Thursday, June 18, 2020

HGB Ep. 341 - Mass Murder at Taliesin

Moment in Oddity - The Phantom Fortress
Suggested by: John Michaels

During World War II, a Royal Air Force antiaircraft unit that was stationed in Belgium had a really weird experience. They watched as a B-17 appeared in the air over them with its landing gear down and slowly descending , ending its flight with a crash into a nearby field. The unit was perplexed. They had not been advised that a plane was coming in for a landing. The fact that it crashed was even more perplexing. The group rushed over to offer assistance. Major John V. Crisp reported what they found after opening the hatch, "We now made a thorough search and our most remarkable find in the fuselage was about a dozen parachutes neatly wrapped and ready for clipping on. This made the whereabouts of the crew even more mysterious. The Sperry bomb-sight remained in the Perspex nose, quite undamaged, with its cover neatly folded beside it. Back on the navigator’s desk was the code book giving the colors and letters of the day for identification purposes. Various fur-lined flying jackets lay in the fuselage together with a few bars of chocolate, partly consumed in some cases." There was absolutely no crew aboard! The B-17 had no other damage than what occurred during the crash. Clearly, the crew had not bailed out using parachutes since they were still on the plane. So where was the crew? Apparently, they were in Belgium. They claimed that enemy fire had damaged the bomb rack and taken out an engine, so they bailed. Only, the damage they described had not happened. People started calling the B-17 the Phantom Fortress and no real answers were ever given. There were many theories, but nothing plausible, leaving this as one of the biggest mysteries of World War II and that, certainly is odd!

This Month in History - Fabricius Observes and Publishes on Sunspots

In the month of June, on the 13th, in 1611, Johnannes Fabricius published the first work on sunspots. Fabricius was a German medical student when he decided he would rather look at the stars like his father who was a well-known astronomer. He took several telescopes with him when he went to visit his father in Osteel. It would be here that he would see the black spots on the sun. Johannes wasn't the first to see the sunspots. The Chinese had done that before and an Englishman had recorded them in 1610, but Johannes was the first to publish a scientific treatise on the sunspots. Further studies would prove that the sun rotated and that sunspots have an 11-year cycle.

Mass Murder at Taliesin

Frank Lloyd Wright is one of the most celebrated architects in America. His designs were ahead of their time and he was a true architectural visionary. Wright's ultimate design and build would be his 37,000 square foot home in Wisconsin that he named Taliesin. This would be the scene of what is considered the worst mass murder in Wisconsin's history. Most people know the successes, but not many know this dark spot in Wright's life and the event that has left one of his homes possibly haunted. Join us as we share the details of Wright's life, this tragic event and the haunts that are connected to this famous architect!

Frank Lloyd Wright was born Frank Lincoln Wright in Wisconsin in 1867. In 1876, Wright's mother Anna would make a purchase that would forever mold his future. Anna bought a set of blocks created by Friedrich Wilhelm August Fröbel when she visited the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia. The blocks were called Froebel Gifts and they were geometrically shaped and could be assembled in various combinations to form three-dimensional compositions. Wright loved those blocks and would spend hours playing with them. They had such an effect on him that he wrote in his autobiography, "For several years I sat at the little Kindergarten table-top ... and played ... with the cube, the sphere and the triangle—these smooth wooden maple blocks ... All are in my fingers to this day." The family moved from their small farming community to Madison in 1877 and Wright began spending summers at his uncle's home, which was in a rural area that provided Wright the opportunity to gain a real love for nature. And that would be key in his future designs. His architecture would be referred to as "organic architecture."

When Wright was 14, his mother asked his father to leave and after the divorce was final, Wright never saw his father again. He took on the responsibility of financially supporting the family. He also changed his middle name to Lloyd to honor his mother. Wright attended the University of Wisconsin in Madison, but did not graduate. He was bored with school and moved to Chicago to find employment, which he did with an architectural firm that gave him the position of draftsman. Wright would move on to another firm, Adler & Sullivan, where his architectural prowess would blossom. He considered Louis Sullivan to be his teacher and he had great respect for the man, although he did not like his management methods. He also didn't like his fellow draftsmen and fist fights were a regular occurrence. Not something one would usually expect inside an architectural firm.

