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Death in a Prairie House: Frank Lloyd Wright…

Death in a Prairie House: Frank Lloyd Wright and the Taliesin Murders

by William R. Drennan

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Short historical account of the Taliesin murders. If you have read [b:Loving Frank A Novel|898885|Loving Frank A Novel|Nancy Horan|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1179285637s/898885.jpg|3345089] I suggest reading this concurrently. Or perhaps afterwards. Historically-based novels always bring out a thirst in me to find out what really happened. Wright was not a very nice man, but even so, his flight to Europe with the wife of a client remains puzzling and Nancy Horan's novel provides as reasonable an explanation as anything else since we have very little about her. Wright himself barely noted her existence in his notes.

The murders themselves, a servant/employee ran amok killing Mamah and her children as well as some other construction workers, may well have had an enormous influence on changing Wright's architectural style, which became much more fortress-like.This is an excellent companion book to Loving Frank. It provides a wealth of factual detail that supplements Horam's excellent novel. The irony is that apparently people in southern Wisconsin still believe that Wright was the murderer in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Clearly his years of stiffing the local merchants did not help his reputation.

The author suggests that the fire and murders at Taliesen were far more important than the mere facts of the case. "The murders involved the century's single most important residential design and the country's most celebrated and distinctive architect." Mahma was well on her way to becoming a prominent feminist. The fire also destroyed Wright's folio of drawings, which, Drennan suggests, set back Wright's fame in the United States by years. Drennan proposes more importantly, that because of the fire, Wright's designs became "more insular, more labyrinthine, even more fortress-like. . . [and:] the slaughter at Taliesen may well have exerted a significant influence on American residential design throughout the remainder of the twentieth century." (p. 6)

Lots of information, but only 3 stars because it felt a little rushed and could have provided more detail, I think. ( )
  ecw0647 | Sep 30, 2013 |
I read Loving Frank by Nancy Horan a few years ago and wanted to see if by chance Frank Lloyd Wright might be painted with a kinder palate, perhaps shades of pastel instead of grey and dark black.

Alas, Frank remains a very complicated, narcissistic, sociopathic, intelligent user.

When Frank left behind a wife and six children to run away with his mistress, he never looked back.

Likewise his lover Mamah Borthwick, left her husband and her two children. Long a feminist and free spirit, it appeared that moving with Frank and shedding her previous life was easy.

Frank could not comprehend the down right animosity and disdain the neighboring communities of Spring Green, Wisconsin would have for him.

Adding fuel to the fire, Frank spoke freely to the newspapers and stated that while lessor men, not as intelligent as he, needed rules to follow because basically, they were not capable of their own decisions, he was superior and was destined to a higher order and calling.

Using the transcendental writings and thoughts of Emerson, Frank justified his behaviors. Borrowing huge sums of money, with no intent of return from those he could charm, and in addition taking advance large commissions long before he even started projects, Frank was indeed a huckster.

With no care of how his actions impacted on those who needed to be paid for services and materials, Frank told them not to worry about it, because he didn't worry at all.

Building an exquisite prairie house where Frank and Mamah could live, townsfolk called it their den of sin.

Taliesin stood for a mere few months until a very tragic, horrific event occurred.

Julian Carlton, the only black servant, was in his mind sorely mistreated. In particular, one of the builders was indeed incessantly cruel.

Known for fits of bad temper, in August of 1914, while Frank was away supervising construction of a massive garden and edifice, Carlton brutally took a hatchet to the back of Mamah's head.

In addition, he meted the same treatment to her children who happened to be visiting at the time. Her ten year old daughter and twelve year old son died as a result.

Setting fire to Taliesin while co-workers were locked into a room, Carlton then hacked them when they tried to escape.

In the end, the toll was seven who lost their lives.

Grief stricken, Frank took a train back to Spring Green to see that most of his beautiful house was in ashes and to observe what was left of the bodies.

So hated in the community, at first there was speculation that he was responsible because perhaps he grew weary of his lover.

Within a year, Frank remarried. After reconstruction of Taliesin it again suffered a fire.

