Postcard of crowd at Taliesin. Caption on card: "WEST WING. WRIGHT'S BUNGALOW". Property: Patrick Mahoney

What is the oldest part of Taliesin? Part II

A postcard looking (plan) northeast at the western façade of Taliesin’s hayloft, summer (the hayloft is under the roof). Because the collection of people are unexpected at a farmhouse, Randolph C. Henning (who collected this postcard), thinks this was taken the day after Taliesin’s 1914 fire and murders.

I wrote The Oldest Thing at Taliesin (stuff that goes back to 1911-12), and was going to leave it at that. But before I posted, I realized there were too many things to point out. I needed to divide it into two posts. So, that was part I.

Here’s part II.

Like last time, I’m going back to stone because it’s the easiest material to trace at Taliesin. That’s because Taliesin’s shingles, wood, and plaster has to be replaced. And I’m not sure how much of the window glass at Taliesin goes back to 1911-12.1

Therefore, in 2010,

Taliesin Preservation‘s Executive Director taped a printout of the picture at the top of this post onto my computer monitor.

In 2005, she (Carol) also told me about “The Album” on auction at the online site, Ebay.

Architect and writer, Randolph C. Henning, had sent her the scan of the image. Although he knew what you see in this image (the courtyard on the other side of Taliesin’s Hayloft), he wrote asking for help on any research on the rest of the images in his upcoming book, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin: Illustrated by Vintage Postcards (this image is on p. 39).

I’d never seen anything like that image because

you can’t really see this view today.

Why?

Because that nutter changed his house all the time, of course.

A similar angle of view is in the photo below:

Exterior photograph looking at the roofs Taliesin. Photograph taken in 2005 by Keiran Murphy.

I took this photograph from the roof of Taliesin’s former icehouse. The photograph is looking northeast according to Taliesin’s plan direction. Taliesin’s “Work Court” is one floor below.
I was up on this part of the roof with a member of the Preservation Crew. He was showing me details on the re-roofing. And, NO, you cannot stand on this roof while you’re on a tour.2

Almost nothing in this photograph matches what you see in the c. 1914 postcard at the top of this post.

But,

even though everything’s different here’s what got my attention: the stone pier under the hayloft.

THAT is still there! Here’s a comparison of the 1914 photo and the photo from 2004:

Looking (plan) southeast in Taliesin's "Work Court". In view: stone, roofing, plaster and windows in the courtyard.

In the Work Court, looking southeast according to Taliesin’s plan direction. This photograph has the stone pier that I saw in the 1914 postcard. The image below has both the old and new photos, with the stones in the pier compared.

Photographic comparison between 1914 Taliesin photograph, and digital photograph from 2004.

Here’s the stone pier in a close-up of the two photographs:

 

Close-up of stones in 1914 photograph and photograph from 2004.

TA-DA!


More Taliesin 1911-12:

The next photo appeared in 1911. I first saw it two years ago when the Chicago Tribune treated us all to was in a published article:

Looking east at Taliesin's agricultural wing.
In view behind trees: hayloft of Taliesin. Car [?] garage on the right. First published 12/29/11. Unknown photographer. (Chicago Tribune historical photo)

This photograph was taken December 25, 1911. The photographer was looking east/southeast (according to Taliesin’s plan direction) at Taliesin’s agricultural wing in 1911. The photo was taken on that day when Wright gave the disastrous press conference at Taliesin.

This, and the article that included it,

made me so happy that I wrote a post about it: “This is FUN for me…“.

Props go to Stan Ecklund on Facebook who, in 2020, first alerted me (and other Frankophiles) to this article. Stan created and curates two Wright-based groups on Facebook, The Wright Attitude, and Wright Nation. The “WA” is a private group, but Wright Nation on Facebook is public, here. If you are in the WA group, Stan posted the link to the article in the Tribune on Dec. 4, 2020.

Again, you can’t see the same view today because of Wright’s changes at Taliesin.

But I found a photo on Wikimedia Commons that’s shot from a similar angle. That’s below:

Photograph of Taliesin roofs taken on July 4, 2018.
By Stilfehler. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International License.

Looking (plan) southeast to the chimney that’s in the photograph from 1911 in the Tribune.
Taken by Stilhefler while on a tour. Click the photo to see it on-line.

I am not publishing the second photo from the Chicago Tribune. Most of what you see in the second photo cannot be seen on a tour and if you read “This is FUN for me…”, I explain it some more.


Then there’s the Hill Crown:

And its retaining wall:

Looking (plan) south at the stone retaining wall at Taliesin's Hill Crown. Photo by Keiran Murphy.

I took this photograph in April, 2005.

Most likely, there are other parts of the retaining wall that go back to 1911. However, I do not think you’ll be able to look at those places for any length while on a tour at Taliesin.


Lastly, I’ll show something else you can see on tours:

Wisconsin Historical Society, Fuermann Collection, ID# 83113

This was also published in Architectural Record magazine in 1913. Here’s where I wrote about it.

Look at the pier on the right, with the pool. The open windows on the right are at the kitchen (today it’s called the Little Kitchen). Every tour you take at Taliesin walks near that pool.

I put a present-day photo of it, below. The person who took this photo in 2018 also took the one above.

Photograph of pool next to the "Little Kitchen" at Taliesin. Taken on July 4, 2018.
By Stilfehler. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International License.

Taken in the Breezeway at Taliesin. Looking (plan) southeast at the stone veneer on the west wall of the Little Kitchen.
Photo from July 4, 1918, by Stilhelfer. Click the photo above to see it on-line. You’ll see that this photo has been cropped.

I love this area.

Wright changed things so much at Taliesin that I’m intrigued when he didn’t.

That’s all I’ve got the time to show you right now. Oh, and last thing: remember that these parts of the building I talked about were just what you can see.

So, thanks again for coming along!

 

Published November 26, 2022
Randolph C. Henning acquired this and sent this to the Executive Director of Taliesin Preservation while he was working on Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin: Illustrated By Vintage Postcards. You can see the photo on page 39. Henning sold his collection to Patrick Mahoney, AIA.


Notes

1 I could go and point out windows that seem like they were at Taliesin in 1911-12, but I dunno.

2 “WHAT – do you think we’d just walk onto the roof?”
No, I do not think you would.
However: one time a person arrived at the Frank Lloyd Wright Visitor Center in January or February and wanted to know if they could go into the buildings on the Taliesin estate. I asked, “Did you see the notice on our website that there are no tours at Taliesin until May 1?” The person replied nicely that, “Yes, we saw that. But you didn’t say the estate was closed.” So I’m double checking.

Photograph taken at Taliesin in late summer. The structure has been built, although not all of the windows are in. One man is bending working on teh ground.

What is the oldest part of Taliesin? Part I

Looking (plan) east at Taliesin from the balcony of its hayloft, fall 1911. Taken by Taylor Woolley, who worked as a draftsman for Wright at Taliesin. I showed this image in the post, “This will be a nice addition“.

While people don’t ask that question at other Frank Lloyd Wright buildings, it’s part and parcel of his personal home in Wisconsin.1 After all, he was already changing things after 1912, and he probably would have made changes at his home even if it never suffered two major fires.

And, remarkably, there are things at Taliesin that go back to 1911-12. Even where there wasn’t any fire.

Why am I bringing this up?

I thought I would share what people asked me sometimes while I gave tours. Hopefully I didn’t overwhelm them with info. But while “don’t talk about what you can’t see” is one of the tour-guiding rules, change was a part of Taliesin.

In fact, that’s true even in the photo at the top of this post. Wright changed almost all of the stone piers and chimneys that you see there.

