Stories from the Big House

23 December 2015

The Hegeler Carus Mansion at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Ten drawings from the Hegeler Carus Mansion House Museum collection will be displayed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City as part of an exhibit on gilded age furniture from December 15, 2015 through May 1, 2016.
Original George A. Schastey drawing newly
preserved by the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
On display in the American Wing through May 2016.
The drawings are part of the original architectural and design plans for the Hegeler Carus Mansion and date from between 1874 when construction began on the Mansion to 1876, when the Hegeler family moved into the home. 

The house museum’s collection includes architectural plans by William W. Boyington, interior and furniture design drawings by William August Fiedler, and textile and furniture design drawings by George Schastey, as well as furniture and artifacts that belonged to three generations of the Hegeler and Carus families that lived in the Mansion from 1876 until 2004. 

“It is truly rare and wonderful that these plans and drawings have survived for over 140 years.” said Kelly Klobucher, Executive Director of the Hegeler Carus Foundation, which operates the Mansion as a house museum. “We are fortunate that the family stored the drawings in the attic. Todd Voelker was director of special projects at Carus Corporation when our organization was in its infancy.  It was he who found the Boyington, Fiedler and Schastey drawings in 1994.  This was very early in the preservation process.  The drawings have been scanned and now we are able to refer to them when working on preservation projects.”

Three newly preserved drawings by George A. Schastey hand at the
Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.
“That was a great discovery for those of us working to preserve the Mansion.  The drawings are an invaluable research material which enabled us to rebuild and restore to what Mr. Hegeler requested when the Mansion was designed.  We have referenced the drawings many times over the years,” said John Thorpe, a restoration architect who has been involved in the Mansion’s preservation since the Foundation formed over twenty years ago.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art contacted the Hegeler Carus Foundation about the George Schastey drawings last winter after learning of their existence from Hegeler Carus board member Rolf Achilles.  Achilles is a professor, preservationist, and is a world renowned expert on the decorative arts.  “The exceptional characteristic of the Hegeler Carus Museum is that it is unchanged. The Schastey drawings are extremely rare, as is the Mansion.  Both the drawings and the Mansion are invaluable examples of artistic achievement and should be treasured,” said Achilles.

Hegeler Carus Foundation Board Chair Blouke Carus is the great-grandson
of Edward Hegeler, who commissioned the construction of the Hegeler
Carus Mansion in 1874. He is pictured with Patricia Schastey Reboussin,
the great grand-daughter of George Schastey, the featured designer.
George Schastey operated a successful decorating firm in the late 19th century and catered to the Vanderbilts, Rockafellers and other well known families on the east coast. 

The ten Schastey drawings in the Hegeler Carus Mansion’s museum collection consist of textile designs for window treatments, fireplace surrounds, and small furniture pieces designed for the Hegeler Carus Mansion. 

“We were concerned about moving the original drawings.  Not only are they are exceedingly fragile, they are among the most precious pieces of our history at the Mansion,” said Klobucher.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art sent couriers in June to retrieve the drawings.  They were packed in special boxes and carried to New York in a climate controlled truck along with important pieces of art and artifacts from all over the country.

Preserved drawing of a fireplace surround
and mantle designed for the Hegeler Home
in 1874.
After the Metropolitan Museum of Art received and inspected the drawings, it was decided to have their conservationists clean, stabilize and preserve the artifacts prior to displaying them. 

“The drawings are in better condition now after being in the care of some of the top conservationists in the world at the Met.  We are very grateful to them.  This is not something we would have been able to do on our own,” said Klobucher.

More information on the principle architect and designer of the Hegeler Carus Mansion:

In addition to the Hegeler Carus Mansion, architect W. W. Boyington designed Terrace Hill, the Iowa Governor’s Mansion; Joliet State Penitentiary; Chicago’s Water Tower, the only building to survive the fire of 1871; and also finished the Illinois State Capitol building when architect Alfred Piquenard passed away during the construction.  A prolific architect, according to Boyington’s obituary in the October 17, 1898 Chicago Tribune, “If all of the buildings he had constructed were placed side by side they would reach a distance of thirty miles.”