Frank's legacy of unique cantalevored structures still exists today.

After the fires, Frank's houses were designed more like fortresses made of concrete.

While it is easy to judge the man and his self absorbtion, likewise, it is not difficult to admire his creations and unique architectural achievements. ( )
  Whisper1 | Jun 12, 2013 |
History and true crime? Two of my favorite things! Except for the fact that Drennan throughout the book kind of gives the impression that he thinks Wright's mistress deserved what she got (which was an axe in the head, by the way) for living in sin in such a lovely place as Spring Green. WTF. The architectural analysis at the end was pretty thin, too; I think the guy really just wanted to write a thriller but didn't want to sacrifice his academic credentials to do it. Still entertaining, for all the author's bias. ( )
  jen.e.moore | Mar 30, 2013 |
A riveting, read in two sittings book, but not a great book. It was a more sympathetic portrait of Wright than I expected and yet there seemed to be a lot of (academic?) agenda simmering just underneath the narrative. There's quite a bit of pursed lip head shaking, tsk tsk-ing and vaguely pejorative characterizations of other accounts of the crime, the murderer and his motives. I kept hoping he'd expand or include some primary sources, like court transcripts or witness statements, but though the book appears to be meticulously researched, he buries his sources in the copious footnotes chapter.

It really is a wonder these murders aren't the first thing we associate with Frank Lloyd Wright -- a testament his genius, I suppose, that when we hear his name we think of Falling Water, prairie houses and geometrical stained glass, not seven hacked and burned human beings and a ruined work of art. ( )
1 vote koeeoaddi | Mar 30, 2013 |
The author explores the myths of the 7 murders in Spring Green, Wisconsin of the Frank Lloyd Wright mistress, her children and the workers on Taliesin, his landmark residence. Much has been written about this tragedy, and much speculation about why such a crime was committed. This bizarre event changed Wright's life, his career and perhaps even American residential and architectural design. The author writes with clarity, logic and with a writing style that leaves little to be questioned. He painstakingly addresses the questions and theories that many have speculated about over the years, and does it in such a way that one chapter leads you into the next. Fire followed Frank Lloyd Wright most of his life, and he lost everything to it; this book gives more information than found in other recent books on the subject and the theme of fire was a constant throught Wright's life. Even after death, his body was exhumed, created and placed in a new grave site. Even after death, he could not get away from fire. ( )
1 vote bakersfieldbarbara | Jul 24, 2010 |
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It would be easy to regard [his] personal inconsistencies as mere pecadilloes that fade into irrelevancy when set against Wright's undeniably brilliant artistic achievements. Certainly there is much to be learned by moving beyond the distractions of his formidable personality to confront his buildings directly. The trouble, unfortunately, is that Wright himself clearly believed his architecture to be an organic expression of the very personality that, in many ways, seems so problematic.--William Cronon. // Those who are alive receive a mandate from those who are silent forever. They can fulfill their duties only be trying to reconstruct precisely things as they were and by wresting the past from fiction and legends.--Czelaw Milosz
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0299222144, Paperback)

The most pivotal and yet least understood event of Frank Lloyd Wright’s celebrated life involves the brutal murders in 1914 of seven adults and children dear to the architect and the destruction by fire of Taliesin, his landmark residence.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:19:51 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

The least understood event of Frank Lloyd Wright's life involves the brutal murders in 1914 of seven adults and children dear to the architect and the destruction by fire of Taliesin, his landmark Wisconsin residence. The details of that shocking crime have been largely ignored by Wright's legion of biographers--a gap finally addressed here. In response to the scandal of his open affair with proto-feminist and free love advocate Mamah Borthwick Cheney (both were married at the time), Wright built Taliesin as a "love cottage" for himself and his mistress. The original Taliesin would stand in all its isolated glory for only a few months before the bloody slayings that rocked the nation and reduced the structure itself to a smoking hull. Author Drennan wades through the myths and casts fresh light on the cataclysmic effects that the murders exerted on the fabled architect and on his subsequent designs.--From publisher description.… (more)

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