Glessner House, located in Chicago’s Prairie Avenue Historic District, was designed by American architect Henry Hobson Richardson and completed in 1887.
Richardson studied at Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, which encouraged quick conceptual sketches and detailed perspective drawings that could and should be followed through to physical completion of a space.
In April 1886, Richardson completed the design for the house.
Three weeks later he was dead.
This sprawling residence was built for the Glessner family, wealthy from 19th Century manufacturing of agricultural equipment. It was home to a child who would grow up to be very important due to homes of a different scale: Frances Glessner Lee.
Frances was the first female police captain in the U.S. and “the mother of forensic science.” In her 40s, Frances began making miniature dioramas that depicted grisly murder scenes. The replicas were designed to be educational tools for homicide detectives and the fledgling field of medical examination and crime scene investigations.
Pictured: Detail of “Kitchen,” from the Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Deaths.
The dioramas, eventually becoming Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Deaths, were precise — down to the make of the mousetrap and the bloat of the body. Many are still used today to train detectives, and the answers or real-life cases from which they were inspired remain under lock and key.
Also awesome? It’s rumored Frances was the character inspiration for everyone’s favorite brilliant amateur detective in gaudy baubles: Murder, She Wrote’s very own Jessica Fletcher.
Following, some pics I snapped on a recent tour of the place… No crime scenes evident!
On this day nearly 100 years ago (1927), Isadora Duncan died the strangest death. She was strangled in not-so-nice Nice (France).
By her scarf.
Duncan was a dancer, remarkable for her ability to use the body’s natural movements and desires as guides for her improvisational choreography. She is remembered for her movement-based rebuke of classical dance and its wealthy connotations at the time. Her dance was independent. Emotional. Beloved by sad corseted ladies and boho-minded men yearning to be free the world over.
Because of this dance style, scarves were kind of her thing.✌️ She usually danced barefoot, while wrapped in free-flowing gowns.
I know this sounds kind of “so what?” in the context of today, a time in which Bonnaroo exists and you can’t walk past a modern dance performance without being thrown a curtain from the rafters to climb into and be swaddled like a baby in the cradle of the womb your subconscious still craves.
At Duncan’s time, the drapery was rebellious — shocking even! Her movement style and sartorial choices were a stark contrast to the toe mashing and waist gashing of classical ballet, the bitchy bell of the dance ball for too long.
Here’s what was not her thing: Cars. 😠 I’m being glib, but this part is actually super sad. Duncan had three children (“all out of wedlock,” Wikipedia notes… hell yeah, Izzy). We’re already off the rails here, so I’m just going to quote Wikipedia again:
“The first two [children], Deirdre Beatrice (born 1906), whose father was theatre designer Gordon Craig; and the second, Patrick Augustus (born 1910), by Paris Singer, one of the many sons of sewing machine magnate Isaac Singer, drowned in the care of their nanny in 1913 when their car went into the River Seine.”
Daaaaamn…. 🙁 And then:
“In her autobiography, Duncan relates that [IN HER UNIMAGINABLE GRIEF] she begged a young Italian stranger [HELL YEAH, IZZY], the sculptor Romano Romanelli, to sleep with her because she was desperate for another child. She became pregnant and gave birth to a son on August 13, 1914, but he died shortly after birth. [WTF!]”
One can not blame Dear Isadora, then, for ignoring the warning of her fellow passenger on that fateful joyride in 1927 to watch her damn scarf.
Why not live free? Look fabulous? Die at 50 in a tragic and grotesquely bizarre way befitting a tragic and beautifully bizarre life? With a burdenous heart broken such as that… then what, pray tell my young man, is a broken neck?
The scarf caressed her as l’automobile revved faster on whatever rue de la franacaise. It slithered silky and sensual out the window, fluttered with the wind and shivered with thrilling joie de vivre. Then, spotting the car’s open-spoked wheels and, being one to fancy danger, the scarf flirted and tickled and teased and then licked the rear axle. The tire, all business of cut-throat rubber and metal grinding dirt, responded and swallowed the tongue of that scarf and consumed it in one harumphing gulp, pulling the legendary body of Isadora Duncan down with it for dessert.
A snap. A slice. An exit wound.
A goodbye, sweet world. A thanks for the dance. ✌️
On our recent trip to New Mexico, I made it all the way to the clouds before realizing I’d forgotten my swimsuit. My old bikini remained rolled up somewhere, seducing moths with its neon thread trim and fading pheromones of summer’s past (chlorine, sunscreen, Red Hot French fries).
How does one end up suit-less on a pool-centric vacation? I blame COVID. It’s been a year and a half of never really leaving the apartment. I don’t know how to plan to be out in the world anymore. I’m still getting my sea legs back under me. Pool legs?
We landed in El Paso and saddled up our slick white Mustang to drive to Las Cruces. As I worked from my laptop at the Airbnb we’d rented for a few days, Justin drove with the top down to Target and tried to find a swimsuit in my size that was as close to cute as possible.
He came back with this neon orange bikini:
It’s too big in the bottom. The drawers are droopy. Any time I climb out of a pool, waterfalls pour from the sides. I look like a soggy toddler bopping around in a dragging, dirty diaper.