On June 1, 1889, Wright married Catherine Lee "Kitty" Tobin. Wright had expensive taste and his funds were always low for that reason, so he decided to start a little side hustle. This enterprise would be designing several private homes that he affectionately dubbed "Bootleg Houses" because his contract with Alder & Sullivan forbade any side work. When Louis Sullivan passed by a newly built home near his townhouse, he recognized Wright's style and Wright found himself getting the boot from the firm. The two men would not speak for 12 years. Wright decided this would be a good time to strike out on his own and he worked out of a couple of office buildings, before finally moving his practice into his home. The space was pretty cramped as Kitty and Wright had six children, so he added a studio onto the house.

Wright designed both buildings and homes, but his preference was the family home. His fame was growing and his designs were in demand. He was well on his way to becoming the most famous American architect in the world and he was changing the way Americans looked at architecture. Wright believed that design should be creative and geometric shapes would jut out of his buildings and the light of nature would flood the interiors. In his time, he designed 1,114 buildings and saw 532 of them built. And while he seemed like a god in the world of architecture, Wright was a man and men have flaws. Wright's main flaw was his desire for women other than his wife. He was not what one would describe as a family man and he wanted to leave Kitty. The opportunity would come when he decided to design a home for his neighbor Edwin Cheney. The project began in 1903 and through this, he got to know Cheney's wife better.

Her name was Martha, but she went by Mamah and she was a highly intellectual woman and a strong feminist. Wright was immediately enamored by her and considered her his equal in intellect. Mamah had similar feelings and the two fell in love despite the fact that they both were married to other people. This was not Wright's first dalliance outside his marriage and Kitty assumed that this woman would fall by the wayside like all the others. That did not happen. Wright asked Kitty for a divorce, but she would not grant him one. Mamah left for Europe and after two years, was able to get a divorce from her husband on the grounds of desertion. By 1909, both Wright and Mamah were living in Europe where Wright hoped he could get away from home design and into bigger projects. In 1910, he had his mother buy him property in Spring Green, Wisconsin and he built his dream home on it and named it Taliesin. Taliesin was the name of a poet and magician in Welsh mythology. The story was about an artist's struggle for identity. Just in 2019, a group of eight buildings designed by Wright were designated as World Heritage Sites along the lines of Stonehenge, the Grand Canyon and The Great Pyramids. Taliesin was one of those eight.

This has been described as Wright's autobiography in wood and stone. The site features the Midway Barn, Hillside School, the Romeo & Juliet Windmill, Tan-y-Deri and the Frank Lloyd Wright Visitor Center. Construction on the home was completed in 1911 and followed the Prairie Design or Organic Design and was low and snug like the land on which it sat. This would be the first of three versions of Taliesin and would have two broad portions connected by a narrow loggia that covered 12,000 square feet. One side was his studio and the other was the living quarters. Local yellow limestone was used and was laid to Wright's specific directions as long, thin ledges. This gave the home a golden hue. Shingles were colored to match the trees and every room had windows that would allow lots of sun all day long. The grounds had lots of fruit trees and berry bushes. There is a tea circle in the middle of the courtyard, inspired by Japanese wabi-sabi landscaping, that is rough cut from limestone with a curved stone bench and there is a pool in the center.

Mamah was an angry and mean woman and treated people according to where she thought their station in life was, meaning that if you were the help in her home, you were treated as the help. And if she decided that she no longer wanted a servant working for her, she just fired him or her with no cause or reason. Mamah moved into Taliesin and her children visited her there often. Society did not approve of the living arrangements since Wright and Mamah were not married and the press denounced Wright and Mamah in editorials. In 1914, Julian and Gertrude Carlton of Barbados were hired to work at Taliesin. One of Wright's friends had recommended the couple. Gertrude took on the cook responsibilities and Julian worked as a butler and handyman. Julian had a temper and so this set him at odds with the similarly tempered Mamah. He also did not get along with a draftsman who worked at the home named Emil Brodelle. The two openly fought. Julian took to sleeping with an axe next to his bed and this worried Gertrude. She noticed that he started acting very strangely. After a few weeks, Mamah asked the couple to leave, meaning they were fired. She gave no reason. But it is believed that Wright and Mamah had seen Julian Carlton sitting up at night holding a butcher knife and they may have even experienced some of his paranoia.