Now, while Wright didn’t sit down in April of 1911 and say, “I want to change my home with Mamah all the time!”, he liked the flexibility of changing things as he had new ideas. He refined his ideas all the time, and his home was the best place see these new things.

After all, I’ve heard people say that –

Taliesin is like a life-sized model.

Even Taliesin’s most consistent feature, the Tea Circle, would change.

The Tea Circle

It’s a semi-circular stone bench where Wright and the Taliesin Fellowship used to have tea.

In the photo at the top of this post, the Tea Circle will be eventually built on the right, where you can see the man working under the two oak trees. They wouldn’t finish it until 1912.

So, the photo shows that they had removed all of the dirt around those oak trees, and built the retaining walls. Then they gave the roots of the oaks a chance to settle before making more disruptions.

But Wright’s plans included the Tea Circle at Taliesin almost from the beginning.

However, you can see that unfinished Tea Circle in another photo by Taylor Woolley, below. He took this in the spring of 1912. Taliesin’s basically been built, but the Tea Circle steps, and its stone seat, don’t yet exist:

Photograph at Taliesin in early spring. In view: pool on left, Flower in the Crannied Wall statue at Tea Circle.
By Taylor Woolley. Courtesy of Utah State History, Taylor Woolley Collection, ID 695904.

Looking west toward the Tea Circle. The chimney at Taliesin’s Drafting Studio is on the right. The Hayloft is under the horizontal roof in the background.

I used to look for the Tea Circle on plans to orient myself when I was first learning about Taliesin. I put one of Taliesin’s early drawing below, with an arrow pointing at the stone bench. Western Architect magazine published this drawing in February 1913:

Drawing of Taliesin complex. Published in February 1913.
Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York), 1403.011.

In fact, here are links to Taliesin plans that have the Tea Circle seat.

ARTSTOR says the drawings are from Taliesin II, but that’s wrong. I noted before that the former director of the Frank Lloyd Wright Archives, the late Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer, was wrong on the structural details of the building. But I never got the chance to talk to him about how he came up with the dates for the drawings.2

The Preservation Crew at the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation carried out restoration, preservation, and reconstruction on the Tea Circle in 2019.3 They had to replace a lot of the degraded/missing stone work there. Its form (and as much stone as possible) now matches what was there in when it was originally finished.

Anyway, here I was,

trying to figure out the date of Woolley’s photo showing the forecourt and unfinished Tea Circle.

that’s the problem with black & white photos: they make late fall and early spring look the same!

And, HOORAY! Wright’s scandals gave me the info.

See, on December 23, 1911, the Chicago Tribune sent a telegram to Wright asking to confirm or deny that he was living in Wisconsin with Mamah Borthwick.

(by then, she and Edwin had divorced, and she legally took back her maiden name)

The Tribune published his reply on Dec. 24,

Let there be no misunderstanding, a Mrs. E. H. Cheney never existed for me and now is no more in fact. But Mamah Borthwick is here and I intend to take care of her.

Since Wright’s telegram made things even worse, the next day, Wright and Borthwick invited the reporters inside Taliesin so he could give a public statement. He hoped doing this would explain things and take pressure off himself and his family.

It didn’t go well.

In part because Wright said, “In a way my buildings are my children”. The guy needed a publicist. But it was 1911; whatcha gonna do?

This disaster with the press answered my question:

As Wright escorted the reporters to the forecourt (now the Garden Court), he talked about upcoming work on the building and grounds. He said:

There is to be a fountain in the courtyard, and flowers. To the south, on a sun bathed slope, there is to be a vineyard. At the foot of the steep slope in front there is a dam in process of construction that will back up several acres of water as a pond for wild fowl.

Chicago Daily Tribune, December 26, 1911, “Spend Christmas Making ‘Defense’ of ‘Spiritual Hegira.'”

AHA!

There it is: at Christmas 1911, they hadn’t yet finished Taliesin’s dam! So the hydraulic ram wasn’t yet working to bring water to the reservoir behind the house, giving Taliesin running water and water for the pools!4

In contrast, Woolley’s photo has the fountain (on the left in the photo above). That means the water system was working.

More Taliesin photos

In January 1913, Architectural Record published photos taken in the previous summer. Click on the photo below for the link to a .pdf of that magazine. The link is the whole magazine for the first half 1913, so you’ll have to go through it.

Image from opening pages of "The Studio-Home of Frank Lloyd Wright". Includes a photograph looking West at Taliesin in the summer of 1912.

You go to the link (which has 6 months of the issues). You can find page 44 of the January issue, and that’s the start of 10 pages of Taliesin photos, like the screenshot above.

These Fuermann photos are what a lot of people envision when they think of Taliesin I.

You can also find them at the Wisconsin Historical Society in the Fuermann and Sons Collection.

And if you love them and want All The Fuermann Photos, you can buy the special issue on them that was published in the Journal of the Organic Architecture + Design Archives. They’ve got the photos Fuermann took in three photographic sessions. Architectural Historian, Kathryn Smith, explains their history.

More to come

I was ready to post this when I realized there are a few more things that you can see on tours that go back to 1911-12. So I’ll publish another post with more.

 

Taylor Woolley (then Wright’s draftsman), took the photograph at the top of this post. It’s at the Utah Historical Society, here

Published November 16, 2022


Notes

1 I don’t think they’ll be offering tours underground any time soon, in part because the openings into some places are only accessible by crawling on your hands and knees. Like what I wrote on in “A slice of Taliesin“.

2 I didn’t want to come off as a snotnosed smarty pants. Although maybe we could have talked about it. He seemed to trust my opinion by the end. He respected my opinions on one drawing I asked about.

3 The restoration work is due to a donation by educator and Architectural Historian, Sidney K. Robinson.

Watch Ryan Hewson, of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation talking about the restoration of the Tea Circle the “Frank Lloyd Wright x Pecha Kucha Live 2020” event. Pecha Kucha is a fast-paced slide show, and Hewson’s presentation is just over 6 minutes. It explains the work really well.

4 I wrote about my study of the dam in the post, “My dam history“.

Taliesin August 1914 after first fire

Julian didn’t seal the entrances

Albert Rockwell took this photograph on August 15, 1914. It shows Taliesin’s burned living quarters.

WARNING: My post includes descriptions of the extreme violence that took place during Taliesin’s 1914 fire. Additionally, contemporary news reports often refer to murderer Julian Carlton as “the negro”. I’ve removed that term for Carlton when the sentences are still comprehensible, but did keep it in areas.

In this post I am dissecting what I think is the biggest myth surrounding the August 15, 1914 fire and murders at Taliesin: that the murderer sealed all of the entrances and killed everyone as they ran out of Taliesin’s one unlocked door.

Read my post on the fire for the basics and information on those killed.

And I wrote a note near the bottom of this post (1) that lists the newspapers that repeated the myth in 1914. However, I want to address the “he sealed the doors to the house” myth first.

This myth derives from something that survivor William Weston said. Here’s Weston, in the Detroit Tribune on August 16:

As each one put his head out,” said Weston, “the Negro struck, killing or stunning his victim. I was the last…” [ellipses included]

The ax struck me in the neck and knocked me down, but left me conscious. I got up and ran, the Negro after me. Then I fell, and he hit me again. I guess he thought he had me, because he ran back to the window and I got up and ran. When I looked back he had disappeared.

People gravitated to this statement:

“As each one put out his head…,” Carlton “struck, killing or stunning his victim. I was the last.”

However,

the other survivor, Herbert Fritz, gave a description that day which contradicts the myth. I copied his statement on what happened. The Chicago Daily Tribune first printed this on August 16:

I was eating in the small dining room off the kitchen with the other men, said Fritz.The room, I should say, was about 12 x 12 feet in size. There were two doors, one leading to the kitchen and the other opening into the court. We had just been served by Carleton and he had left the room when we noticed something flowing under the screen door from the court. We thought it was nothing but soap suds spilled outside.