August Feidler was the principle interior designer of the Hegeler Carus Mansion. He created the unique parquet flooring designs for each room of the Mansion as well as the ornately carved woodwork that can be seen on the decorative mantles, built in furniture and trim on the window and doors throughout the first floor of the Mansion.

Both Boyington and Fiedler were operating businesses in Chicago in the 1870’s due to the increase in work available to architects who were rebuilding Chicago after the Great Fire of 1871.


29 April 2015

Mrs. Beeton and the Perfect Picnic

By Tricia Kelly
Anyone who has ever had any interest in Victorian history has, at the very least, heard of Mrs. Beeton and her now-famous book Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management.  It started as a monthly supplement to The Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine.  In 1861 those supplements were bound into one large volume.  It contained advice on childcare, health and hygiene, and even how to hire domestic staff.  The book also included a large number of recipes, which is why the same book is often referred to as a cookbook.  For the first time, measures of ingredients and cooking tools needed to execute a meal were listed, right along with cooking times and temperatures.
Perhaps most surprising to me was how many pages were dedicated to that warm weather pastime—the picnic.  Picnics were enormously popular in the 19th century.  Many families could not afford to take long vacations, and even wealthy families sometimes simply could not spare the time away from home.  Yet one day away from the cares of the usual grind was possible for just about anyone.  

While there are some similarities to the picnics we have today, there are also some major differences.  Mrs. Beeton knew the loveliest place for such an outing was…the cemetery.  Today, we’d think her morbid.  Who wants to eat around a bunch of dead people, right?  Certainly that’s one way to look at it.  Another way would be to admit that cemeteries—at least Victorian ones—were very well kept.  Cemeteries often had softly rolling hills with lovely trees and shrubs artfully planted.  They were usually on the outskirts of town, necessitating some travel; what a wonderful way to pass the time, enjoying the scenery of the drive unencumbered by bank buildings, gas stations, or fast-food joints.
Mrs. Beeton understood the concept well, and labored to bring the wisdom to her readers.  Picnics brought family and friends together.  The standard picnic, it seems, was a pack setup for about 20 people.  Some of Mrs. Beeton’s customary packables for one picnic included, but were not limited to:
Five pounds of cold salmon
One quarter of lamb
Three boiled chickens
Two pigeon pies
One large ham
Mint sauce
Two jellies
Two creams
One pound of cheese
Salad with dressing
Two cucumbers
One gallon strawberries
Three pounds of grapes
Four large loaves of bread
Pastry sandwiches
Was she trying to feed these people, or kill them?!  It should at least be mentioned that Mrs. Beeton did feel it necessary to stipulate that all parties involved bring one or two items among the list, thus sharing the responsibility—and cost.
Mrs. Isabella Beeton
The success of the picnic, Mrs. Beeton stressed, had as much to do with the methods of transport as the food itself.  A square basket, she advised, was better than a round one.  Each comestible could be packed in its own paraffin or paper wrapper.  Ideally, though, tin cocoa and cracker boxes were used (which may partly explain why so many of them are found in Victorian homes) so that the food would not dry out as quickly.  Despite today’s romantic notions, fancy dinner services were deeply frowned upon; wooden or paper plates were recommended, and wine glasses would not be packed, as alcohol of any kind at a picnic was viewed as uncivilized.  The one thing Mrs. Beeton did insist upon was a good, sharp, serrated bread knife.  Sandwiches, after all, were not to be wimpy, frilly, or dainty.  They had to be hearty, meaty things able to withstand the energy needs of children as well as adults.  After all, it was an entire day spent out-of-doors.  Mrs. Beeton suggested that if the picnic area chosen was near a water source (occasionally there would be a creek nearby) lemons, sugar, and a large jug would make do for a refreshing lemonade that everyone could share.  On rare occasions a quadruple strength tea was made and then diluted.
Mrs. Beeton was personally involved in the creation of many picnics, as she was the oldest of 20 siblings and step-siblings.  She used her experiences to write her now-famous book on running a household.  My impression of Mrs. Beeton has always been that of a kindly old woman in a mop-cap and apron spilling out advice to young ladies newly married.  Isabella Beeton, the mother of motherly advice, died in 1865……..
……at the age of 28.


