seen in the PBS documentary The Manners of Downton Abbey, let’s take a look at Edwardian etiquette and how it reigned in every corner of daily life.

 …

Servants & Masters

The servants of Downton. Downton Abbey®. © Carnival Films / MASTERPIECE

The servants of Downton. Downton Abbey®. © Carnival Films / MASTERPIECE

“You are a footman, and a footman wears gloves,” says Mr. Carson, the butler of Downton Abbey, in a tone that brooks no argument. The footmen were like the peacocks of an Edwardian country house, impressive to look at and always on display, whether greeting guests at the doorstep or serving them in the dining room. Nearly always well-dressed young men, the footmen represented crisp formality and quiet grandeur on behalf of the entire estate. A tall or particularly good-looking footman would even earn a higher salary than the other members of the household staff.

However necessary the footmen and other servants may have been, they were never, however, thanked. Notice how the Crawleys and their aristocratic peers never say, “Oh, thank you!” to the servants when they bring a cup of tea, lace up a corset, or open a door? This isn’t ungratefulness, however, but simply a matter of practicality, explains Alastair Bruce in The Manners of Downton Abbey. The servants did everything for their masters, and if thanks were given, it would be necessary to say them at least sixty times a day. That would be, as the English say, tiresome.

Etiquette wasn’t just reserved for the relationship between servant and master. A unique set of rules also governed a hierarchy within the servant class itself. The butler and housekeeper were at the head of this group in terms of dignity, authority and earnings. Then came the cook, valets, ladies’ maids, and footmen; last of all were the parlor maids, laundry maids, kitchen maids, dishwashers, and stable grooms. Even among one group of servants you would have minor differences. The first footman served the meat, for example, the choicest course; while the second footman served a minor sauce or side. The under cook was considered an apprentice to the chef, while the kitchen maids were only assistants. The order in which servants sat at their own downstairs dining room table reflected this microcosm of the class system.

 …

Socializing

An afternoon tea outdoors, image via Code of the Gentleman.

An afternoon tea outdoors, image via Code of the Gentleman.

All social interactions, formal or informal, were occasions that required a complex set of rules to govern behavior. Take a look at this list taken from instructions for giving a formal afternoon tea in 1904—it just scratches the surface of expectations and norms for this period.

 

  • Cards must be issued as invitations three weeks in advance.
  • Men should wear a long frock coat with single or double-breasted waistcoat to match; gray trousers; white linen; light tie; silk hat; gray gloves; patent leather shoes.
  • Awnings and carpet should be provided from curb to house.
  • A footman must meet guests as they arrive at the curb to open their carriage doors, and another should open the front door “the moment a guest appears at the top step.”
  • Guests should leave their cards in the tray in the hall before entering the drawing room. The butler then announces them as they enter. Those who cannot attend should send their cards by mail or messenger to the hostess, timed to arrive during the afternoon tea.
  • On entering, women precede the men.
  • The hostess should be just within the drawing room door to receive the guests. If she has daughters who have come out in society, they should receive the guests, then mingle with them “to help to make the function a success.”
  • The hours are from 4 to 7 p.m. Guests should not come at the opening hour, nor stay until the last moment.

 

Even in casual or unplanned moments, including with friends and family, it was important to keep oneself under control. The British are famously described as having a “stiff upper lip,” showing no inappropriate bursts of affection or anger. Alastair Bruce coaches the actors of Downton Abbey, especially those who play characters who most want to uphold the traditional way of life (including Lady Mary, her grandmother the Dowager Countess of Grantham, and the butler Mr. Carson), never to slip on this point. They can’t pat someone’s shoulder, offer a hug, clink glasses, or even say “I love you,” no matter how natural it would seem. Controlled politeness must govern their every word and expression. As William Ernest Henley put it in his classic Victorian poem, “Invictus,” “I am the captain of my soul.”

 …

Courtship and Chaperons

Lady Edith dines alone with a married man. Downton Abbey®. © Carnival Films / MASTERPIECE

Lady Edith dines alone with a married man. Downton Abbey®. © Carnival Films / MASTERPIECE

Lady Edith commits a bold indiscretion when she dines unchaperoned with (married!) magazine editor Michael Gregson in Season 4 of Downton Abbey. She’s defying some of the most stringent rules of all, those which governed the interactions between men and women. The American queen of etiquette, Emily Post, declared in 1922, “Absolutely no lady (unless middle-aged—and even then she would be defying convention) can go to dinner or supper in a restaurant alone with a gentleman.”

