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 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.

The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York), 1104.003

Did Taliesin have outhouses?

A 1911 Taliesin floor plan showing Wright’s living room, kitchen, and his bedroom. The kitchen has a sink and his bedroom had a bathroom with a toilet, sink, and bathtub.
This Taliesin I floor plan, 1104.003, is at the Avery Library in New York City and can be seen online at ARTSTOR.

People want to know: over 110 years ago when Frank Lloyd Wright was building his home out in the country (and public utilities were so not a thing), did Taliesin have an outhouse at any time? Even early on?

I was asked this question many times while giving tours, and asked again last week while giving a presentation, so that’s why I decided to address it.

Taliesin probably didn’t have an outhouse

The floor plan you see above (and shown, completely, online here) shows a large section of Wright’s living quarters as he was designing it in 1911. I showed it because you see that he planned for a home that had a sink in its kitchen, as well as running water in the bathrooms.1

although he didn’t design faucets or hardware for his home

Wright’s approach to getting water to Taliesin was quite ingenious. You see, Taliesin stands about 3 miles (just under 5 kilometers) from the village of Spring Green in Southwestern Wisconsin. So there was no help there even if Spring Green had had a water tower. In 1911, then, if he wanted running water he had to do some tricks.

His aunts’ school (the Hillside Home School, less than a mile away) got its water by using watermills (including Wright’s Romeo and Juliet windmill). Wright did not do that at Taliesin. There was, however, a creek in the valley in which Taliesin sits. He used a hydraulic ram to pump water from the creek up to a reservoir on the hill behind it. The hydraulic ram worked when a drop in the water happened, which took place via a waterfall. He created a waterfall by damming up the creek running through the valley. He completed damming up the creek in early 1912.

The press hearing about Taliesin’s dam

We know his timetable for getting the water going because on December 26, 1911, Wright told visiting reporters about the dam. That’s when they bombarded came to Taliesin upon finding out he was living there with Mamah Borthwick. This is written at the end of that Chicago Tribune story:

Then Mr. Wright called to a worker to bring the visitor’s horses. As he stood waiting in the courtyard he talked a little of his bungalow. . . .

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.

Note that the newspaper story says that the dam is “in process of construction”.

Taylor Woolley (draftsman for Wright in 1911-12) took a photograph around that time. It shows the state of the dam’s construction:

Taliesin photograph by Taylor Woolley.
© 2011 Utah State History. All Rights Reserved.

This is a cropped photograph by then-draftsman Taylor Woolley. The internet address of this at the Utah Historical Society is here. The photograph looks (true) southwest at the dam being constructed (at the bottom of the photo), with Taliesin seen against the hill above. This photograph is one of over 40 photographic negatives by Woolley that show Taliesin and the Taliesin grounds. Those negatives are available here.

Another photograph by Woolley shows the new waterfall:

Photograph by Taylor Woolley of dam and pond at Taliesin
© 2011 Utah State History. All Rights Reserved.

Looking (true) east over the Taliesin dam and waterfall. Photograph taken in early 1912 by then-draftsman, Taylor Woolley. This photograph is online here. All of these photographs can be seen in the book, Building Taliesin: Frank Lloyd Wright’s Home of Love and Loss, by Ron McCrea.

Looking at the weather, it looks like the photo was taken in later winter (maybe February?). The hydraulic ram (getting water to the house) was powered by the waterfall.

Wright, about the dam

Wright wrote about the dam, and getting water to Taliesin, in his autobiography (first published in 1932):

Each court had its fountain and the winding stream below had a great dam. A thick stone wall was thrown across it, to make a pond at the very foot of the hill, and raise the water in the Valley to within sight from Taliesin. The water below the falls thus made, was sent, by hydraulic ram, up to a big stone reservoir built into the higher hill, just behind and above the hilltop garden, to come down again into the fountains and go on down to the vegetable gardens on the slopes below the house.

Frank Lloyd Wright, An Autobiography, in Frank Lloyd Wright Collected Writings: 1930-32, volume 2. Edited by Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer, introduction by Kenneth Frampton (1992; Rizzoli International Publications, Inc., New York City, 1992), 226.

The Chicago Tribune (on December 26, 1911) tells us he was working on the dam. Woolley’s photograph show the waterfall, which means the hydraulic ram was working. So, it appears that Wright had running water at Taliesin by midwinter.

And, while it no longer works, Taliesin’s dam educated me about hydraulic rams.

Thus, the short answer to the question, “Did Taliesin have outhouses”? appears to be NO.

Plus, he (and then Mamah) were only living there for months before he got water running. Where the heck could they go to the bathroom? Well, his sister lived across the way in the house that he designed for her and her husband. In fact, the two homes: Taliesin and Tan-y-deri, are in view of each other (the word Tan-y-deri, like the word, Taliesin, is Welsh; see the Tan-y-deri link for the definition of the word).

Originally published August 5, 2021


1 There were two bathrooms on the main floor of Taliesin’s living quarters.

Looking east at Taliesin's agricultural wing.

“This stuff is FUN for me”: Taliesin photographs from Frank Lloyd Wright’s lifetime.

The photograph above was published in a “Flashback” article from December 4 by Ron Grossman at The Chicago Tribune: “Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin was a refuge for illicit romance. But tragedy tore apart the love he built”. It’s one of two photographs taken at Taliesin on December 26, 1911. That was is published in my entry, “I looked at stone.”

That’s what I said to journalist Ron McCrea in 2010 after I’d spent my weekend looking at photos of Taliesin (he was writing about them, Wright, and Mamah Borthwick in his book, Building Taliesin, published in 2012). 

