12 May, 2014

Memories of a Gay Hanseling

Every once in awhile, the "rabbit hole" of research takes an unexpected turn, and I make a find that both answers a question and provides me with new insight into Villa Turicum.

This afternoon I was trying to make a connection to the McCormick family and Belgium; I was intrigued as to why Chauncey McCormick had Count Emile de Streel as a houseguest in 1929, on the occasion of King Albert's Royal Guards performing at the Auditorium Theater. (Edith Rockefeller McCormick certainly would have been a guest.)

The twists and turns of ProQuest delivered me to an article written by "Madame X" during the summer of 1912, in her once cardinal  Events in Society Circles column that ran in the Chicago Daily Tribune. Although completely unrelated to what I was looking for, this segment from her column gave me a first hand account of what Villa Turicum was like in it's initial years:

"A few days ago I wandered lonely as a cloud about Lake Forest - only I was not floating on high o'er land and sea - and came to the entrance of the Harold McCormick place. It was with a day or two of the anniversary of their housewarming last July, when the full moon, a perfect summer night and that beautiful Italian villa and garden combined in making a wonderful setting for the gathering of the social clans that marked the christening, or handling o to use a gold old Saxon work - of the place. 


Impelled by memories, I directed my dusky jehu to turn into the long straight avenue that leads up to the main entrance of the house. On either side the driveway is bordered by a strip of turf a yard wide and soft as velvet. Close to this is a wall of dense natural woods, the leafy undergrowth and trees pressing and leaning forward as if waiting, like a close packed, well policed Michigan avenue crowd, to see the show go by.

The teahouse, which is to complete the vista at the south end of the present formal garden, is to be a charming piece of garden architecture, with arches and columns and all that is characteristic of those gay little edifices in the old French and Italian villas when fancy ran riot and played with stone and plaster as if they were trifles light as air. 

Mrs. McCormick's plans include a pool at the foot of the bluff set in the dense shrubbery that grows there in spite of the sandy beach close at hand. A boathouse overlooking both pool and lake will have dressing rooms for bathers and a flat roof, shaded by awnings, where one can sit and watch aquatic performances or follow with the eye the trail of distant steamers on the far horizon. Stone steps and balustraded terrace will break the face of the bluff and lead from the house above to the pool and beach below. The situation is ideal and the plans still to be carried out are princely in design. 

The two brothers, Cyrus and Harold McCormick, own between them a mile of lake frontage in the Lake Forest estates. Besides this, Harold McCormick has recently bout all the land lying to the west of his present property up to the railway, which must double the size of his country place."

I have always contemplated the date Villa Turicum  would be considered "finished," although (I'm certain) in Charles Platt's mind finished would never be the case. Regardless, I can now feel confident in establishing that period as the summer of 1911.

And my new insight? I have learned what a 'jehu' is. My thanks to you, or rather, "Merci" my dear Madame X.  

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