2012 Annual Meeting ~ Greater Chicago Chapter VSA
President’s Report given by Larry Lesperance
The Greater Chicago Chapter of the Victorian Society in America had a successful year. Our events increased from six to seven. The national VSA co-sponsored a weekend symposium with Glessner House Museum, giving dual members eight local programs. By collaborating with two partners, the Church of the Atonement and Glessner House Museum, we, for the first time, rented a bus for an out-of-town daytrip, an offer accepted by 38 registrants. This year we toured five privately owned period homes. This demonstrates the value of chapter membership. If you don’t belong to the chapter, you don’t see those homes.
At our first event we celebrated the birthday of Charles Dickens with a visit to the campus of DePaul University. We toured the restored university church, viewed in the library a stained glass window which won awards at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair, saw and even handled 19th century landmark printed materials, including first editions of A Christmas Carol chapbooks, and heard about advances in printing techniques and marketing used by Dickens and others, heard short talks about Dickens’ close connection to Illinois and the work with the elderly by the Little Sisters of the Poor, work praised by Dickens. We walked past the Sisters’ home for the indigent elderly and toured the McCormick Seminary Rowhouse Historic District – a block which resembles Victorian London - before visiting one of the homes where the owner, author of a book about the district, described the campaign to gain landmark designation.
Terry Tatum led a walking tour of the Armitage-Halsted Historic District. The chapter visited a townhome furnished in the style of an Edwardian Men’s Smoking Club and enjoyed refreshments.
Our bus tour to Western Illinois began with a tour of Chicago’s Church of the Atonement. We visited the site of a Lincoln-Douglas debate, toured a restored home where Lincoln slept, toured a house museum plus two Victorian homes in Morrison, one with an updated interior, the second decorated to complement the antiques within. We had challenges on this trip: we experienced roadwork delays plus one participant suffered an injury, necessitating that we wait for an ambulance. We were forced to drop some intended sites from the itinerary in order to meet time constraints of the bus contract.
Keith Letsche, in his conductor’s uniform, led a tour of period private railway cars of the rich and urban trolleys for the poor and middle class. While most visitors to the Illinois Railway Museum just walk past the locked trolleys, we sat inside them to hear the story. Keith illustrated his words with a scrapbook of photographs. Members rode an early streetcar around the grounds.
Bernacki & Associates hosted a weekend demonstration by five employees of cleaning and restoration of paintings and furniture, plus provided an illustrated talk about preservation.
Charles Fiorito of Charles Freed & Associates led a tour of the interior and exterior, with its ironwork and a re-discovered façade by Sullivan, of the Sullivan Center, the former Carson Pirie Scott & Co. We viewed the lobby of a neighboring repurposed 1890’s building.
We combined our annual meeting with a Victorian Christmas celebration in an 1872 home with early gas lighting fixtures, a tree lit by candles, a yule log, and a Christmas feast. Members shared tales of 19th century tree ornaments and holiday customs.
Our Board of Directors conducted much of the chapter’s business via email, reducing the meetings needed. I thank board members, Tallie, Win, Keith, John, and Tom, for their efforts. We continued making site donations or donations to the preferred charities of our hosts and guides, plus a donation toward VSA summer school scholarships. This opens doors to us and supports the health of national VSA and the chapter.
Our 2013 programs are still being developed. Confirmed are the February 9 screening of a made-in-Chicago silent film, the earliest existing film made by African-Americans, shown with organ accompaniment, a day trip, date TBA, to Kankakee to see Victorian homes and two homes by Frank Lloyd Wright, one of them rarely open to the public, and a September 26 illustrated talk on pre-Raphaelite artists co-sponsored by the host site, 2nd Presbyterian Church, which is known for its Tiffany windows.