22 April 2015

Room to Breathe

 By Tricia Kelly

Occasionally, a visitor to the Mansion will point at a small window suspended over a door and ask, “What is that, and what’s it for?”  It’s called a transom, and it was once an essential feature in Victorian homes.  Why?  Air.
Victorian families were very diligent in adhering to the way they presented themselves to the public, but they were just as dedicated to their privacy.  There were lots of rules—written and unwritten—about how one should host a ball or a dinner party or a garden tea.  But once the party was over, it was time to retire for the night.  Family members and overnight guests alike followed another set of rules, including one cardinal rule:  bedroom doors were to be closed.
It was not the custom, even in wealthy homes, to light fires in the bedroom fireplaces at night.  If the house had tall ceilings or drafty windows, the rooms could be especially chilly.  
Doors were kept closed to retain whatever heat was already in the room from wafting out into the hallway.  At night, windows were almost never left open; Victorians feared the night air was loaded with miasmas, or dangerous vapors.  These miasmas were believed to be the cause of such ailments as tuberculosis, cholera, and measles.
Worse, in the absence of electric lighting the household staff would ascend the stairs shortly before the family in order to set the gas lamps and light the candles.  With the windows to the outside closed, and the doors closed as well, it wasn’t long before candles extinguished themselves as the gas lighting consumed the room’s oxygen at a rapid rate.  Into these rooms the family would retreat.  In short order, many would-be sleepers found themselves wide awake with racking headaches and difficulty breathing.
To solve the problem, transoms were installed.  They provided a functional and decorative way of allowing oxygen into the rooms without compromising one’s privacy.

The Hegeler Carus Mansion bedrooms have beautiful cut glass transoms; each one is unique.  Bedroom floor guided tours are scheduled and donors at the Fiedler level and above are invited.  To become a donor or for more information, please visit our website at today!

16 April 2015

Springtime Sentiments

By Tricia Kelly
The Carus children enjoying the outdoors on the west lawn
of the Hegeler Carus Mansion.
For Victorians in Illinois, there was perhaps no better time of year than spring.  Spring was a time of rebirth and renewal, a time to see life peeking out from winter’s hard frost in the form of blue Scilla, white Hepatica, and Spring Beauties.  Soon to follow come Trout Lilies, Yellow Bellworts, and Wild Ginger.  They are then replaced by Trillium, Goldenseal, Buttercups, Jack-in-the-Pulpits, Dutchman’s Breeches, and countless others until the whole land over is covered with Columbine, Jacob’s Ladder, Bluebells, Doll’s Eyes, ferns, and Solomon’s Seal.
Amid this palette of pastels, the Victorians found great delight.  Many adults who had spent the entire winter indoors were glad to step out and get two lungs full of fresh air.  Picnics were for summer, but there were plenty of other things to do in the spring.  For instance, the nanny or governess could now take their young charges on a walk to the park.  Boys had always been encouraged to be outdoors and active no matter what the season as it was believed to make them heartier.  Girls, on the other hand, were perceived as delicate and fragile.  Their lungs were smaller than boys, and thus weaker; therefore, taking a deep breath on a crisp fall day was a sure-fire way for a young lady to “catch her death of cold”.  Spring was another story, and many outdoor activities were arranged by women for their ‘sisters’ to enjoy.  There were wildflower walks, where young ladies would canter about in fields and parks gathering flowers for arrangements or pressed keepsakes.  Some of these girls were especially skilled, and knew how to keep a delicate bloom preserved in gelatin beneath a glass cloche.  Many young Victorian ladies formed flower clubs, where flowers became symbols for friendship, love, health, etc.  Arrangements would then be made and taken to people who were sick, or in mourning, or who lost all they owned in a fire as a gesture of kindness.  Emma Borden and her younger sister Lizzie belonged to one such club.
Then there was the bicycle, that bipedal rebel of the gilded age.  The popularity of bicycles really began around 1860 with the Penny-farthing craze.  Unfortunately, because of its huge front wheel and tiny back wheel, there was very little stability, and accidents were frequent.  Then there came the Boneshaker, a solid frame bike that literally shook your entire body around as you rode it.  In 1885 the first “safety bicycle” was created, and the sport became wildly popular…and controversial.  Doctors were adamant against ladies riding such contraptions.  It was believed that they could be damaging to a woman’s internal organs or, worse, stimulating.  Young women, however, rallied for the cause and rode the bicycles anyway.  This created a resurgence of the ladies’ bloomers that were originally a pre-Civil War fashion.

