A house is built by man and a home is built by God. It’s a holy partnership, a union of earthly and Divine talents.
I am an imposing figure. I was conceived in 1879. I am a three-story, 24,000 square foot Victorian mansion located in Chicago’s Gold Coast neighborhood. Wealth was everywhere at the time of my conception. They called the era the “Gilded Age” and I represented the fortunes of man.
Edgar White was the architect to whom I owe my beauty and stature. Morris Daggner was the successful businessman who commissioned White to create a house that would be a showplace.
As it turned out, I am more than that. I am a member of the Daggner family, with a heart and a head, and a foundation and a loving spirit that I share with everyone who walks through my doors. I am now and have always been known as the Daggner House – even today though Morris and Fannie Daggner are long deceased and there are no more Daggners who reside within me.
I was completed in four years and blessed with my family in late July of that year. That’s the story I am here to tell you today.
The summer of 1883 I was brand new. I didn’t know what to expect when the Daggner family of five crossed my threshold.
Morris appeared to be a stern fellow, gruff on the outside. But as I soon found out – he was a softy in the inside where it counts. He adored his wife Fannie and called her “Sweetie” when he was feeling affectionate, which for Morris was often.
He was a doting father to his three children. At that moment in history, captains of industry weren’t expected to be involved in the upbringing of children. Yet, Papa Daggner was hands-on. I loved listening to the bedtime stories he would read to the children when he tucked them into bed at night. When his bedtime job was done he would join Sweetie in the parlor where they would talk about the happenings of the day and simply relax in each other’s company.
Every stage of life is a good one for people who live gratefully, but those early years were exceptional for the Daggners. It was before Maisy died.
Maisy was the baby of the family. Louise was the eldest, and Peter the middle child. They were fairly typical children of privilege. Louise was always steady, sensible and proper in the right ways. Peter was fun-loving, not an easy boy to raise but certainly worth the extra effort it took to guide him down the path of straight and narrow. And Maisy was exactly as you would expect the cherished youngest daughter of a close family to be – pretty, funny and endearing. She was a light to the family and she was a light unto me.
The good Lord called her home when she was just fifteen years old. It was an unfortunate accident. She was in the back seat of the family automobile, seated directly behind the chauffeur. There was a collision with a public bus and both Maisy and Mack the driver were killed instantly upon impact.
The days following Maisy’s death were dark indeed. I filled up with people who came to console the Daggners. The visitors were well-intentioned but nearly every person who walked through my doors with condolences, walked out having to be comforted by Morris, Fannie, Louise or Peter. That’s just the kind of family the Daggners were. When you’re raised with compassion, when you’re secure in your faith and when you share a loving bond with others, you can’t help but continue to be who you are – even in your extreme sorrow.
I wept with my family. Losing Maisy was a great loss indeed. It was a shock to my core. I questioned the Divine order of things.
No doubt the Daggners felt the same as I did. Yet they persevered. They had each other, and I had them.
Louise finished college the year after Maisy died. She became engaged to a very nice fellow from Boston who she met her freshman year on campus. Jack was like family by the time they made it official. An engagement party was planned. My ballroom floor was polished and a fresh coat of gold leaf was added to my moldings. We all needed a little freshening up at that point and Louise’s upcoming nuptials provided a welcome excuse. The Daggners were turning their mourning into dancing. And dance they did that night! Joy once again rang through my rafters.
Life is like that.
After the wedding, Louise and Jack moved to Boston where he had a position working in his family business. Peter was packing up to begin his course of higher education at Stanford in Northern California, a long way from home.
I felt empty with Louise and Peter gone. Morris and Fannie were traveling more; visiting the kids, and taking long vacations to foreign places. I had a small staff to keep me company, but it’s not the same. I was lonely.
Be careful what you wish for.
Time flew by and Morris retired. They were at home more and I loved it…at first. The elder Daggners were quite social. Invitations flew back and forth to balls, parties and charity functions. There were visitors and overnight guests. They continued to travel. Louise and Jack started a family, Peter got married and then more grandchildren were born. Morris and Fannie kept themselves busy and busy is a good thing.
But enjoying the post-retirement stage is dependent on good health.
After a few active years Morris was the first to slow down. Fannie followed a couple years later. Live-in caregivers were added to the household staff. Then a house manager to handle the maintenance and staff. Fannie just couldn’t keep up with it any more. Peter was helping long distance, but it wasn’t enough. As their parents’ health declined Louise and Peter made more frequent trips back home. I was always happy to see them, but under these circumstances, it made me sad.