On August 15, 1914, Wright was away on business in Chicago. Mamah had her children visiting at Taliesin. At lunchtime, she sat down with her children on the screened in porch to have lunch. Wright's employees who worked at the home, sat down at the dining table in the adjoining room. Julian and his wife had not left yet, but he told Gertrude to go somewhere else. He then went around and locked all the doors and windows, except one. He poured gasoline all around, making sure it slipped under the door to the dining room. One survivor later said that he noticed “something flowing under the screen door from the court. We thought it was nothing but soap suds spilled outside. The liquid ran under my chair, and I noticed the odor of gasoline.”

Julian set fire to one wing of the home and then grabbed an axe and entered the screened-in porch. He killed Mamah and her son right away with the axe. Mamah's daughter tried to run away, but Julian caught her in the courtyard and killed her too. While this was happening, Wright's employees were trying to get away from the fire, but found the windows and doors to be locked. One of the draftsmen, Herbert Fritz, broke a window with his arm and escaped, but he had broken his arm in the process. Emil Brodelle was still in the room when Julian came in and he killed the draftsman with whom he had a rivalry. He then waited outside the door and ambushed foreman William Weston and his 13-year-old son Ernest. Both managed to get away, but Ernest had been mortally wounded and died hours later. Two of the other employees, laborer Thomas Brunker and gardener David Lindblom, managed to fight Julian off. They inhaled a lot of smoke though and had been badly burned and succumbed to their injuries days later. Of the nine people in the home, only two survived. The dead were 13-year-old Ernest Weston, draftsman Emil Brodelle, gardener David Lindblom, his laborer Thomas Brunker, Mamah Cheney and her two children John and Martha.

Neighbors ran to put out the fire, while Julian hid in the basement. He attempted suicide by drinking muriatic acid. He was found by a posse who wanted to lynch him on the spot, but they eventually carried him off to jail. Julian never gave a motive for the murders and he died a while later in jail from starvation because his esophagus was burned so badly by the acid. Gertrude had no idea of Julian's plans and had been dressed and packed for traveling, expecting to catch a train with her husband. She was found out in the field where we imagine she had run to get away from the burning house. She was released and left for Chicago and was never heard from again. Wright arrived home later that evening  and was overcome by the horror. He never did recover from the tragedy and never did another Prairie School design again. Taliesin was rebuilt and Wright would eventually move back there and bring another companion with him that he would later marry, but she eventually left him. Taliesin would burn again in 1925 and be rebuilt once more.

Taliesin still holds onto the tragedy. Spirits are restless here. When the bodies were pulled from the fire, they were taken to a cottage on the property, Tan-Y-Deri. Mamah Cheney's full bodied apparition, wearing white, has been seen here both inside and walking around the outside. She sometimes is seen washing clothes, which seems weird since she didn't live in the cottage and she had servants, so we can't imagine she would do the laundry. Doors mysteriously open and close at the cottage. The windows do the same. And she likes to play with the lights as well. Groundskeepers find windows and doors wide open the mornings after they lock up. One visitor arrived at the cottage and found the water running and no one else was there. He also heard disembodied footsteps. The scent of smoke is sometimes caught on the air as well. Frank Lloyd Wright is at unrest as well and it could be because his body was moved. He was originally buried on this property, but his daughter had him exhumed, cremated and moved to Taliesin West in Arizona. This was against his wishes.

To end on a more positive note, we would like to share about a place here in Florida with a strong connection to Frank Lloyd Wright and that is Florida Southern College. This is the oldest private college in the state and was founded in 1852 as a Methodist seminary. Dr. Ludd Spivey took over as the College's president in 1925 and he wanted to do something that would spice up the college and put it on the map. He wanted a "campus of tomorrow." What better architect to provide that than Frank Lloyd Wright? He visited the campus for the first time in 1938 and over the course of 20 years, he designed 18 buildings for the campus and 13 of them were built. Many of these buildings were built by the students. This is today, one of the 28 Wright projects that are National Historic Landmarks. This site is the greatest concentration of Wright's work on one site, for one client.