Finally, visits to the seaside began in the late spring and lasted until late summer, and were enjoyed by boys and girls of all ages.

07 April 2015

Meet the Family

By Tricia Kelly
If we’re going to send out a blog post talking about members of the Hegeler and Carus families, it makes the most sense to start at the beginning with Mr. Edward Hegeler and continue on to the present day.
Edward C. Hegeler was born in 1835 in Bremen, Germany.  His father had visited America and believed that Edward, the youngest, should be chosen to leave his homeland and make his mark in the much newer U.S.  He attended the Polytechnic Institute in Hanover and finished his vocational education at the Technische Universitat Bergakademie in Freiberg, Saxony.  One of Hegeler’s instructors was a physics professor by the name of Julius Weisbach.  The importance of this will soon become apparent.  It was at this school where he met Frederick Matthiessen, who would later become his business partner.  Upon graduation, they both traveled to America, arriving in Boston in the spring of 1857.
After travelling some time in Pennsylvania, St. Louis, Galena, etc. Matthiessen and Hegeler found what they wanted:  good quality zinc.  And cheap, too!  See, the miners in Mineral Point, Wisconsin weren’t looking for zinc.  They were looking for lead.  And lead is under the zinc.  Zinc was simply being tossed up into huge, ‘worthless’ slag piles.  Hegeler and Matthiessen were different.  They knew that zinc ore (sphalerite), when smelted in high heat, removes impurities that, upon “rolling”, will transform into a sheet of metal that is strong, flexible, and doesn’t rust.  Those sheets of zinc could then be sent across the nation by boat or by train and made into ice box liners, pie box liners, gutters, etc.  Zinc could even be used to galvanize nails, making them rust proof.  But from where would the fuel be obtained to burn a heat high enough for smelting?  Well, that’s where La Salle comes in.  Huge, rich coal deposits.  Bring up two tons of coal, smelt one ton of zinc, and blammo! 
Zinc wasn’t the only thing on Hegeler’s mind.  In 1860 he married Camilla.  Camilla Weisbach.  Sound familiar?  As the daughter of Hegeler’s professor, Camilla was intelligent, well-educated, outspoken, and honest—traits which Hegeler greatly admired.
By the time construction of the Mansion began in 1874, the M & H Zinc Co. was the nation’s leader in zinc production.  In addition, Camilla Hegeler had given birth to nine of their ten children.
Fast forward to 1887, when men of science began taking a look at religion.  A renaissance of religious fervor began during the bloodiest days of the American Civil War, and people like Darwin were shaking up the ideas of creation.  Hegeler, like many of his contemporaries, began looking at religion from a scientific point of view and opening discussion to the precepts of other religions, particularly those of Eastern influence.  It should be noted that Edward Hegeler was not at all interested in the fast-growing new ‘religion’ of Spiritualism.  In 1887, he founded the Open Court Publishing Company with the idea that anyone could discuss any type of religion and not be judged by anyone—in other words, an open court for dialogue.  He hired Dr. Paul Carus (who will be discussed in another blog) to be the editor, edging out the frustrated, increasingly spiritualist Underwoods.

Edward Hegeler passed away in 1910, age 74.  He is today remembered and respected as one of the true pioneers of American industry.

31 March 2015

Spring is here!

This was taken in the spring of 2013.  Follow us on Facebook
to see what's blooming this week at the
Hegeler Carus Mansion.
Spring is here, and it finally feels like the weather is going to improve.  We have endured what seemed like an endless winter.  On a positive note, we have accomplished a great deal while we've been cooped up indoors.

First of all, we have improved our website.  It is now easier to navigate and it will be easier than ever to plan a trip to visit the Mansion.  Of course, you are always welcome to call us.  We are happy to help curate your trip and love to make recommendations about our favorite local places to stay, shop, eat and explore.

Secondly, we are writing more for this blog.  There is SO MUCH information about this house that we simply cannot cover in a 50 minute tour.  Tour Director Tricia Kelly has been researching and writing about Victorian customs, objects in the Mansion and many other topics.  We will begin posting her articles soon.  We will also post some "throw back Thursday" items here and also on our Facebook page so you can see old photos of the house.