“As a matter of fact,” Post writes, “the only young girl who is really ‘free,’ is she whose chaperon is never very far away…but a young girl who is unprotected by a chaperon is in the position precisely of an unarmed traveler walking alone among wolves—his only defense is in his not attracting their notice.” Young single women could also not receive male guests in her own home, dine out, go to the theatre, go motoring for a significant distance, or go to a party without a chaperon present.

 …

Debutantes

Lady Rose performs a curtsey for her presentation at the Royal Court. Downton Abbey®, 2013. © Carnival Films / MASTERPIECE

Lady Rose performs a curtsey for her presentation at the Royal Court. Downton Abbey®, 2013. © Carnival Films / MASTERPIECE

Debutantes being presented to Edward VII and Queen Alexandra.

Debutantes being presented to Edward VII and Queen Alexandra.

 

Young women were introduced to society in their mid- to late-teens, after completing their education and being deemed ready for marriage. The aristocratic debutantes would apply to appear in a royal court presentation as her official entrance into society. Wearing a white dress with a three-yard train and adorned with the required three feathers, the young woman carried a bouquet and curtsied before Alexandria, Edward VII’s queen. (Just as Lady Rose was presented to Queen Mary and King George V, Edward’s son and successor, in the 2013 Christmas special of Downton Abbey.)

After her debutante event, the young lady would attend “the season,” a round of London mansion parties beginning after Christmas and ending in mid-summer. These affairs, with their abundance of married chaperons, provided appropriate places for men and women to meet one another without causing scandal. After the Edwardian period, the significance of the debutante season waned, and austerity forced many wealthy families to relinquish their ‘town’ homes in the big city.

 …

Love & Marriage

Lady Mary between two suitors, one newly wealthy in business, the other inheritor of the Downton land and estate. Downton Abbey®. © Carnival Films / MASTERPIECE

Lady Mary between two suitors, one newly wealthy in business, the other inheritor of the Downton land and estate. Downton Abbey®. © Carnival Films / MASTERPIECE

Lady Mary marries Matthew, inheritor to the Downton fortunes. Downton Abbey®. © Carnival Films / MASTERPIECE

Lady Mary marries Matthew, inheritor to the Downton fortunes. Downton Abbey®. © Carnival Films / MASTERPIECE

 

Formal hairstyle inspiration from the Edwardian era.

Formal hairstyle inspiration from the Edwardian era.

 

A wedding reception in 1905.

A wedding reception in 1905.

 

For well-heeled Edwardians, marriage was a practical arrangement. Rather than love, the reason for marriage often had to do with the acquisition or preservation of land. Land was the lifeblood of aristocratic wealth and secured one’s high station in society. For the same reasons, marriage may also be a pairing of two important families. The character Richard Carlisle in the first season of Downton Abbey was wealthy, but he had made his money as a newspaperman. While the penniless Lord Gillingham—who comes from a well-established bloodline—would be viewed as a more appropriate match for Lady Mary Crawley in Season 5. Whether for practicalities or love, marriage was eagerly awaited by young women; it represented their only chance for independence and a home of their own.

Courtship was not, however, permitted among the servants. Even the architecture made sure of it, as there were no rooms for a couple to live in and work in the same house together. To marry, a woman had to leave domestic service, a kind of forced independence that set her to work on her own household.

 

 …

 

When the First World War broke out, marks of the lavish Edwardian period began to fade. With shocking speed, the old traditions—and traditional manners with them—became things of the past. Although interactions in England had been governed by these rules for centuries, the total social upheavals caused by war and industrialization wiped them away. As country houses in England fell into financial straits and were demolished or abandoned, the old, formal ways of life they represented were replaced by modern norms determined by a new and daring generation.

