In Part Three of my book Blood, Innocence and Glory, Caroline Delancy lives on Prairie Avenue in Chicago. That was the most prestigious place to live until Potter Palmer bought land north of the river and developed it. Eventually the smell of the stockyards forced the Pullmans and the Fields out of Prairie Avenue, but today it’s making a comeback.
Some old mansions still remain. There’s even Hillary Rodham Park for Hillary fans. Lake Michigan is nearby. My young characters Danette Delancy and Davidson Ames have a romantic encounter in the lake and find skeletons along the beach. Today you can tour the Glessner House and the site of the Fort Dearborn massacre.
What interesting story can I tell you, not written in history books?
I attended a lecture by a man, who was fascinated by Prairie Avenue. As a boy, he sent letters to the old mansions to see if anyone lived there. Could he possibly have a tour?
Well, lo and behold, the boy got an answer. A Chicago millionaire owned four mansions and decided to let him tour his homes. The only caveat: the boy wasn’t allowed to take photographs. So what did he do?
He built cardboard cutouts of the mansions and recreated their interiors. There were amazing, to say the least. Yes; some mansions are gone today, but thank God for those models. We marveled at the woodwork, the stained-glass, and the opulence of these homes. He said a dresser drawer in one mansion still had starched shirts inside it.
When the boy grew older, he wrote the millionaire again. Unfortunately, the man had passed away….He died in an elevator accident in one of his mansions. The cable snapped, and he crashed to the ground.
As history buffs, we’re grateful to the millionaire who let the boy tour his homes. We also marvel at his firsthand accounts of years gone by.