Special Collections

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‘Special Collections’ is a catch-all phrase, and it does not mean that these photos were taken in the ‘Special Collections Room.’ There is no such room at Glensheen. Well actually, there is a room where items are temporarily stored as they’re being rotated in and out of display, but it’s not a place where items are kept.

This page, probably more than any other in the series, will not have a clear, cohesive order. Generally, I’ll group ‘objects’ together, and then with the documents, they will be generally organized according to their topic. Date order isn’t always important, but when it is, I’ll try to stay chronological.

As we’ve seen throughout the mansion, Chester brought back objets d’art from throughout the world, but especially from China, Japan and the Far East. This ivory bud vase has extraordinary detail:

Hidden Glensheen historic photo by Bryan French Photography

The dragon wrapped around the vase with its gleaming yellow eye is just wonderful:

Hidden Glensheen historic photo by Bryan French Photography

We found two large Japanese scrolls. This first one, with a samurai, had to be photographed in two panels. Here is the top:

Hidden Glensheen historic photo by Bryan French Photography

And here is the bottom, where you get a good view of his kimono and sandals:

Hidden Glensheen historic photo by Bryan French Photography

The second scroll was a mother and child:

Hidden Glensheen historic photo by Bryan French Photography

This is a war club that he brought back from somewhere in the South Pacific:

Hidden Glensheen historic photo by Bryan French Photography

This… this is a collection of lots of little figurines and trinkets. There are so many of these, and this is just a small sampling.

Hidden Glensheen historic photo by Bryan French Photography

I don’t know why, but I was charmed by this Japanese cow and pig:

Hidden Glensheen historic photo by Bryan French Photography

There is a story behind these two mounted knights. They are either from an ancient Chinese dynasty (as the seller purportedly told Chester), or they are replicas made to look as if they were from an ancient Chinese dynasty:

Hidden Glensheen historic photo by Bryan French Photography

A Chinese tortoiseshell hair comb:

Hidden Glensheen historic photo by Bryan French Photography

We weren’t sure what this was. At a glance, it looks like it might be a pipe, but I don’t think it’s a pipe. It was wrapped in this paper from the Japanese Y. Kawaguchi & Co. store:

Hidden Glensheen historic photo by Bryan French Photography

These little Chinese opera figurines are just a delight:

Hidden Glensheen historic photo by Bryan French Photography

This is a brooch, and the blue color is from the feathers of a kingfisher, using a traditional Chinese art called tian-tsui, and which means ‘dotting with feathers’:

Hidden Glensheen historic photo by Bryan French Photography

Here is a small collection of Chinese hat-pins:

Hidden Glensheen historic photo by Bryan French Photography

This drum looks Chinese, but that’s all I can come up with:

Hidden Glensheen historic photo by Bryan French Photography

I don’t have a good estimate for how old these fly fishing flies might be:

Hidden Glensheen historic photo by Bryan French Photography

This is a small 8mm film splicer for the home movies that the Congdons made:

Hidden Glensheen historic photo by Bryan French Photography

This small bow and the two stickball (an early form of lacrosse) sticks looked interesting at first. Upon further inspection, I’m guessing the bow would probably have been homemade by one of the children living at Glensheen:

Hidden Glensheen historic photo by Bryan French Photography

Looking closer at the lacrosse sticks, there’s a label that says “Indian Pageant, Apostle Islands, August 1 to 21, 1924.”

Hidden Glensheen historic photo by Bryan French Photography

That sounded interesting, so I did a little digging, and it turns out the pageant was essentially an invented publicity stunt funded by newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst. His goal was to cash in on American’s desire to travel to the ‘great north woods’ in the summer. For example, one line from the promotional material said “400 Chippewa Indians in aboriginal costumers, 100 ballet dancers, 200 whites in early French and English garb…”

This letter is a sad story that describes the drowning death of John Adgate (related on Chester’s mother’s side):

Hidden Glensheen historic photo by Bryan French Photography

Here is the second page:

Hidden Glensheen historic photo by Bryan French Photography

This is Chester’s Certificate of Admission as a SCHOLAR into the Sunday school of the Methodist Episcopal Church in Addison Village, NY:

Hidden Glensheen historic photo by Bryan French Photography

Before there was People magazine, people needed to get their fix of celebrities however they could:

Hidden Glensheen historic photo by Bryan French Photography

I flipped through and didn’t see any names that would be recognizable today.

This is a ticket to the 1884 Republican National Convention, which was held in Chicago:

Hidden Glensheen historic photo by Bryan French Photography

This is a ticket to the World’s Columbian Exposition, in Chicago, Illinois, in 1893. 