 

 

 

Resources
Edwardian Promenade, “The Court Presentation,” by Evangeline Holland, December 7, 2007. http://www.edwardianpromenade.com/etiquette/the-court-presentation/
Green, Walter Cox. A Dictionary of Polite Etiquette: A Guide to Polite Usage for All Social Functions. Brentano’s, New York: 1904.
PBS, The Manners of Downton Abbey documentary
PBS, “Manor House” www.pbs.org/manorhouse/
Emily Post, Etiquette, 1922. Chapter XIX. “The Chaperon and Other Conventions.” http://www.bartleby.com/95/19.html
Treble, Patricia. “Downton Abbey’s Master of Edwardian Manners,” Maclean’s, December 31, 2014. http://www.macleans.ca/culture/television/downton-abbeys-master-of-edwardian-manners/
Victorian Domestic Servant Hierarchy and Wage Scale: The hierarchy of British domestic servants in a large manor in 1890 and their wages. http://www.waynesthisandthat.com/servantwages.htm

richard-blogOur staff is always asked about their backgrounds and how they came to work at the Driehaus Museum.  So we wanted to share some of our amazing team with everyone. And, as always, let us know if you have any other questions.

First name? Richard

What is your title and what role does your position play at the Driehaus Museum? My role at the Driehaus Museum is the Membership and Volunteer Coordinator. I am here to coordinate many Membership functions and projects. I work very closely with our volunteers to fulfill the needs of the Museum and ensure a worthwhile experience for them. It very rewarding getting to know so many members already after our record breaking exhibition and event calendar.

How long have you worked at the Museum? I joined the Driehaus Museum in September 2015.

Where are you from/where do you currently reside? I was born in Omaha Nebraska. Our neighborhood is called The Field Club Historic District and is listed in The National Register of Historic Places. From an early age, I appreciated this beautiful period in history, design and architecture. I have also lived in New York and San Francisco, but Chicago is home for me.

What is your education/experience background? How or why did you come to work at the Driehaus Museum? I graduated from Loyola University of Chicago with a degree in Business Administration, English, and Communication. I spent over 35 years in specialty retail.  I worked with the legendary Bergdorf Goodman, Saks Fifth Avenue, Barneys, Neiman Marcus, and Bloomingdales.  My background in retail and my role here at the museum are very much aligned.  It’s all about hospitality, surprise and delight, and design and style.

If you were a staff member of the Nickerson Mansion at the turn of the century, what role would you have and why? Since I am not a good cook, I hope my role would be head butler. It would be interesting to be part of all the household functions.

If you were trapped in the Museum overnight, what would you do? Hopefully it would be a snowy winter night so I could light a roaring fire and curl up with a good book.

What is your favorite movie? I love all the British period films like “An Ideal Husband”, “The Importance of Being Earnest”, and “Gosford Park”.   Book? I enjoy anything Agatha Christie.  Each story needs to be discovered again and again for a new layer of detail and plot twist and turns.

What is your favorite holiday/program or event at the Museum? My favorite holiday is Christmas of course! The Museum has sensational decorations and holiday programs that lend themselves nostalgically to this glorious time of the year. Santa Saturday is great fun.

What is your dream job? I’m enjoying my current role tremendously. It’s a real treat to see our guests and members have such a magical experience at the Driehaus Museum.

Tell us about one of your favorite moments during your time working at the Museum?  Just recently, a group of ladies dressed in full jazz flapper style to visit the Dressing Downton exhibition, they looked amazing. It is great fun to see members and guests fully immerse themselves in this period and environment.

In the early decades of the 20th century, the fictional Crawley family of Downton Abbey® hosted grand dinners and fretted about the Great War. At the same time, the real Fisher family was doing the same—right here in this Gilded Age mansion the Driehaus Museum calls ‘home.’

In many ways the Fishers were foils to the Crawleys of Downton. The Fishers lived in America, the Crawleys in England. The Fishers dwelled in an urban palace built in 1883 by another prominent family, while the Crawleys inherited their ancient country estate from a long line of genteel landowners. Lucius George Fisher had everything to gain from the Industrial Revolution, the technical inventions of which made his career in the paper industry soar; Robert Crawley, Earl of Grantham, saw his own way of life rapidly disappearing in the wake of new changes.

And yet the Fishers and Crawleys shared the same world. Inspired by the era of our current Dressing Downton exhibition, we’ve been digging into our archives for this special blog post in order to share, for the first time, the story of the Nickerson Mansion’s second owners who lived here between 1900 and 1916.

 …

Illustration of the mouth of the Chicago River in 1831. From Chicago: A Biography, The University of Chicago Press.

The mouth of the Chicago River in 1831. Illustration from Chicago: A Biography, The University of Chicago Press.

Lumberyards on the Chicago River, about 1870.