The liquid ran under my chair and I noticed the odor of gasoline. Just as I was about to remark the fact a streak of flame shot under my chair, and it looked like the whole side of the room was on fire. All of us jumped up, and I first noticed that my clothing was on fire. The window was nearer to me than the other door and so I jumped through it, intending to run down the hill to the creek and roll in it.

It may be that the other door was locked. I don’t know. I didn’t think to try it. My first thought was to save myself. The window was only about a half a foot from the floor and three feet wide and it was the quickest way out.

Arm Broken by Fall.

I plunged through and landed on the rocks outside. My arm was broken by the fall and the flames had eaten through my clothing and were burning me. I rolled over and over down the hill toward the creek, but stopped about half way. The fire on my clothes was out by that time and I scrambled to my feet and was about

Cont’d, p. 6? column 1

to start back up the hill when I saw Carleton come running around the house with the hatchet in his hand and strike Brodelle, who had followed me through the window.

Then I saw Carleton run back around the house, and I followed in time to see him striking at the others as they came through the door into the court. He evidently had expected us to come out that way first and was waiting there, but ran around to the side in which the window was located when he saw me and Brodelle jump out.

I didn’t see which way Carlton went. My arm was paining me, and I was suffering terribly from the burns, and I supposed I must have lost consciousness for a few moments. I remember staggering around the corner of the house and seeing Carleton striking at the other men as they came through the door, and when I looked again the negro was gone.

Showing where everyone sat that day:

I determined everyone’s location due to work by other Wright biographers, and the article in the August 20, 1914 edition of the Weekly Home News (the newspaper of Spring Green). The Home News had the best article on the fire and murders.

I wrote the room in which each person sat on the drawing from 1914, below. The words, “living room”, “porch” and “men’s dining room” appear on the actual drawing:

Taliesin floor plan after the 1914 fire.
The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York), 1104.010

ARTSTOR also has this drawing on-line.

One person (Herbert Fritz) escaped through the south window without being touched. On the other hand, Julian Carlton attacked two men (Brodelle and Wm. Weston) who exited on that same side (the arrow with “Men’s Dining Room” is pointing at the room’s south wall). Carlton also attacked three that came out of the door on the north side of the room (Thomas Brunker, David Lindblom, and Ernest Weston). The details about the attacks on those three are not known.

Looking at what happened and what Fritz and Weston said, it appears that Weston witnessed:

        1. Fritz jumping out of the window,
        2. Emil Brodelle next jumped through the same window, where Carlton struck him, then
        3. Weston jumped. Carlton almost fatally struck Weston, who must have also been on fire.

Regardless,

people interpreted Weston’s quote, that “[a]s each one put out his head,” as “everyone attacked that day came through one door with Carlton waiting on the other side.”

The Chicago Daily Tribune printed Herbert Fritz’s statements that, “It may be that the other door was locked. I don’t know. I didn’t think to try it. My first thought was to save myself.” However, most other newspapers put the myth (the interpretation of Weston’s statements) into print. And newspapers often printed that Carlton locked all of the doors except for one.

Then, adding to the gruesomeness,

is the fiction that everyone at Taliesin stuck their heads out of Taliesin’s windows. In fact, the Chicago Daily Tribune states on August 16 that Carlton, “dashed at Weston and chopped at his head as the carpenter thrust it out the door.”

On that same day, the Decatur Daily Review wrote that Borthwick: “was the first to put her head through the window to escape the intense heat.” And that Carlton “struck her down with one blow, crushing her skull.”

Yet, no one saw Carlton attacking her, or her children.

The October 4, 1914 issue of the Washington Post has this:

Mamah Borthwick made a dash through the window. As she went out a hatched[sic] crashed into her head. Her innocent little son jumped after his mother. He, too, was killed by the hatchet. Then the daughter jumped. She was stricken down. One by one the guests jumped out, not knowing what had happened to the others. Each one was struck down. When the murderer was finished six lay dead and three wounded seriously.

The particularly violent and horrific narrative that the murderer stood outside of the one unlocked door is consistent in the contemporary news stories. And this, while even Nancy Horan wrote in Loving Frank that three of the victims—Mamah Borthwick and her children, John and Martha Cheney—sat in the terrace off Taliesin’s living room.

You can see where people sat in the drawing I put above.

This narrative stays because it’s so grisly.

In addition, in 1914, it was conveniently racist: of course, a fiendish Black man killed all those people. But, even more so, he did it with superhuman (animal?) speed and cruelty.

This detail, then, has been written in biographies and historical books. I didn’t start to get closer to this until I thought I really needed to read the primary sources.

That was when I realized people writing in 1914 were wrong about things at the time. Of course they were! On August 15 and 16, 1914, they were there, taking notes while trying to make sense of a pile of burning rubble that had once been a house. One that most had never seen before.

First published August 12, 2022.

Photograph A.S. Rockwell took the photograph at the top of this post on the day of, or the day after, the fire. The photograph in on Wikimedia Commons and is in the public domain. See here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Taliesin_After_Fire.jpg for information about the origin of the photograph.


Notes:

1 Newspapers where the myth was first printed:
The Chicago Daily Tribune, Aug. 16; the Decatur Daily Review, Aug. 16; the Detroit Tribune, Aug. 16; the Daily Clintonian, Aug. 17; the Des Moines Daily Review, Aug. 18; the Richland Democrat, Aug. 19; the Waterloo Evening Courier, Aug. 19; the Winchester Journal, Aug. 19 and the Camden Record on Aug.. 20 (both of which reprinted the Clintonian news report); and, repeated from the Judson News story is the Wanatah Mirror and the Westville Indicator of Aug. 20, the Monon News and most of the story in the Roann Clarion on Aug. 21; Spring Green’s newspaper, the Weekly Home News on Aug. 20 (which otherwise is probably the best reporting of the 1914 fire and murders); and the Washington Post on October 4.

Screen grab of actress, Bonnie Hunt as a tour guide walking with a group through the White House.

“Well, the guide told me….”

Screen-grab of actress Bonnie Hunt in the 1993 movie, Dave. The scene shows Hunt as a White House tour guide with a group going through the “People’s House” [the White House]. I guarantee most of you, tour guide or not, have this going through your head right now: “We’re walking… we’re walking….

In this post, I’ll write some of what people on tours told me, or other guide staff, during the almost-25 years that I worked at Taliesin Preservation.

In addition to being the Taliesin historian, I gave tours every season from 1994-2019 (except for the 2004 season and most of the 2014 season).

Giving tours exposes you to many things. In this case, visitors on tours told me things about architect Frank Lloyd Wright, his buildings, his personality, the murders at his house, etc.

In a way, that’s the beauty of it: you come into contact with so many different people and you’re all on a journey that lasts 1 to 4 hours. You’re all experiencing the same space at the same time and are interacting with each other. Even if they aren’t looking at—or listening to—each other.

Fortunately, though, I never expected people on tours to listen to me like I was a drill sergeant. So I didn’t take it personally if people on tour weren’t looking at me. I usually only asked them to keep their voices down if they were interrupting others on the tour.

That’s because I knew people were coming with their own backgrounds. Some loved Frank Lloyd Wright since they were 7 years old, and were now in their 70s.

On the other hand,

others might not know anything. Maybe they were on tour because their partners, children, or friends brought them. Maybe they were driving to The House on the Rock and thought they’d stop in….

Although, honestly, I really felt for the husbands who came on the Loving Frank Tour.

The book, Loving Frank, really appealed to women, and – at least from my perspective – the men on those tours mostly seemed to be the husbands/partners/boyfriends/friends of those women who had read, and loved, the book.