Hidden Glensheen historic photo by Bryan French Photography

The title ‘World’s Columbian Exposition’ was eventually shortened to ‘World’s Fair.’ Chicago Day (October 9, 1893) set a record for the highest attendance at any event, with over 750,000 people attending the fair in a single day.

This is the train ticket for “C. A. Congdon & Wife,” from Chicago to St. Paul, and indeed, in 1881,  Chester and Clara would have been newly married:

Hidden Glensheen historic photo by Bryan French Photography

“Tables of Population” might be a snoozer of a title, but ‘Congdon Bill’ was enough to take a closer look:

Hidden Glensheen historic photo by Bryan French Photography

In short, the Congdon Bill was Chester’s attempt to gerrymander Minnesota’s political districts to gain influence for the Republican party. It was unsuccessful.

This letter from Chester to Clara starts with him saying “I find that the habit of having a thousand dollars a year to play with has become fixed upon you.”  you can see that he’s essentially setting her up with a pension for life:

Hidden Glensheen historic photo by Bryan French Photography

$1,000 per year in 1901 would be about $27,000 per year today.

This is a letter from William French, of the design company responsible for designing and furnishing Glensheen. This is an update from William French to Chester:

Hidden Glensheen historic photo by Bryan French Photography

Here’s page two:

Hidden Glensheen historic photo by Bryan French Photography

This is an inventory of the flowers, shrubs and trees that would be planted throughout the grounds:

Hidden Glensheen historic photo by Bryan French Photography

Here, you can see some of the ferns, vines and fruit trees varieties that were planted:

Hidden Glensheen historic photo by Bryan French Photography

This is the front page of the Duluth Evening Herald from February 2, 1907:

Hidden Glensheen historic photo by Bryan French Photography

If I had to guess, this particular newspaper was kept because the story about the taxing of iron mines would have been of intense interest to Chester:

Hidden Glensheen historic photo by Bryan French Photography

But we flipped through to see if there were other interesting things in the newspaper. This cartoonist renamed Duluth’s Lakeside neighborhood ‘Snakeside.’ I’m curious what this might have been in reference to:

Hidden Glensheen historic photo by Bryan French Photography

I find it amusing that “Secret Societies” were advertising their meeting times and places:

Hidden Glensheen historic photo by Bryan French Photography

I don’t know about you, but I just like to read through the various ads from over 100 years ago. Do you need a clairvoyant? Or room & board with a private family for $20/month? Or perhaps ‘Scientific Painless Dentistry’?

Hidden Glensheen historic photo by Bryan French Photography

Yikes – this is a scathing letter from Chester’s alma mater, Syracuse University:

Hidden Glensheen historic photo by Bryan French Photography

We couldn’t find the letter that Chester apparently sent, either before or after this letter.

This is sweet – Clara kept notes about and from her children:

Hidden Glensheen historic photo by Bryan French Photography

These are the weights of everyone in the family, on June 12th of an unknown year, but if Robert were 42½ lbs, he had to be pretty young:

Hidden Glensheen historic photo by Bryan French Photography

Here’s a cute letter where Walter and Edward emulate their lawyer father:

Hidden Glensheen historic photo by Bryan French Photography

Robert was caught shoplifting a padlock in 1907. I like how it was handled by the manager:

Hidden Glensheen historic photo by Bryan French Photography

This is an editorial that refers to Alfred, and his arrest for cutting out parts of his car’s muffler, to make it as loud as possible:

Hidden Glensheen historic photo by Bryan French Photography

Here, Edward sent a letter to Chester while he was attending Yale. Chester had been visiting and they had attended a football game, where Chester lost his sweater (alas, it was never recovered). In this letter, Edward also asks if Chester wants him to visit the Brewster Carriage showroom:

Hidden Glensheen historic photo by Bryan French Photography

On page two, Edward gets around to asking for money:

Hidden Glensheen historic photo by Bryan French Photography

And speaking of carriages, just before Edward sent his letter, Chester received this letter from a carriage and sleigh salesman:

Hidden Glensheen historic photo by Bryan French Photography

We found quite a few letters like this one from Yale, as they warned Chester about Edward’s failing grades:

Hidden Glensheen historic photo by Bryan French Photography

And here’s another letter from the Dean:

Hidden Glensheen historic photo by Bryan French Photography

Here is Chester’s reply:

Hidden Glensheen historic photo by Bryan French Photography

And then Chester immediately dashed off another letter to Edward, telling him to drop everything and to get his grades up. But really, Chester goes on to give Edward advice on finding a proper tailor:

Hidden Glensheen historic photo by Bryan French Photography

On the other end of the grade spectrum, here is a letter from Elisabeth:

Hidden Glensheen historic photo by Bryan French Photography

Read the right panel first, then the left panel:

Hidden Glensheen historic photo by Bryan French Photography

And her closing:

Hidden Glensheen historic photo by Bryan French Photography

Elisabeth was the dutiful daughter her entire life, and after Chester died, she left college and moved back home to Glensheen to be with, and care for her mother.

