22 November, 2011

Estates Under Fire

During it's existence, Villa Turicum had more than a few unique interlopers; there were burglars in 1931, the vandalous Boy Scouts of 1950 - but perhaps the most surprising of them were the shells that were fired from nearby Fort Sheridan in 1922.

Edith's estate was not alone in sharing the path of bombardment from the one-pounders. Cyrus McCormick's "Walden" across Westleigh Rd. was involved, as were the connected Francis Farwell and John Villiers Farwell estates ("Edgewood" and "Ardleigh") on Stone Gate Rd. to the north.

When Fort Sheridan's Brigadier General Van Horn Moseley (who was Commandant) was asked to comment about the incident, he bellowed, "I have suppressed the name of the Second Lieutenant who directed the 'bombardment,' as I do not want anybody to know that such a blunderbuss is on the muster roll of the army."

A now dormant practice station at Fort Sheridan today

The irony of it all was the Fort Sheridan had been created and constructed to protect the well-to-do of the North Shore, not attack them. After the Haymarket Riot of 1886, the Commercial Club of Chicago (long concerned about security) arranged for the donation of 600 plus acres (immediately south of Villa Turicum) to be donated to the Federal Government for a military garrison. The plan was grand, and the firm of Holabird and Roche was hired to design Fort Sheridan - with Ossian C. Simonds contracted to serve as the landscape architect.

Regardless, in October of 1922 the shells flew north. (An investigation was conducted to determine whether the incident was accidental or intentional - practice was normally conducted over Lake Michigan.) The flower-beds and lawns of Villa Turicum and Walden sustained minor damage, while the one of the Farwell mansions was hit. Four shells hit the structure, one penetrating the roof, another going through the wall of a bedroom and two more through the basement.

What must the servants have thought? None of the collective McCormicks were in residence, nor were the Francis Farwells. It was reported, "The Farwell mansion was unoccupied, except for two servants, whose screams vied in loudness with the whistling whine of the shells. A few seconds later the Farwell gardener nearly fainted when he saw a fountain of loam spurt upward in front of him."

Ardleigh, the estate of John V. and Ellen Farwell in 1905 (Ellen Drummond Farwell inset)

Ellen Drummond Farwell (the wife of John Villiers Farwell) was not so lucky. On their adjoining estate one can only imagine her astonishment (perhaps amazement) during her morning walk in the garden when a shell flew overhead and buried itself into her lawn.

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