Lumberyards on the Chicago River, about 1870. From Chicago: A Biography, The University of Chicago Press.

 

Chicago appeared out of nowhere.

As one New England newspaper put it back in the mid-1800s, it seemed to rise “like an exhalation from the morass upon which it was built.” Lucius George Fisher, Sr., the father of the man who would one day purchase the Nickerson House, came from Vermont to see the spectacle in 1837. There were just a few thousand pioneering citizens in the brand new city then, and it was in the middle of a financial crisis. He kept traveling, eventually landing in Beloit, Wisconsin—a city which he named, and where he made his own name. He played a leading role in all of the city’s major businesses and institutions—from the railway to the bank, newspaper, post office, local government, and police force.

His only son was also named Lucius George Fisher, born in Beloit in 1843. He was educated there and about to enter Beloit College when gold fever hit him, along with the rest of America. Lucius, Jr. convinced his father to let him go west with a wagon and team of oxen. He stayed on the frontier until he moved to New York City in 1861 to work as a clerk in a hardware store. The Civil War broke out that same year, and in 1863 Fisher was mustered with the 84th Regiment of the New York Infantry National Guard. The regiment was discharged after 100 days, so Fisher signed up for the navy and did administrative work aboard the US steamer Wyandack until the war was over in 1865.

By then Fisher’s parents had moved to Chicago, where his father invested in downtown real estate. Fisher joined them there and started working as a porter in the Rock River Paper Company. He ascended quickly, and within five years, he managed the whole paper bag operation. Fisher would stick with the paper industry for the rest of his career. He incorporated his own company, the Union Bag and Paper Co. in the 1870s, and it grew exponentially as he absorbed other manufacturers around the Midwest.

The Union Bag & Paper Company, 3737 S. Ashland Ave., Chicago.

The Union Bag & Paper Company, 3737 S. Ashland Ave., Chicago.

Like his father before him, Fisher invested in Chicago real estate. He owned a 160-acre tract on the south side of the city, between Seventy-ninth and Eighty-third Streets and Cottage Grove and South Park Avenues. When the World’s Columbian Exposition fairgrounds were designated nearby, the land became worth $1 million—equivalent to $266 million today. He leased the land to the fair in 1892 for the building of 600 three-story houses, to be used as visitor accommodations. Perhaps more famously, Fisher invested in real estate closer to the city’s commercial center as well. He commissioned world’s fair architect Daniel H. Burnham to design the Fisher Building, which still stands at 343 S. Dearborn Street. Its 18 stories of orange terra cotta and glass, made it  one of the tallest buildings in the world when completed in 1896.

postcard-chicago-fisher-building-streetcars-elevated-carriages-early

1893view

From around 1885, Fisher and his wife of fifteen years, Katherine, lived in a new red brick Victorian home on Ellis Avenue in Chicago’s Oakland neighborhood. It featured stained glass windows, built-in bookcases, large secluded back garden, and an elegant ballroom on the third floor. The lakeside community was populated, in the late 19th century, with other illustrious members of Chicago society. Many of them were entrepreneurs and industrialists who found it convenient to the stockyards, rail terminal, and factories on the South Side. But around the turn of the century, increasing pollution and immigrant neighbors made the area seem less desirable for some. These residents began migrating north, and the Fisher family also began looking for a new home.

Samuel M. Nickerson, recently retired president of First National Bank of Chicago, had constructed a gorgeous Italianate mansion on the north side of the Chicago River in 1883. The mansion at 40 East Erie Street was reported to be the most expensive and luxurious residence in Chicago at the time of its construction, featuring three stories, more than 17 different kinds of marbles from around the world, capacity for 11 live-in servants, and a grand Sculpture Gallery. Nickerson was 70 years old, and originally from Massachusetts. He wished to go live permanently in his summer home on Cape Cod, so he negotiated a $75,000 purchase—over $2 million in today’s dollars—with Lucius George Fisher for the mansion and many of its contents.

The FIsher's 1885 residence on 4036 Ellis Avenue. (Google Streetview, 2014)

The FIsher’s 1885 residence on 4036 Ellis Avenue. (Google Streetview, 2014)

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Front elevation, Samuel M. Nickerson House. Burling & Whitehouse, architects.

The Samuel M. Nickerson House, 1883.

The Samuel M. Nickerson House, 1883.