But who cares. It was a sweet pick. He even snuck a size swap so that the top and bottom are two different sizes. Medium on the top, large on the bottom for my back-country backside.
I guess that’s just what happens when we forget how to do things we used to remember. We improvise. We make do. We jump in feet first. I’m just happy to be here.
I’m one shot deep into full inoculation. On my calendar, April 19, two weeks after our second shot, is circled in red, the outline of a wound, the unceremonious ending of a dread-full chugging along. I feel… complicated about it? I’ll be able to go hang out. Visit my masked neighbors. Be out again with people and friends. That makes me so happy but I am also shy about making plans, anxious about over-committing, afraid of under-committing. I feel like I have atrophied to my desk chair and the monotony of quarantine has emptied me, a hollowed tree trunk on its side. I have been growing behind a fence, having a conversation with myself in a gated space. And I feel trepidation about what to do once it is gone.
You agree to goat yoga at the Garfield Park Conservatory because you could use a break. A stretch break. And if baby goats are available for the whole process, why not include that little bonus of zoological Zen? Like fury parkour experts, these newborns. Or so you’ve assumed from YouTube videos of parkour and of baby goats.
When you arrive, you’re amazed at the conservatory’s calm and wonder why you have never been here before? Because you’re busy. You’re worried. You’re reading the news and staying up to date and even Story Corps advertisements are promising to “restore your faith in humanity,” which in-and-of-itself kinda does the trick because at least someone—even just a lonely NPR advertisement copywriter locked in a basement somewhere—is admitting people like you are getting nervous and feeling a little hopeless and climate change is real and ecoanxiety is also real (as of 2017, according to the American Psychological Association) and holy goats can we fix this or is it too late?
Regardless, all of this
makes you grateful for the conservatory’s sheltered plants and the gated teeny
triangle of prairie grass dotted with dandelions, which you’re now unfurling
your brand new yoga mat onto, puffs of glittering seeds rise up to the morning
sun. The L train zips by sporadically, charmingly. You begin to relax. You take
some deep breaths. Stretch. Break.
When the goats come off
the truck, you do everything you can to keep from squealing. But then you’re
squealing anyway. You’re squealing and hand clapping like a child and have zero
apologies for your excitement. Have you ever even seen a four-day old goat?
Been climbed by one? Petted the peach fuzz of one’s recently crowned head?
You can’t focus on the poses, but that’s OK. Goat yoga is ultimately more about the goat—more specifically, what the goat is giving you—than the yoga but eventually you settle in to a warrior two or something like that and stop watching the bobbling babies struggle to walk the knee high grass and you push your drooling mouth closed and pop your eyeballs back into your head. And you breathe.
You hear the L ricochet by one more time and give thanks for a place like this and for your ability to move freely to and from it at whatever pace you like. You feel your legs in your yoga pants, which you haven’t replaced in years because you read somewhere yoga-pants-plastics were harming the water systems, but you’re not thinking about that now. You’re thinking about nothing but what this exact moment feels like to be you.
A goat bleats and you smile even more because that shit sounds so desperate and it’s funny because what sounds like a scream is really just him saying, “Hi. Got food?.” You cup the warmth of the sun in your open, welcoming palms. You smile. For a moment, this moment, it feels like you’ve got the whole world in your hands. Even if it’s a fucked up one. This is enough and you are happy here.
P.S. Right after I filed this story with my editor, I read about Mirabella Cuisine & Bar in Bon Appetit magazine. The Italian steakhouse is owned by an Ecuadoran immigrant who is carrying on the red sauce legacy of Chicago. I didn’t even know Chicago had a red sauce legacy… or that Mirabella was a hidden gem in my neighborhood that I pass almost every week on my Irving Park runs. Can’t wait to try it!
That’s my favorite thing about living in a city as big as Chicago. There’s an infinite amount of restaurants, art, people, culture, events, drag shows, book stores, et al, to discover here.
My short piece is about three must-try tiki bars and restaurants in Chicago: Three Dots and a Dash in River North, Lost Lake in Logan Square, and Hala Kahiki Tiki Bar & Lounge in River Grove (worth the commute out to the ‘burbs, my Chi-town friends; this place has been tiki-ing since 1964 and claims to be the Midwest’s most authentic tiki bar).
Sober pals, don’t let the tiki-theme tempt you into not checking out these kitschy fun spots. Nonalcoholic treats abound. Example: Hala Kahiki’s zero proof Fruit Punch, a mix of passion fruit, housemade grenadine, housemade Orgeat, orange, pineapple, lemon, and lime.
Thumbing through the magazine has already garnered some travel ideas for us to conquer this summer, like taking a trek to Springfield, Illinois, to try the world-famous “hot dog on a stick” at The Cozy Dog Drive In. I guess I’m just a suck for anything corny! (Get it? Corn dog. Ha. Ha.) What are your big (or small) summer plans?
It’s 4 p.m. on New Year’s Day. We’ve done nothing but watch TV in bed, eat in bed, read in bed, play video games in bed, anything that didn’t require us to leave the bed. Really, it’s the perfect start to a year in which I hope to slow down and allow myself a little more time doing exactly this kind of nothing.