My job on those tours was walking the group around and describing what was there in 1911. Then I brought them to Taliesin’s Living Room and another guide (Margaret) did a book reading.

There were moments I had with the husbands/male partners at the end of those tours. I usually asked if they were there because their wives wanted the tour.

They all answered yes.

I’d often give a small nod and said that I hoped they were having a good time.

Yet,

sometimes the guests had preconceptions. Hopefully, if those preconceptions were, well, on the wrong side, the guests didn’t argue on the facts. And I think I tried to be nice when there were some real zingers out there, but I honestly can’t be sure.

That’s because guides, for the most part, are on their own with guests.

And while I thought I was pretty nice, those are only my memories and interpretations. Perhaps someone on the tours thought I answered things like a b****y a-hole.

As an example,

This one time I thought that I made a joke with a group. They were being slow and I said that,

Boy you folks are harder to move than 2nd grade school teachers.

yeah, that wasn’t a great line, but this is live, folks!

I said that because a week or two before this I was trying to move a group of women and one said,

Oh, I know it’s hard to move us. We’re all 2nd grade school teachers!

Apparently, this other group took what I said as an insult. Fortunately I didn’t have to handwrite an apology to them.

No: I never heard of any tour guide having to handwrite apologies to tour guests.

But on the other hand,

no one complained the year I was going through a really painful time when I know I was bitchy for at least half of that season.

I’d ended a relationship before the season started and was not in the best of moods.
I liked giving tours b/c they got me away from the pain for a while, but I was constantly on the verge of bursting into tears.

There were sometimes, though….

When things like this happened:

“My guide told me at [another Wright site]

“The back of Wright’s chairs were so tall because he didn’t want people to look at the back of his head.”

“He had a room at Taliesin for both his wife and his mistress.” 

“He designed uncomfortable furniture because he didn’t want people sitting too long.”

Or:

“It’s basically accepted that Wright was responsible for Mamah’s death, right?”

“Did Frank Lloyd Wright do a painting for Guggenheim or something?”

“Oh, I know that you guides all have some ‘script’ that you have to follow, but…?”

“No – he killed them all.”

“I heard that Joseph Stalin’s daughter is a bag lady living in London.”

OK: I’ve got to unpack that last one there:

Joseph Stalin’s daughter—Svetlana Alliluyeva—lived at Taliesin for a few years in the early 1970s.

She came into the Taliesin universe in 19701 when she was invited to Taliesin West by Wright’s widow, Olgivanna Lloyd Wright.

Svetlana married William Wesley Peters soon afterward. Peters was the former son-in-law of Olgivanna and Frank Lloyd Wright. He had married their daughter, Svetlana (who died in a car accident in 1946).

Now, while marrying two women named Svetlana is probably not wildly unusual for people living in the former Soviet Union, it’s rather odd for people in the United States. 

Which is why

some people conflate all of the facts about Svetlana, and hear about Taliesin, and think that Frank Lloyd Wright married Stalin’s daughter.

After all,

some people think that Frank Lloyd Wright killed his second wife.

Back to the bag lady comment:

We were at the end of our tour and driving up to the Frank Lloyd Wright Visitor Center. I asked those on the bus if they had any other questions. And one woman said,

“I heard that Joseph Stalin’s daughter is a bag lady living in London.”

As it so happens

At that time, I was renting my apartment from Svetlana’s daughter. She lived on the ground floor with her mother, and I lived on the second floor.

So, my I answer to “I heard Joseph Stalin’s daughter…” was

“No. Joseph Stalin’s daughter is not a bag lady living in London.”

The woman on the bus replied, “Well, I read it in the newspaper.”

And I believe I replied, more or less that,

“No. Believe me: she lives nearby, I’ve seen her, and had tea with her in her apartment last week.”

And, happily, this happened to be true!2

Originally published August 5, 2022.
The screenshot at the top of this post if from the movie, Dave, from Warner Brothers. I am not posting this to make money off of the movie, or any of its stars.


Note:

1 Thanks, again, to the Administrator of Historic Studies at the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, who gave me the correct year on Alliluyeva’s first visit. She has also helped me here, here, and I’m sure elsewhere if you search this blog.

2 I know this is true because I don’t usually drink tea and and I felt pretty good about having tea with her. 

Updated:

In the theme of “well, the guide told me…,” after I posted this, I read on a Wright page on Facebook that someone heard a Taliesin tour guide tell people that the Guest Bedroom of Taliesin housed Eleanor Roosevelt and Elizabeth Taylor (on separate occasions, of course). I posted as calmly as I could that, um, NO.

Those two women never stayed there.

That this was a case of

“the telephone game of tour guiding”

[I should copyright that term]

I’ll show you why I call it that:

Lady Bird Johnson, then First Lady of the United States, was invited to Taliesin. It was during her whirlwind “Crossroads USA tour“. Olgivanna Lloyd Wright invited her, but the Crossroads USA tour went so quickly (7 states in 4 days), that she didn’t stay at Taliesin overnight. So, one First Lady got confused with another First Lady.

In addition,

movie producer Mike Todd and then-girlfriend (later wife), actress Joan Blondell stayed at Taliesin in the late 1940s.

Todd later married Elizabeth Taylor. SO: Todd coming to Taliesin + (later-)wife = Todd’s later wife, Elizabeth Taylor, actually coming to Taliesin.

whew. Now everything will be fine and no one will ever get anything wrong on tours again.

Contemporary. Looking southwest in Taliesin's living room at the fireplace.

1940s Change in Taliesin’s Living Room

Photograph from the 2000s taken by me in Taliesin’s living room. Looking toward the fireplace with the inglenook (the built-in bench).

Today, I thought about photographs from the book, Apprentice to Genius, by Edgar Tafel that I recommended almost a year ago. Looking through the book reminded me of a change to the inglenook (the built-in bench) at the fireplace in Taliesin’s living room. I’m going to talk about that change in this post.

A moment about Wright’s living room

While I’ve written about his living room before, I haven’t really talked about it much. That’s in part because, while Wright obviously loved it and rebuilt it after his home’s two fires, he didn’t spend a lot of time changing it.

I mean, comparatively speaking.

Because he changed other rooms. A lot. Like the room I talked about in here; I mean, c’mon: it’s inside Taliesin and figuring out where the room stood (or stands. . . it’s still there) can be really difficult.

But, in contrast, there are things in Taliesin’s living room that he kept the same.

For example:

  1. The door from the main hallway was always in the same space.
  2. The room always had almost square windows.
  3. The dining area was always on the south wall.

And,

The fireplace always had an inglenook. In addition, for years (and after each fire), the inglenook ended a bookshelf on the end, farthest from the firebox. Maybe this bookshelf kept the space on the couch warmer when you had a fire.

Here’s the inglenook and bookshelf during the Taliesin I era:

Black and white photograph of inglenook in Taliesin I living room. By Taylor Woolley
Property of Utah Historical Society, Taylor Woolley collection, ID #695922.

Photograph taken 1911-1912 by Taylor Woolley, Wright’s draftsman at Taliesin at that time. Photograph located at the Utah Historical Society, ID #695922.

btw, I have tried to read the titles on the books on the shelf. Unfortunately, when I magnified it, the book titles just got blurry.

The bench was reconstructed for Taliesin II, after the 1914 fire.

Which can see in this Taliesin II photograph from the Wisconsin Historical Society.

And, again, after the fire of 1925.

You can see the inglenook here in an early Taliesin III photo, at Greatbuildings.com.1

And then we come to one of the photographs from “Apprentice to Genius”. The photograph from it below was taken in 1940 by Pedro Guerrero:

Photograph of Taliesin's living room and fireplace. By Pedro Guerrero.
Photograph taken in 1940.
Property: Pedro E. Guerrero Archives.