The Annie Pfeiffer Chapel was the first Frank Lloyd Wright designed and built building on the campus. The church was dedicated in 1941 and has been home to both Protestant services and Catholic Masses. Inside the chapel, one can see a full organ, baby grand piano, theater-style seating and an ornate choir screen made from handcrafted interlocking textile blocks. This choir screen was not put in according to Wright's directions and he has been angry about it even after death. Rumors have circulated that Frank Lloyd Wright’s apparition has been seen staring over the screen.

The Buckner Theatre was designed by Wright and is a theater in the round. Many students have claimed that the theater is haunted, which is not surprising since most of them make that claim. Students say that they have seen phantom hands in the curtains and seen doors open and close on their own. There was one student who was in the theater alone and claimed to have seen legs walking up on the catwalk, but when he looked more closely, he saw no body above the legs. Other people who have been in the building say that they have heard disembodied screams and strange music on the air.

Lily shared her experience with, "I had been volunteering with the theatre group for about a month. I felt like it was very obvious to everyone else on crew that I had no prior experience with sets. A majority of the hours I worked were actually spent correcting mistakes I had made with various backdrops. And that is precisely what I was doing when I had the most frightening experience of my life. It was late, and everyone else had gone home or back to their dorms. I  had just finished some detailing on a backdrop and I was the only one left at Buckner. The painting was finally finished, and I grabbed the supplies to take to the backstage area. I had my arms full of paint cans and brushes when I walked off the stage. As I passed by the curtains, the fabric seemed to move toward me in a swift lunge. It scared the crap out of me, so I began to run towards backstage—whatever it took to put the supplies away and get out of there. Furniture props were scattered everywhere, and as I scurried past a chair, numerous hands seemed to reach out and grab at my ankles. I fell and the paints went flying everywhere, but I was beyond caring at that point. I honestly can’t even recall driving out of Lakeland that night…and I never went back to work with the drama department again."

The Joseph-Reynolds Hall, or JR for short, is a female dorm that is one of the original buildings on the campus, built in 1922. It features beautiful chandeliers and white archways and was designed in the colonial-revival architectural style. An unidentified writer wrote in the LAL Today paper out of Lakeland on October 24, 2012, "And no ghost post could be complete without a personal testimony! Being a female student at FSC, I lived in Joseph-Reynolds Hall my freshman year and I had my own encounters with our resident ghost, Allan Spivey. Allan was the son of Mr. Spivey, a well-known figure on campus. At a young age, contrary to other stories, he was bitten by a rabid dog, causing him to die a slow and painful death. Stories tell that he passed in JR back before it became the freshman girls’ residence hall, but the truth behind that statement is unknown. Regardless, Allan passed and his presence continues to haunt the halls of JR. I lived on the third floor in a room previously used as a storage unit. Upon my roommate and I’s arrival, weird things started happening in our room. Our DVD player would turn on and off subtitles randomly, even though my remote was sitting on my desk, untouched. No matter what decoration we hung on the wall or what we hung it with, it was only a matter of days before it was torn off the wall, without anyone touching it (this happened several times while I was alone. Posters would be thrown at me from across the room where they were hung.) He would also walk around on our wooden furniture, making creaking footsteps as he moved around. He also liked to bang on our windows as we slept or when we had friends over. But every time we asked, “Allan, we don’t want to play right now,” the subtitles would turn off, posters would stop being torn down, furniture would stop creaking, the banging on the windows would cease. After we moved to another room the second semester to trade with a friend who wanted a bigger room, we never heard from Allan again. Coincidence? I think not."

Frank Lloyd Wright was an interesting man and a gifted designer. Is his former love, Mamah Cheney, still walking through the property where she met a tragic end? Is Taliesin haunted? Is the campus of Florida Southern University haunted and does Wright's spirit hang out there in the afterlife? That is for you to decide!

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