This is a letter from Walter, when he was out in Arizona at one of the mines that he was working at. He’s asking for money from Chester: “Of course, I can get it at the bank here, but I’d rather fix it up with you.”

Hidden Glensheen historic photo by Bryan French Photography

Here is a letter to Chester from soon-to-be President-Elect William Howard Taft, discussing campaign tactics:

Hidden Glensheen historic photo by Bryan French Photography

Here is Chester’s response:

Hidden Glensheen historic photo by Bryan French Photography

And Taft responded promptly with a thank you:

Hidden Glensheen historic photo by Bryan French Photography

Chester was directly and covertly involved in politics. He served in the Minnesota legislature from 1909 – 1913, but he was involved in a variety of ways before and after. In 1910, he sent $1,000 to State Senator Edward Smith, and said, “I see no need that its origin be known.”

Hidden Glensheen historic photo by Bryan French Photography

In 1912, Theodore Roosevelt was frustrated with the two party system, and formed his own – the ‘Bull Moose Party.’ This confidential letter from one of the party operatives detailed some of the behind-the-scenes deals that were being planned:

Hidden Glensheen historic photo by Bryan French Photography

And here is a letter from Theodore Roosevelt to a mutual friend, where Roosevelt lauds Chester’s involvement on his behalf:

Hidden Glensheen historic photo by Bryan French Photography

This undated note from Chester to Clara is probably one of the most interesting and mysterious: “Sanctum. You know rest. Chester”

Hidden Glensheen historic photo by Bryan French Photography

Hmmm.

This is an amusing scree against the Duluth News Tribune, from one of Chester’s admirers. “I have always felt nothing but contempt for the News Tribune, its tactics, its policies and its management.”

Hidden Glensheen historic photo by Bryan French Photography

Here is a letter from the Editor of the Duluth Herald (“The only evening paper in Duluth”), where Stillman Bingham is giving Chester information that he might find useful:

Hidden Glensheen historic photo by Bryan French Photography

These are just a very small sampling of the trove of correspondence to and from Chester and his family.

If you’ve been reading all along, you may recall that I shared a photo from Chester’s Den of an article by George Bernard Shaw with the same title as this booklet:

Hidden Glensheen historic photo by Bryan French Photography

I had never heard of the Surgical Dressings Committee, but Clara created this pattern to be “Used for men coming from trenches with frozen feet, or to dress over bandaged feet in hospitals.”

Hidden Glensheen historic photo by Bryan French Photography

I shared a bit of information about R.A. Blakelock and his painting, back in the Living Room, so it was an interesting surprise to find this article about him:

Hidden Glensheen historic photo by Bryan French Photography

Apparently, when you made voyages on the RMS Queen Elizabeth, they prepared cards at the end of your journey:

Hidden Glensheen historic photo by Bryan French Photography

On the back of the card was a summary of the trip:

Hidden Glensheen historic photo by Bryan French Photography

This is the program for a speech delivered by Chester in his final year of life, working politics right to the end:

Hidden Glensheen historic photo by Bryan French Photography

Early on in this Hidden Glensheen project, I mentioned that we would see a lot of birds throughout the mansion, and indeed, it seems a fitting way to end.

Hidden Glensheen historic photo by Bryan French Photography

The Congdons were an extraordinary family, and the mark they left on the city of Duluth is profound, and will be very long lasting.

Thank you for joining me for this deep dive into the parts of the Glensheen mansion that most people will never have an opportunity to see. This would not have been possible without the generous time and help given by Glensheen staff. Prior to starting this project, I had toured Glensheen once, and had a general and  vague appreciation of the property. Having spent so many months photographing, researching and spending time in their home, I have a profound appreciation and respect for all of the work that Glensheen staff engage in, as they maintain and share this treasure for the rest of us.

The next time you visit Glensheen, be sure to thank your tour guide!

1 Comment

  1. Thanking for sharing the Special Collections. I really enjoyed reading the letters, quite interesting. You should add more pictures it’s nice seeing how families lived in the 1800’s and on. 🙂

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