The bookshelf is the vertical section at the end of the bench.
This photograph is on page 112 of Apprentice to Genius.

In addition, this photograph shows that Wright had a small bookshelf on the opposite side of the bench. You can see the books where the bench terminates into the wall in the living room, to the left of the fireplace mantle.

btw: I’ve looked at the books on that little shelf and can’t read the titles there, either.

I suppose that could be a nice thing to have if you were at that fireplace in the winter, reading.

And then he made changes in the 1940s

Particularly the early 1940s. Why?

Because Wright, his family, and a few others were (more-or-less) confined to Wisconsin after the United States involvement in World War II. This involvement led to rationing, which resulted in his forced residence of Taliesin again year-around.

In addition,

Being forced to stay at his digs in the Midwest allowed Wright to think seriously on how he could change his home to make it more suitable to living in the summer.

Aside from all those stone changes he made in 1942-43 when he got an offer for “a cord or two of stone for every hour that I use the tractor.”

So, along with large changes at Taliesin, he made changes to this part of the living room. 

Here’s what I think happened:

That bookcase probably helped to preserve heat near the fireplace. So, he got rid of the bookcase, since he wouldn’t have to worry about conserving heat there any more, once they could all get back to Taliesin West in the winter. Besides, taking away that bookcase would make the bench more open to people walking around during hors d’oeuvres for Sunday formal evenings.2

He also eliminated the little bookshelf to the left of the fireplace, and put mortared stone in its place.

The removal of both book storage areas, were just two of five or six changes. You can see the cleaned up area in Apprentice to Genius, p. 113. Or in the photo below taken in the 1950s by Maynard Parker. Parker Taliesin took photographs at Taliesin in 1955 for House Beautiful.3

Color photograph taken of bench and fireplace in Taliesin living room, 1955.
Courtesy of the Huntington Library, San Marino, California.
Call Number: photCL MLP 1266

Now:

I do not know if Wright thought of the changes near the fireplace all at once, or if he made a change at the bookcase, followed by others over time.

Like when you go to wipe up a coffee spill on the counter and three hours later you’re mopping the entire kitchen floor after having wiped down all the cupboards while you rearranged (and threw out) the old spices (oh, you were so naive when you thought you’d use that much Cayenne).

But, maybe this came to him fully formed. From the bookcase, to the mantelpiece, or maybe the mantelpiece to the bookcase.

And, yes,

There’s a water stain on the ceiling. One time, a Taliesin Preservation employee (hey, Bob!) said to us that leaks in Wright buildings were like Alfred Hitchcock making a cameo appearance in his movies.4

I also like the plaster on the back of the built-in: sort of dark gold. I haven’t determined whether he made it lighter the last summer he lived in Wisconsin. Although, one of his former apprentices, David Dodge, said one time that Wright had apprentices redo colors on the walls every year. Although I don’t know if that was for every square inch of every wall in every space, but “David” said he could see why Wright redid the colors.

David said that just because the same flowers grow in the same place as the year before doesn’t mean the red or yellow of that rose will be the exact same shade in every way.

First published March 16, 2022.


Notes:

1. This photograph is published in the Volume 6 Number 1 issue of the Journal of the Organic Architecture + Design archives.

2. Formal evenings were held every Sunday when I started in 1994. Why they were held on Sundays, I don’t know. They were definitely Saturdays later and were held two times a month after I’d worked a season or two.

3. House Beautiful magazine, November 1955, v.97, number 11, p. 233-90 +. Parker gave his collection to the Huntington Library in California.

4. Although I can tell you that, this part of the ceiling has never leaked in my experience with Taliesin. And, while work has always been done to stop them, the roofs of Taliesin do/can leak. I recall one day maybe a dozen years ago, when TPI’s then-executive director told a reporter with excitement that, “Nothing leaked this spring!” [paywall] It’s not that Wright didn’t know what he was doing; he was just always changing things. So he was putting “creases” in the “envelope” of the building.

Looking toward Taliesin from the grounds of Unity Chapel

“This book is going to be big”

This photograph is looking from the Unity Chapel cemetery, which is the private cemetery of the Lloyd Jones family. Frank Lloyd Wright received permission to bury Mamah Borthwick here. Wright’s home, Taliesin, can be seen against the hill.

I wrote that in an email to Taliesin Preservation‘s Programs Director, as well as its Bookstore Manager.

Then I continued:

“I don’t mean big in ‘our’ little Wrightworld. I mean big in the real world.”

It was May 2007 and I had just read about the release of an upcoming book, Loving Frank. Written by Nancy Horan, it is a book of historical fiction with Frank Lloyd Wright and Mamah Borthwick as the main characters.

As August 15 (and the anniversary of Taliesin’s 1914 fire) comes up this weekend, I thought I would write about Loving Frank, and my thoughts on it when it came out.

My first encounter with tales of this upcoming book included newspaper titles with headlines like this:

“They were the Brangelina of their time…”

It catches the eye, you can say that. That sentence, in the Courier Journal newspaper (Lexington, KY), came from Ballantine publisher Libby McGuire, speaking about Wright and Borthwick’s scandalous love affair that made the national news in 1909-1910… 1911-12… and 1914.

And everyone at Taliesin (and all Wright sites) totally wants Brad Pitt (fan of architecture that he is) to take notice and come around.

You’ve seen the photo of Brangelina at Fallingwater, right?

So, in talking about that upcoming book through the summer in 2007, I would jokingly say, “I can’t wait to see the ending!”

Yes, it’s black humor, but what are you going to do?

I mean, I worked at a place where seven people were murdered on August 15, 1914 by servant Julian Carlton in an unknown and unknowable butchering with an axe, and fire (of the seven lives lost, only one died from his burns).

And the summer was full of listening to radio programs with guests discussing Wright and Borthwick. Looking it up, I wrote this in my own journal at that time:

I’m getting tired of reading that Mamah Borthwick is seen as a “footnote” in Wright’s life; or “not dealt with at all,” or “brushed over” or, perhaps, “not dealt with because people feel squeamish,” or that, “she’s not seen as very important.”

I continued:

It’s not that way for me…,  but I get tired of it….

I realize I may be taking this personally.

Me taking something personally? Really? Nah!

But the book came out, which I dutifully purchased. I expected to hate it. Perhaps my view of Loving Frank was reading the word “Brangelina” in relation to Wright and Borthwick.

Perhaps they would be called “Wrightwick”? “Framah”?

The word “Borght”, though, is cute. A Hungarian soup that Björk would eat.

Therefore, I held my breath as I read Nancy Horan’s book. I wanted to hate it, silently checking its facts. And yet I remember, early on, my old boyfriend walking through our living room, asking me what I thought.

By that time I had read, perhaps, up to page 50.

“Well, I don’t want to throw it against the wall,”

I replied.

And, over one hundred pages in, I became impressed by the research done by the author.

For example, in Chapter 21, Wright and Borthwick (who have left their families) are in Berlin, Germany. They have been discovered there by a reporter from the United States; which is true. And upon their discovery, Loving Frank tells the story of how the two became front page news in papers across America. This is also true.

After being discovered, the two leave the hotel and get breakfast. Wright says, “I want to take a little detour over to Darmstadt to see Olbrich, if we can. I’m told his work is worth seeing. Then on to Paris.”1

“Oh my God—she’s read Alofsin,” I said out loud.

I think I even put the book down in amazement.

While in Germany with Mamah Borthwick, Frank Lloyd Wright visited the work of Austrian architect, Joseph Olbrich. In fact, Wright was said to be “The American Olbrich”.

