Stories from the Big House

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.