06 November, 2013

Mercurial Muriel

I recently pulled out a few of the (I'm lucky to retain hundreds) old clippings from the 1910s, 20s and 30s that I possess and I stumbled on an article about Muriel McCormick Hubbard that I had overlooked. I've written about the Edith Rockefeller McCormick auctions of 1934 before, but I enjoy this article for its somewhat alternate take on the event.

Just about every article concerning the auctions of 1934 mention Muriel, and her focused bidding as her mothers possessions were put on the block. I think this one gives just a dash more insight into the ambiance of this fascinating and complex woman, whom I've often referred to as "mercurial Muriel." For many years - as I've researched Muriel and her siblings, she has become a favorite of mine due to the capricious and esoteric nature she possessed.

The article was written by India Moffett and appeared in the Chicago Tribune on Jan 17, 1934: 

Daughter Chief Bidder in Sale at McCormik's
Muriel Sits with Her Old Nurse at Auction.

The first two sessions of the unrestricted public sale in Chicago of the furnishing of the handsome town mansion of the late Mrs. Edith Rockefeller McCormick yesterday amounted almost to a private sale, for Mrs. Muriel McCormick Hubbard, wife of Maj. Elisha Dyer Hubbard and the elder daughter of the late Mrs. McCormick and Harold F. McCormick, was the principal buyer.

It must have been sentiment that prompted her to bid in so many articles, for unless she is possessed of the same spirit of a collector that made her mother buy so many and such beautiful articles she couldn't  possibly have any use for the quantities of glass, porcelain, silver, linens. furniture, and rugs that she purchased yesterday. And it wasn't just the rare and lovely pieces she bought, it was anything that seemed to have a sentimental value in her memory.

Time and time again she turned to her companion, her old nurse, and said, "Do you remember that?  It was in my room,"  or she remarked that her mother had changed the covering of that chair or bench since the days when she was young and she and her little brother and sister, Fowler and Mathilde (who now is Mrs. Max Oser of Switzerland), played and romped the way all youngsters do, whether they live in a mansion or a modest cottage.

"They used to be in the hall," she whispered to her nurse after she had secured for $55 tow handsome crimson damask and applique embroidery valances. "Yes," answered the nurse, who had tears in her eyes often during both sessions. "And do you remember the time you hid in their folds when you were a wee thing?"

Tears were in Mrs. Hubbard's eyes occasionally, too, and at the end of the afternoon session, which lasted from 2 until 6:45 o'clock, she broke down and sobbed a little, which wasn't strange considering the strain she had been under. Bidding in the museum pieces that were auctioned in New Your - Otto Bernet, the auctioneer, explained that only the museum pieces were disposed of there and that all the personal belongings are being auctioned in Chicago and Lake Forest - was ma much less trying ordeal than bidding in the things that her mother had lived with and loved here in the house in which Muriel was born.

Many of the 300 or more who had paid the admission fee of $10 to enter one of the sessions were not aware that the handsome young woman in brown tweeds who sat so quietly in the front row in a corner was the daughter of the woman who had collected all the things that were going under the hammer, and only those near her realized that she was the bidder who was successful in so many of the spirited bidding contests.

Only one bid did this reporter hear her make aloud, all the rest were indicated by a move of a finger, a slight incline of her heard (topped by a smart brown Alpine hat, very becoming to her dark reddish brown hair worn straight and fairly short), an almost imperceptible signal with a black or a red pencil, or sometimes just a lowering of her eyelids. But the sleek young Negro assistant who was making her bids understood her sighs. The red pencil she used to mark in her catalog the articles she purchased and with the black one she marked down the prices of the other things.

Practically nothing that was monogrammed was bid on by any one outside the family, and Mrs. Hubbard secured most of the things that were marked with E. R. McC. She was the only one of the immediate family who was there, but among the connections who attended were Mrs. Chauncey McCormick and Mrs. Robert H. McCormick, both of whom were represented by agents, s they did not make their bids personally.

Miss Gertrude Helenthal, Mrs. Rockefeller McCormick's secretary for the last seven years of her life, bid on quite a number of articles, but it was rumored that she was bidding for some of the relatives as well as for herself.

In most cases the prices seemed ridiculously low and Mrs. Hubbard was heard to mutter several times, "They are giving them away." She bid on a pair of Louis XVI chairs, for instance, for $135 each that her mother was said to have paid $600  apiece for. The total sum of the afternoon's sales, including decorative and table glass, porcelains, and silver, small objects and bibelots and laces, linens and cushion, amounted to only $12,882. The total for the day was $16,150.

The prices of the evening session were higher per article, for in addition to more laces, linens and cushions there were French, English and Italian furniture and decorations and oriental and European rugs, but none f these brought prices commensurate with their value.

The highest price yesterday was $1,150, for which Mrs. Hubbard paid for a Brussels tapestry. Unless he was represented by an agent, Edwin Krenn did not bid at yesterday's auction. He appeared for a moment before the evening session opened, but did not even stay long enough to sit down.

Some of those who were there who often had been there when Mrs. McCormick was live were Mrs. John Paul Welling, Mrs. Joseph M. Patterson, Miss Cornelia Conger and Mrs. Frederick T. Haskell.

This afternoon, starting at 2 o'clock, the furnishing of the library on the fourth floor, the servants' bedrooms and guest rooms on the third floor, the second floor rooms including Mrs. McCormick's bedroom and dressing room and study, the main floor rooms, the basement and the Rolls Royce brougham will be  auctioned, and tonight the books will be disposed of.          

I'm often asked why Edith Rockefeller McCormick's family, namely Muriel, even had to attend an auction to obtain personal effects. Were they estranged? The answer is a complicated one.

Edith did indeed become estranged with her children for a multitude of reasons in the early 1920s, although they all reunited as she was dying in 1932. Her will specified that five-twelfths of her estate go to Edwin Krenn, her companion and business associate in real estate. Due to that and enormous debts, her estate had to be liquidated before any disbursements were made.

Within days of Edith's death the Chicago Title and Trust, which had been named executor of her will, moved in and took a very detailed inventory. The process of probate and settling her estate took nearly twenty years. 

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