But, then there’s my mention of Alofsin. “Alofsin” refers to Anthony Alofsin. I wrote about him in my post on “Post-It Notes on Taliesin Drawings”. Alofsin wrote a seminal book in Wright scholarship: Frank Lloyd Wright: The Lost Years, 1910-1922: A Study of Influence.2

Alofsin worked on tracing Wright’s movements in Europe

It sounds simple, but it’s not. Wright wasn’t in touch with many people and his movements had to be dug up by Alofsin through Wright’s correspondence (which had recently been indexed3) and Wright’s later statements. So, until Alofsin’s work, Wright’s time in Europe in 1909-1910, was mostly a big hole. 

Here’s a later post I made about Wright’s travels throughout his life.

Returning to Loving Frank

The book sold so well that it inspired a special “Loving Frank Tour” at Taliesin. The first of these tours was done with Nancy Horan, in September 2008 (links on a press release and a poster for the tour are here and here). I was her contact on it, and created the timeline, etc, for the tour. It combined my touring and talking portion, where I told people what they would have seen in 1911.

Then I brought them to Taliesin’s living room, where they met Nancy, who was seated. She then read from the book.

She donated her time to Taliesin Preservation, did a public reading at the end of the day, and did a book signing. Regardless of all that, I found her to be delightful, sincere, and touched by Taliesin. 

And, again, I don’t know when, or if, the Loving Frank movie is going to come out, but if he wants to know, both myself, and Nancy Horan’s friend (who came out to Taliesin with her) thought that actor Brendan Fraser should play William Weston (Wright’s real-life carpenter who survived the 1914 fire/murders).

Of course, August 15 is still this coming Sunday.

I took this trip down Memory Lane as more-or-less a distraction from the approaching date. If you want to read my serious take on that day, read here.

For other photographs of the first Taliesin, and its devastation after the 1914 fire, you can get Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin: Illustrated by Vintage Postcards, by Randolph C. Henning; and Building Taliesin: Frank Lloyd Wright’s Home of Love and Loss, by Ron McCrea.

Originally published August 13, 2021
I took the photograph at the top of this page on August 15, 2005.


1 Loving Frank, by Nancy Horan (Ballantine Books, an imprint of Random House, New York, 2007), 125.

2 University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1992.

3 Frank Lloyd Wright: An Index to the Taliesin Correspondence is a 5-volume set that was edited under the direction of Alofsin and published in 1988. It’s available at larger libraries.

Taliesin August 1914 after first fire

The First Fire

The photographer was on the Taliesin Hill Crown looking toward the structure after the first fire. The person seen standing on the left in the white shirt may be Frank Lloyd Wright.

I’ve mentioned the 1914 fire a few times (and wrote about it snarkily), but I thought it’s time to address Taliesin’s first fire.

On August 15, 1914 as Frank Lloyd Wright was in Chicago putting the final touches on his Midway Gardens project (1913-1929), he received a phone call that Taliesin was on fire. His son John (who later became an architect) was working with his father and described that day later in his book, My Father, Frank Lloyd Wright:1

Suddenly all was quiet in the room, a strange unnatural silence, his breathing alone was audible, then a groan. I turned to him, startled, he clung to the table for support, his face ashen.
My Father Frank Lloyd Wright (1946; Dover publications, 1992), by John Lloyd Wright, 80.

Wright asked his son to get a taxi and then the two grabbed the first train back to Spring Green.

Details on that first fire:

For unknown reasons Wright’s servant, Julian Carlton, set fire to the living quarters of Taliesin after serving lunch, and murdered seven people. He killed most of them with a hatchet (one died from his burns).

The names of those who died were: Wright’s partner, Mamah Borthwick; her two children, John and Martha Cheney (ages 11 and eight, respectively); Emil Brodelle (draftsman); Thomas Brunker (foreman); David Lindblom (gardener); and Ernest Weston, the 13-year-old son of carpenter William “Billy” Weston.

The fire mostly burned down Taliesin’s living quarters within an hour. One-third of the building was destroyed.

It’s impossible to know what happened that afternoon

The murderer died on October 7, before a trial could be held. Additionally, the two survivors (Billy Weston and draftsman Herbert Fritz) never talked about the murders. Who’d want to? Carlton not only attacked Weston (who he left for dead), but he murdered Weston’s son, Ernest. Fritz survived by jumping out of a window on the south side of the house, breaking his arm. 

You would think that my history of working at Taliesin—in a place where the woman’s head was “cleft in two”—would leave a creepy feeling. But it doesn’t didn’t, not for me. First of all, the Taliesin that stands doesn’t have the floorboards, walls and doors where it all happened in 1914. Those were all destroyed in that fire, after which he rebuilt. Then, that same part of the building was once more almost destroyed in the fire of 1925.

Although, ultimately, I’m left in awe by the beauty of the standing structure, built by one of the greatest architects who has ever lived.2

What some say about the murders:

Some have unsubstantiated theories about the murders. These include: Carlton disapproved of Wright’s lifestyle; Carlton’s paranoia took a bad turn for fear of deportation in order to fight in the first World War; that this was a Chicago mob hit (Wright spoke in his autobiography of disagreements with the “union boys” over Wright’s Midway Gardens); and Wright put out a contract to murder Mamah.

I even had a former guide from another Wright house—after taking a four-hour Taliesin “Estate” tour with me—come up to say that he had been hoping to get the “real story” behind the murders from a Taliesin tour guide.

By the way, just so it’s all said: I have posted the basics of what we know about the first fire, above. There is no secret stash of information given to those at Taliesin about what “really happened” during the 1914 fire. 

The theories that Wright had something to do with the murders make me wonder:

What kind of person do you think Wright was? Sure, he left his first wife, sometimes (maybe a lot of times) had problems with money, and could sometimes say outrageous things about buildings and cities (noted in this article on negative things he said about Pittsburgh).

But any of those things are far away from being a murderer.

Finally, as for Wright ordering a hit on Mamah: putting aside the fact that Wright was not a murderer, (a) what self-respecting mobster would have expected Wright to come through with the money on a hit; and (b) if all else, I don’t think Wright would have destroyed his own home.

As for the other theories:

If Carlton hated Wright so much, why didn’t he just kill him in his sleep? And concerning Chicago mobsters: if they were trying to scare Wright, something else would have happened to him, or somebody would have eventually said something.

Regarding World War I, everyone in Europe that August was saying that it would be over by fall (by the time “the leaves turned”), so probably no one in the world was worried about multiple countries outside of Europe going to battle.

In addition,

Author Paul Hendrickson brought forth evidence that Carlton was born in Alabama (not Barbados) in his book, Plagued by Fire.

Wright’s reaction:

But to get back to the 1914 fire: Wright was devastated. Who wouldn’t be? He left for work in Chicago on a summer’s day in the middle of the week and came back that Saturday to a complete, unreal nightmare. And probably nothing could touch the guilt the man must have felt for hiring Carlton. Finally, the emotional weight of such a horrific and terrifying end to his life with Mamah must have been overwhelming. In fact, as far as I know, his painful and poignant writing about the fire was only done once: in his autobiography. I encourage you to seek out his autobiography to read his words (in three editions: published in 1932 and updated in 1943, which was republished in 1977), but here’s his writing about burying Mamah:

The August sun was setting on the familiar range of hills. I felt, dimly, the far-off shadows of the ages, struggling to escape from subconsciousness and utter themselves… then—darkness…. I filled the grave—in darkness—in the dark.

No monument marks the spot where “Mamah” was buried.

All I had to show for the struggle for freedom of the past five years that had swept most of my former life away, had now been swept away.