Of course, we have also planned a great summer full of events that you will not want to miss!  Be sure to follow this blog, like us on Facebook, and check  the event page on our website for up to date information on what we have planned.

We look forward to seeing you soon!

24 January 2014

Happy New Year 2014

2013 was a transformative year for the Hegeler Carus Foundation. As we enter the 140th anniversary of the construction of the Hegeler Carus Mansion, we reflect on all that we have accomplished in 2013, and feel grateful for your support!  Whether you attended an event, donated your time or financial resources towards our mission, contributed to one of our preservation projects, or introduced new friends to our organization, we appreciate you!

In early 2013 we experienced a crime against history in with the senseless vandalism of the Mansion and the destruction of an irreplaceable artifact during a burglary attempt.  This tragedy brought our community closer to us and we persevered.  We treasure the support and new friendships that formed during those dark days.

2014 marks 140 years since construction began on the Mansion.  The Hegeler family was able to move in to their new home, a modern marvel, less than two years later.  We at the Foundation enter this 140th year with a renewed focus.  We look back at the challenges and accomplishments of the last 18 years.  The world has changed since we acquired this magnificent house in 1995.  In order to stay relevant for the next 140 years, we need to change with it.  We have increased our events from 30-40 per year to over 150 in 2013.  The unique variety of events are low cost, family friendly, and are introducing a new audience to the Mansion.

We have been busy searching for new ways to provide quality cultural and educational programs to our community and we are working to create a sustainable organization that will preserve the Hegeler Carus Mansion for the next 140 years and beyond.  The Foundation staff, volunteers, and Board of Directors are not only proud of what we have accomplished this year, we feel privileged to protect and preserve the Mansion and it's History.  

We are happy to report the following milestones achieved in 2013:

Building and Grounds:  Our first project this year was to add more security cameras and additional lighting to further protect the Mansion.  This was an unfortunate-and unexpected- project that required immediate attention after experiencing crime. The considerable work and expense involved in these upgrades threatened our scope of work, and required the postponement of some of our planned restoration projects.  We are grateful to those who donated towards this emergency.

We were fortunate to receive a grant from The Cynthia Woods Mitchell Fund for Historic Interiors and were able to do paint analysis and research necessary to plan for our future projects.  

We also received a generous gift which allowed us to begin preserving the Parlor.  The ceiling is glorious!  It was restored over a period of six months, and further preservation work is planned in the Parlor for 2014.

In the spring, we reconstructed a gazebo that was in the gardens at the turn of the century.  The gazebo has become our music venue on the west lawn of the Mansion grounds.  It is an excellent focal point in the yard and is the area's only outdoor music venue not connected to a bar or restaurant.  Hundreds of people attended our Ravinia style concerts each Friday all summer long. 
 Hosting concerts on the west lawn has provided easier access to our guests via the west gate.  We are grateful to Tieman Construction for the work they did on this project, which was finished in time for our first summer wedding.  

This fall we replaced the north entrance, deck and ramp to the Mansion in order to prepare for restoration of the Open Court Hall.  It is easier now for guests with mobility issues, and in summer will provide a shaded place for visitors to rest before and after their Mansion tour.   As a result of January's break-in, the restoration work on the Open Court Hall was delayed.  We hope to complete it in 2014.  The Open Court Hall will be a versatile room with the ability to act as an event venue, classroom, gallery space, exhibit area.  In addition, guests with mobility issues will be able to view the gymnasium from there.

Programming: We enjoyed record setting attendance at our events in 2013.  Many of our indoor concerts, lectures and special tours sold out online in advance of the event.

Our Summer Sunset Concert Series made use of our new gazebo every Friday night all summer long.  We expanded the concert series and brought an even wider variety of music to the gardens this year.

We added an outdoor storytelling festival to our event line up due to the popularity of our indoor storytelling sessions.  This is a wonderful event that we know will grow from year to year just as our other events have.

We have accomplished many wonderful things since The Hegeler Carus Foundation was formed in 1995, but we know our work has just begun and, like any worthwhile endeavor, it is never completed.   

We invite you to celebrate with us in 2014 as we observe 140 years of living history.