What prompted this statement here has to do with the photos on this link.

The photos didn’t just capture my attention. No: I yelled in a way that they show you in movies or cartoons. It’s yelling with lots of special characters: “Holy C*$#!”

What made me yell:

The article’s two photographs—exteriors of Taliesin I (Taliesin 1911-14)—I’d only seen as dark/dusty photos, or drawings made from them.

And it appears the photographer took these the day after Christmas, 1911. On that day, Wright (and his partner, Borthwick) gave an (unintentionally disastrous) press briefing at Taliesin. They did this because they hoped to stave off public damnation. Wright thought he could do that by addressing the press.

(or the “war correspondents” as he called them, in the Day Book newspaper, on Jan. 4).

The “newspaper men” put them back on the front pages because, while they’d left their families in Oak Park, Illinois in 1909, Wright returned alone in late 1910. Everyone reading the newspapers thought Wright and Borthwick had ended their relationship.

That was not true:

Wright was in the US, but acquired land in Wisconsin to build his home. Meanwhile, Cheney was in Europe. She had to wait until she could divorce her husband based on “abandonment”.

Thus, she was Mamah Cheney until August 5, 1911, then reverted to her maiden name, Borthwick.

The “war correspondents” found the two, realized that Wright had not reconciled with wife Catherine, and descended on Taliesin.

The hope by Wright (and Borthwick) that a public statement would calm the press didn’t work out. Even though Wright said in Baraboo News (Baraboo, WI, January 4), “may not the matter be left in privacy to those whose concern it chiefly is?”, it was too late. That newspaper, on December 28, said that Taliesin was “known as Crazy House.”

I encourage you at this point, if you haven’t done so already, to click the link to Grossman’s story so you can look at the “Crazy House” photos.

A drawing in 1914 made from a 1911 photograph

Drawing showing Taliesin's north facade

If you read the article, the first photograph, underneath the article’s title, shows the building’s northern face, with a parapet ending in a stone pier to the immediate left. I had never seen the photo before. But someone took the photo and made it into a drawing. That appeared in the Des Moines Daily News (published August 18, 1914). I put that drawing above. I think I should be ok to publish it. Given its age, it’s now in the public domain.

I wanted to show how you’d see that same part of the building today, but I couldn’t. Almost nothing in the photograph from Taliesin I (or the drawing) is the same. That’s because Wright kept adding on and changing the building. However, I say that, “Taliesin keeps its history within its walls.” So I’ll show where that history marker is, but I’ll orient you first.

A view toward Taliesin’s entry steps

You walk up the steps at Taliesin to Wright’s studio at Taliesin (the north wall of the studio is to the right). The parapet from the Taliesin I photo ended at the stone that is to the left of the tree trunk (the tree trunk is to the left of the window that’s on the extreme right in the photograph) .

The next photo is the other side of that stone wall. That tree trunk I just mentioned is just to the right of the end of wall. 

That little black rectangle you see is where the cap on the parapet terminated into the stone.

The second image in the Grossman article, near the bottom, shows that same wing (the agricultural wing) from its broad western façade. That photograph is at the top of this entry, because it first appeared in print before 1924. The images, while not being unknown to me, are probably pretty rare for fans of Frank Lloyd Wright or even Taliesin. That’s how many changes Wright made to the structure over time.

This second image (showing Taliesin’s far western facade), shows the building’s hayloft ending on the right side with a garage that has the cantilevered roof. I don’t know if the garage ever held cars since there are no photographs of cars in there and no photographs with wheel tracks leading up to the garage either. There are no close up photos of it, but you see the garage across the hill in this photo at the Wisconsin Historical Society.

Another photograph used in a newspaper article

Grossman’s article used a second image taken in late December 1911, the day of Wright and Borthwick’s press conference.

I found this image because of a habit I had (and have). I search online for old Taliesin photographs. When I worked, I did this on my Friday afternoons after I had finished any other projects. I would type “Taliesin” and other qualifiers into a search bar to see what came up.

Note to the neophyte: make sure to narrow the search so that you aren’t seeing results regarding Taliesin West in Scottsdale, Arizona; things about the 1914 murders/fire at Taliesin; some movie out there about vampires with a character who is, I guess, named Taliesin*; and information on actor/voice actor, Taliesin Jaffe (I’m sorry Mr. Jaffe, but I’ve never seen anything you’ve been in).

One day that brought me to a newspaper article in the Chicago Evening American, published on December 29, 1911:

I don’t remember my first thought in seeing the agricultural wing photo, but I’m sure I was really excited. And, ultimately a little disappointed, because the photograph was muddy and a little dark and, well, just newspaper print. It’s very likely I looked at it, tried to get what information I could by scanning it, then expanded, lightened, and darkened, and gave up.

I thought that these photographs, if they existed, were in a drawer or a folder, stuck away or mislabeled. After all, I had no idea of the photo of Taliesin’s north facade existed at all out there. But, obviously, I was wrong and the original photos were NOT lost.


* Here’s part of the problem in not exploring what comes up in my website searches: “Taliesin Meets the Vampires” is not a movie. “Taliesin Meets the Vampires”—if I had taken a moment to click on the link—is a “Vampire blog” where you “will find views and reviews of vampire genre media, from literature, the web, TV and the movies.” Well, I’m glad I did that because I prefer looking at a page on a website to finding, then watching, a vampire movie.


First published, 12/11/2020.

The photograph at the heading for this post comes from the Chicago Tribune Historical Images.

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.