Why mark the spot where desolation ended and began?3
Frank Lloyd Wright. An Autobiography, in Frank Lloyd Wright Collected Writings: 1930-32, volume 2. Edited by Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer, introduction by Kenneth Frampton (Rizzoli International Publications, Inc., New York City, 1992), 240.

Wright wrote how the aftermath of the fire caused him to leave Taliesin for a bit and try to work out his grief in Chicago. And, then he writes,

So the rage that grew when I felt the inimical weight of human censure on my soul began to fade away and finally took refuge in the idea that Taliesin should live to show something more for its mortal sacrifice than a charred and terrible ruin on a lonely hillside in the beloved Valley.
An Autobiography, Collected Writings, volume 2, 241.

Some final thoughts about the 1914 fire

I noted at the start of this that the fire doesn’t make me feel weird while being at Taliesin. But I do feel deep, quiet sadness if I go to Mamah’s grave in the family cemetery, particularly standing near her grave and looking toward his house. Some years I’ve made a point of going there on August 15 when the sun is setting, the mist is rising, and the frogs are singing. The physicality of it goes deep in the bones.

But in addition, there’s the knowledge that above it all, he stayed! He rebuilt his living room in the same spot and the same size and rebuilt their bedroom in the same spot and the same size (and kept using it until 19364). What a weird reaction. Well, I used to think it was a weird reaction, anyway. Then September 11 happened.

In the wake of 9-11-01, I came probably as close as I can to fully understanding Wright in the aftermath of the 1914 fire. That desire to rebuild as a fight against obliteration was all around us in talks of rebuilding the World Trade Center. And, that connects very simply to Wright’s closing words about the fire in his autobiography:

There is release from anguish in action. Anguish would not leave Taliesin until action for renewal began. Again, and at once, all that had been in motion before at the will of the architect was set in motion. Steadily, again, stone by stone, board by board, Taliesin the II began to rise from Taliesin the first.
Ibid.

This was first published March 10, 2021.

The photograph above was taken by A.S. Rockwell on the day of, or the day after, the fire. The photograph was placed on Wikimedia Commons as an image in the public domain. See here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Taliesin_After_Fire.jpg for information about the origin of the photograph.


 Notes:

1 If you get the chance, you should read John’s book. It’s fun, funny, and insightful. I got a real sense of what Wright was like as a father. You can check out my post, “How did Frank Lloyd Wright feel about Christmas?” to read the scene John about seeing his father on Christmas Eve.

2 I haven’t said so before, I’ll say it here: I don’t think he was the absolute, above all others, greatest architect. The world’s a big place and built human history goes back to, what, 4,000 BCE? That’s a lot of building. So I think it is impossible to pick one person as the greatest architect (or artist). However, if someone made a list of the top 25 greatest architects in history throughout the entire globe, I believe his name would be there.

3 If you go to the cemetery at Unity Chapel, you’ll see a grave marker for Mamah. It was placed there in 2022 after members of the Borthwick family contacted those from the Lloyd Jones family. The new marker is near the base of the tree under with Borthwick is buried. Borthwick family members commissioned a new marker for Mamah to replace one put there under the direction of Olgivanna Lloyd Wright (Frank Lloyd Wright’s widow). The earlier marker in limestone was removed by employees of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, who put it into storage.

4 He and Olgivanna moved to separate bedrooms in that year. Those rooms remained their bedrooms in Wisconsin for the rest of their lives. 

 

A link to my writing on Taliesin’s second fire.

Taliesin II living quarters, approximately 1922

Taliesin II: the forgotten middle child of Taliesin

The photo at the top of this page shows the living quarters of Taliesin: the portion of the building rebuilt after the fire of 1914 and destroyed in the fire of 1925. Someone took is around 1922.

Frank Lloyd Wright and Taliesin II:1

Frank Lloyd Wright named his home Taliesin, but later wrote that the building after the 1914 fire was Taliesin II, and that the building after the second fire (of 1925) was Taliesin III.

Taliesin II gets lost because Wright built it after the 1914 fire (caused by an act of violence). Then, in 1925, an electrical fire again destroyed it. Wright began rebuilding that summer.

The home that exists today was where Wright lived when:

    • He recovered his career in architecture
    • Started the Taliesin Fellowship
    • Designed some of his most well-known buildings (including Fallingwater), and
    • Became, apparently, the first “starchitect”

Although, as of 1939 his main studio in Wisconsin was his newly designed and built drafting studio at Hillside2 on the southern part of his Taliesin estate (which I wrote about in an earlier blog post).

So Taliesin II gets overshadowed

Also, Wright was out of the country a lot from 1915-1922 , working in Tokyo on the Imperial Hotel.

Still, by the time he finished with the Imperial Hotel, he had added two more rooms to Taliesin’s living quarters (on the ground floor and one above that). Then made that part of the building taller.

Here’s that part of the building in the early 1920s:

Taliesin II from the

From the Eric Milton Nicholls Collection at the National Library of Australia

The Griffins took the photograph above on their trip to the United States in 1924-25. Compare this photo to the one at the top of the page: the chimney you see here on the right on the photo at the top of the page is the same chimney that you see on the left in the photo above. The photographer took this photo from the Hill Crown at Taliesin. On the right hand side of the photograph was a guest room. Today, that’s part of Frank Lloyd Wright’s bedroom.

The photo comes from the National Library of Australia

Take a look at this page, where you can get more information on the photo. It comes from the collection of Eric Milton Nicholls, architectural partner to husband and wife architects Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony Griffin.

Down on this page, you’ll see that I put hyperlinks to all of the photographs that the Griffins took of Taliesin.

In addition to the changes Wright did at his living quarters, he extended Taliesin to the west, adding a root cellar and ice house in 1916, and, by 1924, another horse stable, and also chicken coops, a granary and a pigsty.3

If Taliesin II had stood longer, more photographs would exist of it.

Plus, the reason for less photographs is that Wright was out of the country for large chunks of time from the late 1910s to the early 1920s. He didn’t return to live full time in the United States until 1922, after he had finished most of his work on Japan’s Imperial Hotel. Then things went sort of “sideways” with his longtime partner, Miriam Noel.

Wright and Noel married in November 1923.

Noel lived with him about 5 or 6 months as his wife. She left by April or early May the next year.

My personal opinion is that those two seemed to bring out the worst in each other. You can read about her in Meryle Secrest’s Wright biography (don’t be afraid of its number of pages—someone told me to skip the first 100). Another book is Frank Lloyd Wright: A Biography, by Finis Farr.

Or you can read the fictionalized Miriam in The Women, by T.C. Boyle.

Wright met Olgivanna Milanoff about six months after Miriam left. Olgivanna, who married him in 1928, moved into Taliesin by January 1925.  On April 20 of that year another fire (probably because of bad wiring) struck Taliesin. It destroyed Taliesin’s living quarters. No one died, but Wright lost thousands of dollars worth of Japanese art bought. While he worked on rebuilding Taliesin, Noel found out about Olgivanna (now pregnant with her and Wright’s child). Miriam’s discovery resulted in more bad press and career problems (even before the stock market crashed in 1929).

            That’s the easy version of that story.  

Although, when you know where to look, you can find photographs online of Taliesin II.

I’d love to plaster this page with Taliesin II photos, but I think I’d get into trouble (copyrights and all that). So, I will show where you can find these images for the rest of my post.

Photographs of Taliesin II

There are a couple of places where can you find Taliesin II photographs in print:

By the way: if you get the “Global Architecture” book, or “Selected Houses v. 2”, trust me when I tell you that, while the cover of the books has a Wright-designed rug on the floor of the Taliesin living room, that rug was never there while he was alive.

Here are links to images on-line:

Eric Milton Nicholls Collection, National Library of Australia:

Nicholls worked in the office in Australia of architects Walter Burley Griffin and his wife, Marion Mahony Griffin.