The Fishers moved into the Nickerson House in the summer of 1900. The census recorded the home’s inhabitants as Lucius and Katherine, both in their 50s; their four children Lucius, Jr. (age 28), Alice (age 26), Ethel (age 17), and Katherine (age 14); Katherine’s sister Francis Eddy; and three female servants from Germany, Minnesota, and Sweden, respectively.

The Fishers kept most of the original furniture, which had been crafted to match the interior design. But their tastes had little else in common with the Nickersons’ clusters of Victorian objets d’art, competing wall and upholstery patterns, and plenteous furniture. The new century came with a new, streamlined aesthetic. By now Chicago’s Prairie School of architecture, with its horizontal lines and air of simplicity, had come into full swing. Fisher hired Prairie School architect George Washington Maher (1864–1926) to redesign Nickerson’s former Sculpture Gallery to his own liking. He re-envisioned the space as a Trophy Room and filled it with game animals, weaponry, rare books, and a mural of hunting scenes along the curved cornice. Among the crowning achievements of the new design was a massive fireplace, with iridescent Art Nouveau tilework, roaring lacquered cherry lion heads, and massive moose head above the mantel. The other striking feature was a stained glass dome featuring autumnal trees, which has been carefully restored and is on view today.

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If Theodore Roosevelt, with his zeal for hunting large game, had anything to do with defining early 20th century masculinity in America, then Lucius George Fisher’s aesthetic would have fit it perfectly. The heads and bodies of wild game weren’t confined only to the Trophy Room; rather, they featured prominently as a defining decorative feature of the house. The Trophy Room displayed sea turtles, a 12-point buck, African antelope horns, birds both local and exotic, and a magnificent tiger skin rug. The first and second floor Halls featured bear rugs—one with the head still attached—and the heads of bison, buffalo, walrus, reindeer, and bighorn sheep lining the walls. The Dining Room featured a large silver fish bolted to the Lincrusta, an owl, and another grand moose head. Historic photographs, taken for fire insurance purposes, also feature a few hairy and indistinct mysterious animals on andirons and floors, including sheepskin throws and something that looks like a porcupine on the floor of the Drawing Room.

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Perhaps a remnant of Fisher’s young days on the western frontier seeking gold, the few objets d’art often depicted the American West. A prominent bronze bust in the Smoking Room depicted a Native American chieftan, for example, and a blanket covering an upstairs divan was woven with the colorful triangles of the Southwest. He was not otherwise a major art collector as Nickerson had been before him, although he did purchase the Greek statuary from the 1893 world’s fair and donate it to Beloit College for its permanent collection.

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Like the rest of Chicago in the early 20th century, the Fishers were confident in their success and enjoyed sharing it. One newspaper item from Christmastime 1902 mentions that the Fishers were the first to kick off that party season with a dinner and dance, and the “big Erie Street house…was decorated in American beauties and Christmas grace.” Few records survive of the other grand parties they certainly hosted in their urban palace in Near North, but previous special occasions, such as debutante receptions in their Ellis Avenue home, prove they were central characters in the city’s elite social class. The society pages in the Chicago Daily Tribune detailed costumes—“Mrs. Fisher wore an apple green and brown brocade gown trimmed with lace, Miss Fisher wore a white crêpe de soie with large white satin sleeves and lace bertha”—and menus—“chocolate, coffee and ice-cream in the billiard room” and “egg-nog in the dining room.”

Fisher Family History-Katherine Fisher to Marry Homer Dixon-Trib6Sept1906

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Lucius George Fisher lived in the Nickerson House for a total of 16 years. In August 1910, he and his wife were traveling in Germany visiting the famous baths of Carlsbad, when Katherine died suddenly and unexpectedly at the age of 61. Fisher returned with her body by ship, and the news came as a shock to the whole family. Fisher himself died on March 16, 1916, inside the Erie Street mansion.

The estate was divided between the three sisters, and Fishers’ youngest daughter Katherine and her husband, Homer Dixon, occupied the mansion after his death. The 1920 census paints a picture of a lively, full household with 33-year-old Katherine at the head. At the time the Dixons had seven children under the age of 11, as well as 11 live-in servants, mainly Scandinavian immigrants.

Thirty-two prominent Chicago families purchased the residence from the Dixons and donated the building to the American College of Surgeons. The rest, of course, is history.