Fannie died first. Morris was inconsolable. He couldn’t pull himself together to handle the grief. He was a changed man. Even in his infirmity he had never ceased to be himself. But with Fannie’s passing he changed. He was a mere whisper of his former self. It was as if his insides emptied out.
My insides were emptying out too, in a physical sense. The glorious Daggner House was showing its age. Improvements were needed to my walls, my floors, and my ceilings. My furnishings were threadbare, layers of draperies were stripped to the shades. Broken furniture was removed without being replaced. No one had an appetite for keeping up with it all.
Morris resided full time in the first floor library, and there was no reason for anyone to go upstairs anymore. They closed off the second and third floor. There was a bed now in the library and it was placed directly under the Tiffany stained glass dome. I was glad to see the man who selected the once spectacular artwork was giving it his full attention, even though it no longer sparkled.
To the left of his bed was one grand leather chair with matching ottoman. The nurses transferred Mr. Daggner three times a day from the bed to the chair. When he ate his meals the ottoman was moved aside to accommodate a small tray table. After breakfast, lunch, and dinner the table was removed and Morris would sit with his feet up on the ottoman, a blanket covering his withered legs. He was comfortable up to the end.
Morris blessedly died peacefully in his grand chair. We thought he had simply dozed off, but the afternoon nurse tried to rouse him and when he didn’t respond, it was clear to us all, his time had come.
Most houses my age have many families who move in and out over the years, and they have plenty of stories to tell. Some of my neighboring mansions were sold to real estate developers who tore down the old crumbling stone buildings and replaced them with modern apartment buildings. But neither of those things happened to me. The Daggners were my only family and I still live and breathe in my original form.
With Morris and Fannie gone, and Louise and Peter living outside of the Chicago area, it was time for me and the Daggners to say goodbye.
Trustees for the Daggner estate put me up for sale and there I sat neglected, empty and alone for three long painful years.
But God was good to me.
As big as I am, I’m not a practical option for a new family. Instead a group of eight wealthy philanthropists bought and then donated me to the American Association of Modern Medicine, who made me their headquarters.
They covered my beautiful inlaid walls with drywall. They built a tin hood for the Tiffany dome. They created offices of my many rooms and built a teaching auditorium on my lot next door.
I was saved from demolition and preserved in the bargain. I earned an architectural landmark status. I can never be torn down, I am destined to live forever.
Eventually the doctor’s group outgrew me. They moved to the 74th floor of a very nice skyscraper I can see from my east window.
I stood empty this time for ten years. Arthur Schless had his eye on me from the beginning. He is an art lover with a collection of antiques from my origin era, the Gilded Age late 1860’s to 1896. I loved Arthur from the minute I saw him staring at me from the outside and peeking in my few remaining windows.
When he finally secured an appointment to tour my interior he oohed and aahed at my best features and guessed the treasures buried under the drywall. He had done his homework too. He thoroughly researched my history, found pictures, and even met with Louise’s great-granddaughter Madilyn who is an enthusiastic family historian. She liked Arthur too and encouraged him in his plans.
I was to become his passion project as he restored me to my former glorious self. I would be re-purposed as a fine museum of the Gilded Age. Not only did he want to fill me with his antiques, he discovered a great deal of my furniture was saved by the American Association of Modern Medicine and kept in a nearby storage facility. They would be willing to donate it to the museum.
Still, this project would require a major investment.
Arthur and Madilyn were up to the challenge. They easily raised the money for my purchase. The lot next door with the auditorium was sold to pay for the first phase of my renovation. I was in the newspapers, featured on T.V. and I even had my own “Go Fund Me” page on the internet. In just eighteen months funds were secured to undertake the complete renovation.
Can you imagine how I felt when the drywall was taken down from my walls and ceiling? It was nothing short of a spiritual re-awakening.
It was five more years of foundation and interior work until the crew was ready to tackle my outside appearance.
Arthur found a contractor from Georgia who came to give me a bath. He used a laser to delicately loosen the black dirt and grime from my precious limestone exterior. It was the cleansing of a lifetime.
The tin cover was lifted from my dome and repairs were made to the original Tiffany stained glass as well as the leaded glass on the windows. After all of those years with my windows boarded up I was beyond ecstatic to get a giant gulp of fresh air and natural light. Glory, Glory to God!
Never again will I take nature’s gifts for granted.
At long last I was ready for company. Arthur threw open the doors of the Daggner Museum and the public streamed in. My excitement that first day has not dissipated. I remain in a constant state of elation.
Life is good. God’s grace is generous. And I am grateful every day, in the Daggner way.