The tragedy of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin House

image from: http://www.american-architecture.info/USA/USA-Midwest/MW-004.htm

Taliesin is the name of Frank Lloyd Wright’s former summer home located near Spring Green Wisconsin. It is one of the finest examples of his signature “prairie style” architecture. Lesser known is the fact that it is also the sight of a heinous crime that took the lives of seven people in August of the year 1914.

image from: http://en.wikipedia.org/ (author: Marykeiran)

Frank Lloyd Wright began building Taliesin in 1911 after leaving his first wife and their 6 children. He had been having a scandalous affair with one of his client’s wives – Mamah Borthwick – since 1909. Mamah left her husband to be with Wright and moved into the Spring Green home while it was still under construction.

image from: http://designsbyfranklloydwright.com

Though Mamah did not have primary custody of her 2 children, they were spending the day with her on August 15, 1914. Wright was in Chicago that day supervising construction of Midway Gardens.

While Mamah and her children were eating lunch with several workmen in the dining room at Taliesin, a servant named Julian Carlton (who had been fired earlier that day) locked them in the house then poured gasoline under the door. He then set the fated home ablaze.

image from: jamesgivensdesign.com

The people trapped inside desperately tried to escape by breaking out windows but Carlton was waiting for them with a hatchet – and he did not hesitate to use it. In total, 7 people died including Wright’s mistress and her two young children.

image from: http://www.mentalfloss.com

The tragedy destroyed the majority of Taliesin house and with it went most of Frank Lloyd Wright’s records of his early work.

Wright received a frantic telegraph in Chicago and he rushed to Wisconsin to confront the devastation head-on. Little was left of Taliesin, and his life.

image from: http://host.madison.com

But the story does not end there.

Determined not to be defeated by his bad fortune, Wright had Taliesin rebuilt in Mamah’s honor. He named the new house Taliesin II. But the home again fell victim to tragedy when a lightning storm ignited a fire in the telephone wires in April of 1925. The house subsequently burned to the ground for a second time.

In an act of defiance and perseverance, Wright re-built the third reincarnation of Taliesin on the same spot and it has survived to this day.

image from: collider.com

The house is situated on the brow of a hill in a valley that was originally settled by Wright’s mother’s family around the time of the American Civil War. As a boy, Wright was sent to spend summers in the valley with his relatives. He remembered those times fondly an adult.

When Wright decided to construct a home in this valley, he chose the name of the Welsh bard Taliesin, whose name means “shining brow” or “radiant brow”. Wright positioned the home on the “brow” of a hill, a favorite of his from childhood, rather than on the peak so that Taliesin would appear as though it arose naturally from the landscape.

– from: wikipedia.org

image from: steinerag.com

The original Taliesin was built with three distinct wings which included living quarters, an office, and out buildings.

Have a look at some interior shots of Taliesin…

image from: pc.blogspot.com

Given the home’s history, the above photo of Wright working in his office is especially poignant.

Some of the buildings designed at Taliesin were Fallingwater, the Guggenheim Museum, the Johnson Wax Headquarters, and the first Usonian home, the first Herbert and Katherine Jacobs house, in Madison, Wisconsin (1936).

– from: www.mentalfloss.com

image from: archdaily.com

Frank Lloyd Wright essentially used Taliesin as laboratory to experiment with new architectural designs. He constantly tweaked and renovated the home and allowed his students to build multiple additions until his death in 1959.

image from: http://designsbyfranklloydwright.com

In modern times, the house has been preserved by the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation and the Taliesin Preservation, Inc. The entire site has been declared a National Historic Landmark.

image from: britannica.com

Frank Lloyd Wright also built a winter home in Scottsdale Arizona which he named “Taliesin West”. Obviously, that name meant a lot to the man.

Taliesin East is now open for public viewing.

image from: portlandart.net

But it’s not all happy trails for Taliesin East.

image from: steinerag.com

Some $5 million has been spent on the stabilization of Taliesin during the past two decades. Unfortunately, its preservation is “fraught with epic difficulties”, because Wright never thought of it as a series of buildings with a long-term future. It was built by inexperienced students, and solid foundations for the buildings were not used. Its future is now in some doubt, and another major fund-raising project is about to begin.

– from: wikipedia.org

image from: american-architecture.info

Taliesin East is one of the most visited Frank Lloyd Wright house’s in the nation. It is also said to be one of the most haunted.

Perhaps the ghosts won’t rest until the house is finally razed and the land is returned to it’s natural state. That’s is an ironic thought considering Wright’s guiding principle was to build “organically” from the earth.

In any case, it is a house with a long and troubled history interspersed with resilience and ingenuity.

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Sources:

http://www.prairieghosts.com/frankw.html

http://www.taliesinpreservation.org/visitors-guide/our-tours?gclid=CNzzsMWF17ICFYYWMgodmBEALQ

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taliesin_(studio)

http://www.american-architecture.info/USA/USA-Midwest/MW-004.htm

http://designsbyfranklloydwright.com/page/9

http://www.mentalfloss.com/blogs/archives/97168

http://drvitelli.typepad.com/providentia/2010/07/murder-at-taliesin.html

 

7 Comments

  • Nick Kirby says:

    Very interesting read.Thank you for sharing this.

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  • Chris Veith says:

    Read the book, “Loving Frank” by Nancy Horan. Beautifully written fiction, though I will think of the book is probably very accurate and appreciate the research of the author. Until I read the book, I was uninterested as a child born in the early 60’s. Heard the name, knew he was an architect, didn’t care.
    Now I am wanting to know and learn much more about not only him, but his family’s life. If there were books published from each close family member and friends,(or their fictional thoughts) I would read all of them. I couldn’t wait to get on the internet and look at real pictures. This is the first Website I am viewing and will continue to look at many more, until my curiousity is satisified. Thank you for posting this. Christine

  • Yes NancyHoran’s book, “Loving Frank” is powerful indeed. I have visited Fallingwater and was very moved by the structure. I want to visit Taliesin as well. After reading the story, one cannot help but believe that the spirits of the murdered people might well exist at that place.

  • nelso394 says:

    Technically, Taliesin proper isn’t haunted. It’s rumored that Mamah’s ghost has haunted Tany-deri lodge, a small home built on the property nearby hillside school for Wright’s brother-in-law. Mamah, along with other victims of the 1914 tragedy were taken there where they eventually died. Even though the entire building has been thoroughly renovated and re-wired, guests have reported doors closing, and lights flickering/going out. Spooky 😉

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