Opening Taliesin for the tour season

Reading Time: 6 minutes

A photograph of Taliesin’s Living Room that I took during the first week of House Opening in 2006.

I opened the front door yesterday and stepped outside for a moment to experience rain coming down in 50F (10C) temps.

Due to this, I was pushed back into “House Opening”.

That is, I remembered the work on the buildings that Taliesin Preservation staff did from 1995-2014.

I mentioned this before in the posts, “Physical Taliesin History” and “Bats at Taliesin

Why now?

Because we opened the House and Hillside in the second-half of April for every year from 1995 to 2013. Therefore, sometimes April’s sights, smells,

and the song “That’s the Way that the World Goes Round” [and others] by singer songwriter, John Prine,1

bring me back to all of those times of cleaning and preparing Taliesin and Hillside for the upcoming tour season.

Here’s the scene:

The gleam of House Opening usually began in late February. That’s when Tom W. (the Head Taliesin House Steward and collections person for the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation) came into the office where I worked.

Winter photograph looking at the Hex Room and spire at the Frank Lloyd Wright Visitor Center.

I worked in the room under the spire.

He approached me tentatively, and we reenacted a play we carried out each spring.

Tom would say

with a slight uptick in his voice, “So…, Keiran, what do you think about… “

then he would usually name the last two full weeks in April that we, and two other staff members, would open Taliesin.

I often groaned and then agreed.

Now, you might be thinking:

“But I’d adore being at Taliesin that much!! And being around all of those artifacts and furniture!!”

True.

But it was beauty at a price.

When we opened the buildings, we spent two weeks moving, sweeping, vacuuming, and window washing while sitting in unheated spaces with wooden and stone floors, single-pane glass windows, and plaster walls with no insulation.

We cleaned all of the furniture by hand with liquid Ivory soap and hot water that we put into buckets from the sink, which slowly cooled to room temperature (which in that case was, again, about 50F).

After six or seven hours, the cold sinks into your bones.

When we came back the next day, we had just a little less energy.

And then did this the day after that, and the day after that, etc., etc. ….

If you don’t believe

that this could be difficult, I’ll tell the story about this one man, J. Z.

He volunteered to help Opening for about 3 seasons. He always appeared in the second week when things were beginning to take on some order.

On these visits

He spent a lot of his time talking while staff cleaned, and drinking coffee in the one heated space of Taliesin’s Living Quarters (the Little Kitchen).

Then,

one day during Opening, Tom kept politely asking J.Z. to help with things.

I remember cleaning furniture with the others while Tom continuously said, “J., could come in here and help me with this?”

Tom’s effort kept J. busy that whole day. Which was also the last time I ever saw him.

Why the hell did I do Opening?

Because someone had to.

You’d think that office staff would, but while several Opened Hillside, I don’t think that for others that it was ever their thing. Plus, a lot of them were prepping for the season in other ways.

Although, in 2014, the Preservation Director at Taliesin worked on Opening, and I was surprised to see him every day.

That’s because, by that time I was used to other folks saying they really wanted to do it who only showed up for several days. Then they would get pulled away and never come back.

Additionally,

if we didn’t have consistent staff, it could be dangerous for the artifacts.

Particularly in the early years

when our opening of the buildings was a “learning by doing” operation.

We weren’t incompetent, but…

for example:

The first few seasons of House Opening included removing the black plastic sheets that Rud2 (the maintenance man for the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation) stapled onto the window mullions after we’d closed up the building the previous November.

Or, one time,

I stopped two staff members from dragging out a Chaise Lounge onto the Loggia Terrace to “let it get some sunshine”.

Or the time I walked past someone, not trained on things, violently shaking an original rug.

We eventually figured all of this out, but opening Taliesin was still a dirty, exhausting business.

Here are two photos

That I took in Frank Lloyd Wright’s Bedroom. That was the first room we’d “open” each season.

Before:

Photograph by Keiran Murphy looking at Frank Lloyd Wright's study area before opening the season tours at Taliesin.

Looking south in Wright’s study area at the beginning of Opening in April 2006.

And after:

Photograph by Keiran Murphy looking at Frank Lloyd Wright's study area after opening the season tours at Taliesin.

Looking south in Wright’s bedroom in May 2006.

Opening of the buildings, fortunately, inspired a former supervisor to devise

Class Trips

before each season.

In the beginning, we paid our way. But then figured out reciprocal agreements, gas money reimbursements, and more.

Craig did this in order

  1. To educate staff;
  2. Get us excited for the season;
  3. Refresh our memories on the architect whose buildings we worked in;
  4. And hopefully guilt the staff (many who did this job part-time) to come in and open the building despite the cold, dirt, and exhaustion.

Class Trips Itinerary

eventually broke down this way: we’d meet at the Frank Lloyd Wright Visitor Center early in the morning, divide ourselves into cars with drivers, and carpool to a destination. Most of the trips were places we could drive to and from with a trip for lunch.

If you don’t want to see over a dozen Class Trips, click here.