This lounging has an unintended consequence, however.
We’re watching something forgettable on TV as Justin rubs my back. Both of our eyes are glazing over as his hand grazes a spot on my lower left side. This sloping hill is home to one lone hair that sprouts like a bamboo stalk in a pool of milk. It’s one of those hairs that seems to grow to its full size overnight.
“Did you know you have a back hair? Like… one back hair?” Justin asks, laughing and using his fingers to seek out the thick strand’s exact location.
Oh boy, we’re both awake now. My cheeks start to flush. Then I remember it’s just Justin. (And then, later of course, it’s just a body. Just a back, a hair, an aging exterior, healthy.)
“Haven’t I told you about that before?” I say. As my instinctual insecurity unhitches, I giggle at the thought of it chilling all by itself back there. “It started growing about a year ago. I shave it.”
This sends him rolling off the bed in laughter. Literally,
he falls off. Amused, I try to reach back and find the hair. It’s obviously
been a while since I shaved it—I could weave a poncho with this thing.
Justin goes to the bathroom and comes back with tweezers. I lay on my belly as he plucks the lonely thing right off my back.
We inspect it together, like one does a popped zit or a tissue your nose (or whatever) just desecrated. We both determine it is thinner than it felt root-deep in the dermis, but where it lacks in girth it makes up for in length. Overall, a very impressive performance by one hair gone wild!
Next, I roll over on my back and ask Justin to do the same for the lone hair that similarly sprouts out of my chin. I’m better at shaving this one more regularly.
We giggle at each other as he lets it rip.
OK, but so these dumplings.
Intimate back and chin two-hair plucking comprised New Year’s. Chinatown dumplings *made* our Christmas Day.
This was the first year Justin and I stayed in Chicago for the winter holidays. Partly because we were so over traveling by that point in the year and didn’t want to spend 12 hours in the car again. And partly because we were hoping to purchase a condo over the holidays and wanted to be around to vulture something up if it came on the market.
We didn’t. Purchase a condo. But what we did establish a new Chicago Christmas tradition: Dumplings for dinner at Qing Xiang Yuan.
I had recently eaten at QXY with a dear friend. She ordered for our whole party. Don’t you love when that happens? I do. Going to a restaurant with someone who knows where all the hidden menu gems (and, in this case, wood ear mushrooms) are buried is the BEST.
Her recommendations are now mine: Try the spicy shredded seaweed salad with chili pepper, flavorful wood ear mushroom salad (don’t look at the pictures, just do it), and grilled lamb kebab for starters. Then go straight to the dumplings. Your server can tell you which style (steamed, boiled, or fried) would be the most tasty for your combination. Order a bunch. They go fast.
On Christmas Day, we tried the pork and cabbage boiled and the beef and coriander steamed (yessss! definitely thisssss!). So delicious. So fun to eat. I love plucking them out of their little baskets, where they’re presented and unveiled together.
Like little stockings stuffed with care.
This is the only photo I took on Christmas:
I think one pic is review enough: I was too busy stuffing my face to take any more. But, Chinatown is really cool and I’d be remiss not to give you pictures from other visits we’ve taken there. Chinatown is a visual feast as much as it is a culinary one. Enjoy.
A friend was picking my brain this summer for places that I go to write. Now that I’m living that good good #giglife, I can pretty much work from anywhere, so she assumed I had a hundred and one places squirreled away in my work-from-all-over office catalog.
Rumor had it, she said, that this space was open to the public, and it was beautiful, and you could just go sit in there and read and write! And no one asked any questions about your right to be in the club! Or your preference of golf swing! Or if your Izod shirt was in the wash! Sorry, my club stereotypes are very late-’90s.
Nevertheless, there it sat gathering dust on my radar all fall. Like treasure I knew the route to but didn’t feel worthy enough to hunt down. I was intimidated by the bougey rep of an “athletic club” and “chic hotel” and, just, you know, the whole notion that this was a private place for fancy folks, with a shrimp cocktail concierge and warm towelette dispenser on each elevator.
Per usual, I was wrong. And I took the stairs, so I don’t know about the elevator.
My friend was right: This second floor space inside the CAA is open to the public, and reading and writing in it kinda feels like reading and writing inside a castle!
There are dark, intricately carved wooden beams, ornate leather chairs, a crackling fireplace, and snow globe-style views of Michigan Ave and Millennium Park. There’s no shrimp cocktail concierge, but there was a very friendly waiter who brought me water and coffee and snacks whenever I need it. I mean, you do have to pay for that stuff, but it’s basically a BYOB(ook) library with food and drink service.
These are 68 itty-bitty rooms built on a scale of one inch to one foot, and they’re decorated to look like European and American interiors from the late 13th century all the way to the 1930s. AND, right now some are decorated for the holidays. Eeeeeee!
I recently went to look at the Thorne Rooms on my lunch break (giggity #giglife… I was posted up in the Starbucks across the street). While there, I broke a record for “Longest Time Spent Squeal-Clapping and Saying Oh This Is Just Delightful Over and Over Again.”