Monday, April 18, 2011

Taliesin tragedy

Did you know that a terrible tragedy occurred at Taliesin, the summer home and studio of American architect Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959), in 1914? In 1909, Wright had abandoned his wife Catherine and 6 children to take up with Mamah Borthwick Cheney, the wife of a client he had met 6 years earlier. The two of them scandalously fled to Europe. Wright returned to the U.S. in 1910 and began to build a house (1st image) in Spring Green, Wisconsin, on land he had persuaded his mother to buy for him. Wright and Borthwick (now divorced from her husband Cheney) moved into Taliesin in winter 1911. She was in the house with her visiting children, and Wright was on a business trip to Chicago, when a servant hired 2 months earlier went on the attack on August 15, 1914. Julian Carlton, a native of Barbados, locked the doors to the living quarters at Taliesin and spread gasoline around the dining rooms where the occupants of the house sat eating the dinner he had just served. He lit the accelerant, picked up an ax, and went after the occupants as the fire burned. There were 9 victims, only 2 of whom lived:
  • Mamah Borthwick
  • John Cheney, Mamah's son
  • Martha Cheney, Mamah's daughter
  • Thomas Brunker, foreman
  • Emil Brodelle, draftsman
  • Herb Fritz, draftsman (survived)
  • David Lindblom, landscape gardener
  • William Weston, carpenter (survived)
  • Ernest Weston, son of William Weston
Carlton hid in the unlit furnace, and his wife Gertrude, the cook - who afterward denied any knowledge of her husband's actions, escaped the burning house through the basement. The victims were taken to a cottage on the property (now said to be haunted), and Carlton was taken to jail, where he died 6 weeks later.

Wright rebuilt (2nd image) and - later, after his 1st wife finally granted him a divorce - remarried.

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