The Class Trips got me to:

            Remember we started this in 1995.

  • One time to the Chicago Art Institute so we could see the exhibit on architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh
    • That might have been the time we saw Wright’s remodel of the Rookery

            Somewhere in there           

and

Then

And maybe on that trip we also saw

            Because they’re about 35 miles away from each other.

We got into the Greenberg House because a staff member’s mother knew the owner, Maurice Greenberg, an original Wright client!

And

We saw

We got to these houses because the owners of the Heurtley house invited guide Margaret Ingraham. She contacted them and they consented to us all coming to their, and their neighbor’s, houses.

Others:

And here’s the “and more” of the list

3 above-and-beyond trips due to the work of one of my supervisors.

Chris was evidently working with the idea of “go big or go home

We went to:

And, finally:

That last big trip was probably because Chris knew he couldn’t get away with it anymore.

The Class Trips took place before and after Fallingwater,3 but House Opening did eventually end.

The End of House Opening

In anticipation of getting heat back into the Living Quarters, I think March 2014 was the last time we opened.

After that we didn’t have to mini-mothball Taliesin every winter.

And Taliesin Preservation now has a Lead Custodian who takes care of the buildings.

I should ask her if she’s ever straddled the top of a shelf on the northwest corner of the Garden Room to clean the wood up to the windows…. Or cleaned the batsh*t on the Loft in Taliesin’s Guest Bedroom.

Yet

For all my b*tching, I looked forward to two things during House Opening:

  1. The cookies that Tom W. brought in during the first week

(I think he got the cookies at the Cenex Station in Mount Horeb and they were fantastic).

  1. Getting to sit in Taliesin’s Living Room on the last day of Opening, when everything was ready. Those were moments of profound privilege.

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

 

 

First posted April 13, 2024.
I took all of the photographs you see in this post.


Note:

1. Songs from the album, Bruised Orange, by Prine still make me think of cleaning in Taliesin’s Living Room. Thanks Craig!

2. not his real nickname

3. Other staff trips not related to House Opening/Class Trips were:

Photograph of Keiran with a tour group on Taliesin's Hill Crown. Keiran has white pants on.

Tour guides and trust

Reading Time: 6 minutes

A photo of me on Taliesin’s Hill Crown while giving the Loving Frank Tour in 2008. I’m wearing white pants.

When people on tours would ask me how long I’d worked there, sometimes I’d say, “Since I dyed my hair for fun instead of covering up the gray.” I was definitely covering up the gray in the photo above.

I stopped dyeing my hair in 2015. So I was doing it before it was cool!1

For years, as a tour guide, I was part of the public face of Taliesin Preservation. It was important to me to try to explain to people why the hell giving us their money was worth it. And I felt I had to be worthy of the trust that visitors put in me.

So, my post today is going to be about the trust I endeavored to earn as a tour guide.

On tour

Giving a tour meant that I brought people through the spaces, explained what the spaces were, hopefully gave them time to enjoy them, then move them through (without cutting their times short by any of my timing mistakes). Then got them back to the shuttle bus on time, and to the Visitor Center so the next tour left on time.

I called guides who were really bad on timing “chronometrically challenged”.

I came up with that term while my timing was impeccable. I know former guides and staff don’t believe me, but I was practically flawless in the ’90s.

in my defense,

two more rooms were later opened to tours inside Taliesin. So, really, 7-10 minutes had to be carved out someplace else.

At the same time,

I had to make sure that

  • people didn’t walk away while on their cellphones,
  • smoke cigarettes,2
  • go into any of the apartments or dormitory rooms (which are private);
  • walk down into the Guest Wing of the House (the first floor),
    • if you really need to see the Guest Wing, watch Kyle Dockery of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation give a virtual tour of it in 2020 on their Facebook page.
  • hit their heads,
  • sit on drafting stools that are over 100 years old,
  • go into the silos at Midway Barn,
  • or stand in the path of an oncoming car owned by a Taliesin resident.
    • more people lived on the Taliesin estate before the Covid-19 pandemic; but the Taliesin shuttle bus is still zooming around.

In addition, I wanted people to have confidence on where I was taking them. And I wanted them to be carried along without worrying about the time.

Someone told me once that the 4-hour Estate Tour with me didn’t feel like it was 4 hours long, so I keep that happy memory.

And also, as guides we directed people’s attention to certain places so that they wouldn’t go where they shouldn’t.

For example,

If you told people to stay away from the parapet at the edge of the Lower Court

(because the wall is too low)

people seemed to walk to the edge of the parapet that you just told them to stay away from.

Exterior photograph of Taliesin by Maynard Parker. Taken in 1955. Courtesy of the Huntington Library, San Marino, California.

Maynard Parker took this photo on Taliesin’s Lower Parking Court in 1955. I added the arrow to point out the parapet.

The Preservation Crew made changes on the edge to create positive pitch. So, if I backed up to the parapet, I would be able to sit on it. I’m not that tall so the height could be dangerous for someone much taller than me.