The site shows seven photos taken on the Taliesin Estate: five show Taliesin II, one shows the dam and waterfall, and one shows the Hillside structure. Of these seven, the Griffins took some when they visited the U.S. in 1924-25 (like the photo I showed above). But one shows Taliesin II a little earlier: https://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-150233395/view. It looks like it was taken around 1917, before the Griffins went to Australia.

Links to the five other photos:

If for some reason these URLs don’t work, go to the Library of Australia in the Nicholls Collection: https://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-150140881

Go to Search and the Taliesin photographs are on Pages 821-840.

Here are other photographs, most at the Wisconsin Historical Society:

Exteriors

Interiors:

  • Taliesin II Dining Room:https://www.wisconsinhistory.org/Records/Image/IM83015
    • The design of the ceiling shows this to be Taliesin II, not Taliesin I. A Taliesin tour guide told me this years ago (hi, Bryan).
    • Aside from the ceiling another thing that shows this is Taliesin II is the design of the chair in the foreground. This “room” is not surrounded by four walls; so, the living room “starts” when the ceiling drops down.
  • Another Taliesin II Dining Room photo (from the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation website), https://franklloydwright.org/an-autobiography-in-wood-and-stone/1403-0038-dining-s/
    • It’s showing the same space as the first one above. Go back and forth between the two to see the differences.
  • Frank Lloyd Wright at Taliesin, sitting at a table near the window: https://www.wisconsinhistory.org/Records/Image/IM23788
    • He’s sitting in Taliesin’s living room, along the east wall, north of the photos of the dining “room” above. So if you were sitting where he was, and looked to your left you would see the dining area.
  • Frank Lloyd Wright at the Taliesin Drafting Studio, 1924: https://www.wisconsinhistory.org/Records/Image/IM27896
    • We know where he is because of the fireplace on the left hand side of the photograph. The photographer who took this photograph was probably standing in the space where all the drafting was done (which you see in the next photo).
    • One of the things I find silly about this photo is that Wright looks to me like he’s 4 feet tall.
  • Drafting Studio. https://www.wisconsinhistory.org/Records/Image/IM66179
    • The person closest to the photographer was Nobuko Tsuchiura, she was a draftsperson4 at Taliesin with her husband, Kameki, from the beginning of 1924 to the end of 1925.
  • Taliesin II Living Room:https://www.wisconsinhistory.org/Records/Image/IM83334
    • The TII living room is noted by the long rectangle at the fireplace.

First published on March 2, 2021

I don’t know who took the photograph of the Taliesin II living quarters that is at the top of this entry. I got a copy of it from someone who convinced someone else not to throw this out.


Notes:

1 Some say the words Taliesin I, Taliesin II, and Taliesin III shouldn’t be used. That using these numbers imply the building was completely destroyed twice with a new one built on top of the ruins. But the Taliesin fires only destroyed 1/3 of the building (but not its drafting studio or farm wings).

While I don’t commonly call the house that stands “Taliesin III”, I use those terms because Wright wrote them in his autobiography. Even if someone says he’s wrong, I’m not going to disagree with his choices because Taliesin was his house, and he was a lot smarter than I am or ever will be.

2 And, in a a moment of a snake-eating-its-own-tail thing, I first wrote the Wikipedia page about Hillside that I linked to. I’m using it here to back up my  assertion. I’ll try not to link back to this blog post if I update the Wikipedia page on how much work Wright did at the Hillside drafting studio.

3 He labelled it as a pigsty in a floor plan, but someone told me that Wright used it as a goat pen. Probably because even randy goats can smell better than pigs.

4 I asked people who’ve worked in architecture what term I should use to describe Nobuko Tsuchiura. I didn’t know if “draftsman” was proper, and “draftswoman” seemed odd. Someone suggested “draftshuman”, but I thought I should go with something that is more commonly used nowadays. “Draftsperson” was the most suggested so that’s why I put that here.

East facade, Taliesin I

What was on the menu the day they were murdered?

Looking (plan) northwest at Taliesin’s living quarters (the part of the building where the architect lived). On August 15, 1914, fire destroyed every part of the building you see in the photograph that’s not stone. 

On August 15, 1914, while Frank Lloyd Wright was working in Chicago, a servant named Julian Carlton – for reasons that will probably never be known – murdered seven of nine people at Wright’s Wisconsin home, Taliesin, while they were eating lunch. Six out of the seven were murdered with an axe. Before/ after/ or while he was doing that (we don’t know), Carlton set fire to Taliesin’s living quarters, pretty much destroying that part of the building down to the stone (that’s why one of the victims, David Lindblom, died from his burns). Among those murdered was Wright’s partner, Martha “Mamah” Borthwick (formerly Mrs. Edwin H. Cheney).

The 1914 fire was a historic detail until the book, Loving Frank

Aside from Frankophiles (fans of Wright’s), this horrible act was mostly unknown to people for decades. In part because it happened before the existence of radio and television. In addition, it’s unbelievable (“Wait – you’re telling me that there was a MASS MURDER at the house of the guy who designed Fallingwater?”). 

The murders were a strange, sad, fact until the August 2007 publication of Loving Frank, a novel of historical fiction by Nancy Horan. The book’s main character is Mamah Borthwick.

It was a huge hit: Loving Frank stayed on the New York Times bestseller list for 54 weeks.1

Curiosity about that day’s lunch came unexpectedly

One thing I didn’t anticipate with the book’s release was people calling us2 wanting to know what the victims were eating for lunch that day. Sometimes people called just wanting to know that day’s “menu”. And some wanted to know what soup was being served.

Soup? Could you explain that?

That question is because of the book, Death in a Prairie House: Frank Lloyd Wright and the Taliesin Murders, by William Drennan. It so happens that  Drennan’s book was published 5 months before Loving Frank. I think it would have faded into obscurity otherwise.

Drennan chose to write that Carlton served the victims soup before attacking them.

So – how to you know they didn’t eat soup?

I’ve read lots of newspaper accounts about the murders (over 75), but I’ve not found any proof that they were eating soup for lunch. And, aside from the fact that the victims were attacked at lunchtime, no one wrote what they were eating. And I doubt the reporters would have asked the two survivors (Herbert Fritz or William Weston).

Furthermore, let me tell you: southern Wisconsin can get very warm in the summer. Soup is kind of improbable. Drennan’s choice therefore led some of us at Taliesin Preservation to wonder if Carlton, or his wife, Gertrude (the cook), had perhaps served vichyssoise or gazpacho that afternoon.

Additionally, Taliesin wasn’t an upscale abode with a chef and butler. It was a house in the country:  Gertrude would not have had planned, printed menus.

Regardless:

Fritz (who escaped by jumping out a window), and Weston (who survived, but lost his son, Ernest) probably didn’t think or care about what was on the table since that day. It ended with horrific murders that were mostly done with an axe. If I sound intense, it happens when you think about seven people murdered, only one of whom died as the result of his burns, and three of whom were under the age of 14.

First published 8/9/2020.
Photograph at the top of this page was taken by Taylor Woolley, 1911-12. It shows the east facade of Taliesin. ID 695917. A larger version of this photograph is located through here at the Utah Historical Society.
The entire Taylor Woolley photograph collection is here. See this and other Woolley photographs in Ron McCrea’s book, Building Taliesin: Frank Lloyd Wright’s Home of Love and Loss.


1 By the way: people have asked me how “true” Loving Frank is. It’s remarkably accurate. The author definitely did her research. Obviously, the conversations that took place between Mamah and Frank are fiction, but many more things are backed up by research.

2 “us” being employees of Taliesin Preservation, in Wisconsin. Where I worked for half of my life before Covid.