The best way

I controlled the movement of folks on tour was by sweeping my hand back to the building. This encouraged people to look at the building and stop walking to the wall.

One of my photographs showing the building is below. You’ll have to imagine me sweeping my arm:

Color photograph of Lower Court at Taliesin. Taken by Keiran Murphy on April 6, 2005.

This photograph is on the Lower Court. Apprentice Louis Davidson Gottlieb took a photo looking in the same direction and published it in her book, A Way of Life: An Apprenticeship with Frank Lloyd Wright. I posted her photo in my post, “How I became the historian for Taliesin“.

Still, you don’t have complete control

In some cases, a person comes in with their own interpretation of the site, or the staff.  

You just never know.

I read a blog post last year by a woman from Great Britain who was completely put off about the lack of bathrooms on a Taliesin tour. Her inability to deal with the lack of common bathrooms formed the major part of her post. I wondered: was it really that bad, or was this her interpretation?3

Another case in point:

Talking about the murders that took place at Taliesin in 1914:

For years I did not talk about the cause of the deaths in the 1914 Taliesin fire without being asked.

It’s not that I want to ignore that it happened. I really didn’t know how to talk about them (and I still don’t). Because it’s like, “Taliesin – so amazing and incredible and beautiful and full of delights! It’s on UNESCO‘s World Heritage list!…” … And then, you know: axe murders.

Truly, my own reaction on first hearing about them was like, “WHAT?!” A woman’s head nearly “cleft in two”. A child murdered where he sat and incinerated.

I didn’t want anyone to find themselves on a tour at Taliesin and hearing me talk about this when they had no idea ahead of time.

Plus,

there’s the erroneous “Julian killed them when they jumped out of the one window” story.

Still: it did happen. You can’t talk about Taliesin and NOT talk about fires.

So,

in my early years of tour guiding, I phrased it as, “as a result of the events surrounding the fire, Mamah and six other people would die.

After that,

I would talk about Taliesin’s second fire. Consequently, someone on the tour would often ask what caused the fires. Therefore, I could prepare people for what they would hear. I felt this was an organic approach that wouldn’t stun people.

But, then in 1998,

Ken Burns released his Frank Lloyd Wright documentary.

When I gave my first House tour the following May, I gave my standard line of “as a result…”

someone said,

“that’s not all that happened.”

I said, “Oh, yes, the first fire was set by a servant….” But inside I was like, “OH… CR…ud.”

I realized that if more people now knew about the 1914 murders, they would figure I was lying to them if I didn’t address it immediately.

          So I actively brought that information in.

Then,

there was the bigger deal as of 2007. That’s when the book Loving Frank came out. 

sorry that Nancy beat you Ken, but that’s the way it goes

So eventually I found the best time to talk was in the first major courtyard at Taliesin.4

State it quickly, with no overt gore…

well, you do have to say “ax” (or “hatchet”), but you don’t give details.

Personally,

what made this more important to me was maintaining the trust of those on my tours.

Trust

IMO is an intrinsic part of the bargain. If I do not answer truthfully, why should anyone, who was paying the organization that runs tours, place further trust in me?

In the end, the only way I could do it for years was to stick to being honest and give what I could. I think that helped me to not obsess about everything I said incorrectly, or what I forgot, or… etc., etc.

I have to turn my brain off; otherwise I’d never get to sleep at night.

 

First published July 24, 2023.
The photograph was taken by someone from Taliesin Preservation while I was leading the first Loving Frank tour. That was a special event with author, Nancy Horan.


Notes

1. actually a friend in college started going gray by the time she was 19 and she never dyed her hair. So, Lauren was way cooler than all of us.

2. I don’t know if that’s such a problem today. I recall giving group tours to people from Germany and Japan (not at the same time) and they were confused because they couldn’t smoke cigarettes on the estate. My memory comes from before the turn of the twentieth century for goodness sakes.

3. And, yes, they take people to the bathrooms if they ask (plus, there’s a bathroom break on the 4-hour Estate Tour). But we didn’t tell people, because when you mention bathrooms, everyone’s going to go, “oh, yeah: I should use one now.” Which you can do when you have 2 people on your tour as opposed to 21, or 25. By the way: most of the bathrooms on the Taliesin estate were not designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. He had bathrooms where most of them are today, but they were changed and modified over the years. Truth is, for the most part we don’t know what the bathrooms looked like when Wright was alive. He didn’t leave detailed plans.

4. I don’t talk about the murders on this video of me at Taliesin over on Taliesin Preservation’s website. But I can’t remember if I talked about it in 2009 while doing the video and if that was just cut out. Or if we decided it wasn’t best to bring up the murders in a video.

 

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

Reading Time: 6 minutes

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.

JSTOR 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

Here’s “What’s the oldest part of Taliesin, Part II“.


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“.

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

“Well, the guide told me….”

Reading Time: 5 minutes

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-26 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 when that was offered for a few seasons.

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.