The Cadillac of Water-Closets: Sanitation at Salisbury House

“If Salisbury House does not feel one hundred years old on the day that we finish,” Carl Weeks once intoned, “then we have failed.”   Happily, Weeks’ goal  was beautifully realized upon the completion of his new home in the 1920s.  Certain portions of the house, however, were decidedly modern.  The bathrooms of Salisbury House – all sixteen of them – reflected the detailed attention to high-end furnishings that made the Weekses’ home, in Carl’s words, “a harmonious association of the centuries.”

The Weeks family were among the “one-percenters” of the 1920s.  Indoor toilets remained limited for most folks until after World War II.  The outhouse, not a flush toilet, represented the most common form of sanitation for much of the population, particularly in rural areas.

2000.40.575Rural Iowa outhouse, c. 1930s. Special Collections,
State Historical Society of Iowa, Des Moines
 

Indeed, sanitation for most people in the early twentieth century did not look dissimilar to the situation as it stood for much of recorded history.  A hole in the ground sufficed for centuries. Public latrines, for example, were not uncommon in classical Rome.

RomanLatrines at Dougga  (http://www.flickr.com/photos/prof_richard/7759983358/)

Despite the occasional existence of surprisingly complex sewer systems in the classical and premodern eras, the preferred method of excrement disposal for the masses remained al fresco.  Most people unceremoniously dumped waste out windows or doors into the open sewers of city streets.  Passers-by were well-advised to remain alert.

The late sixteenth century saw a significant advancement in the field.  Sir John Harrington, plumber to the stars, created a water closet prototype for the benefit of Queen Elizabeth I in 1596.   Nearly two hundred years later, Scotsman Alexander Cummings secured the first patent for a flush toilet.

toilet

Rendering of Cummings’ design http://www.robinsonlibrary.com/technology/engineering/biography/graphics/bramah4.gif

By the nineteenth century, various historical processes spurred the development of the modern waste disposal system.  Industrialization, urbanization, advancements in the fields of medicine and epidemiology, and the rise of social movements aimed at urban reform, among others, laid the groundwork for contemporary sanitation methods.

A new industry sprang up to meet the public’s needs.  Around the turn of the twentieth century, a variety of companies vied to become the public’s preferred purveyor of all things plumbing.  Here in the United States, the Meyer-Sniffen Company of New York emerged as a rising star. Their 1884 Catalog “D” contained a dazzling array of faucets, sinks, toilets, bathtubs, and other accouterments.

Cover and title
 
 

Tubs.Shower

What set Meyer-Sniffen’s wares apart from the average products installed by Joe the Plummer c. 1920?  John Christou of George Taylor Specialties, a vintage faucet and valves company in New York, explained the appeal of Meyer-Sniffen in a 2002 interview for Old House Journal.

“Without regard to cost or consumer, Meyer-Sniffen equipment appears to be purposely heavy—not so much as to be better mechanically than their competitors,” he remarked, “but to be different.”  According to Old House, the company’s plumbing products were “unmistakable: massive but rich with voluptuous curves and thickness.”   Further, Christou continued, “parts that other manufacturers would nickel plate, Meyer-Sniffen would make out of pure nickel.”  Much of Meyer-Sniffen’s product line centered on providing high-end clients with high-end finishes.  “No matter how many years a mansion, club, or hotel staffer polished this faucet,” concluded Christou, “they could never wear off the shine.”

The company’s products appealed to Carl Weeks.  Leaving aside his affection for “voluptuous curves” in a context entirely apart from plumbing, Weeks likely responded to the quality and durability of Meyer-Sniffen.  Although many of the original fixtures of Salisbury House have been removed during the years since the Weeks family lived here, the remaining pieces are fine examples of the company’s workmanship.

On the second floor of Salisbury House, each of the seven bedrooms bedroom includes an en-suite bathroom.  We first noticed the Meyer-Sniffen trademark on the toilet in the porch room bath, just off the balcony in the Great Hall:

MS Toilet

An earlier version of this “Vortex Special” toilet was, in fact, pictured in their 1884 catalog.  Among several options pictured, the offerings shown here include both a standard and ornate finish.

Toilet MS

The tanks were not wall-mounted as shown at Salisbury House in the 1920s, but otherwise the style remained similar.

The Weekses also employed a bit of classy camouflage for the bare toilets.  It’s possible that all the bathrooms in the house originally contained the wicker and wood toilet covers pictured below.  The remaining examples now appear in the baths in the Queen Anne guest bedroom (left) and Edith’s suite (right).

SH toilets

The bath fixtures that have survived the years also attest to the durability of Meyer-Sniffen. The sink ensemble in Edith’s suite (top) and the fixtures in the Queen Anne bath (bottom) are still in remarkably good shape.

Fixtures

The installation of first-rate tubs, toilets, and hardware would have themselves alone assured the superiority of Salisbury House bathrooms.  However, the Weekses were not done.  Deftware, the finely-crafted tiles made in the Netherlands, were incorporated into the tile walls of several baths.  The Delft tiles embedded into the walls of the baths in William’s room (top), the Queen Anne room (middle), and Edith’s suite (bottom), are pictured here.

Delft

So much about the Weeks’ home remains extraordinary.  Its architecture, artwork, rare books, artifacts, and the plumbing – yes, the plumbing – testify to the breadth and depth of the Weekses’ vision.   On your next visit to Salisbury House, take a closer look at these Cadillacs of water-closets.  

 
 
 
 

The Sons of Salisbury House

Today, Salisbury House operates as a museum.  Our world-class collections include an incredibly array of art, rare and limited edition books, historic documents, artifacts, furnishings – the list could go on and on.

What can get lost, sometimes, in this catalog of treasures, is the family who first called the House home.   Our newly-installed exhibit aims to illuminate their story.

Panel1.Final

The Weeks family moved into Salisbury House in 1926.  Charles, the eldest, was eighteen.  Lafe, the youngest, was eight.   This new exhibit focuses on the Weeks sons’ early lives and continues through their adult years.

A wealth of photographs, many of which have never been available for public viewing, figure prominently in the exhibit.

The image below is part of a larger collection on display of Weeks family stereographs taken around 1919-1920.

Frosty

Despite its damage, the stereograph below offers a rare, intimate portrait of Carl and Edith, the boys’ parents.

Edith carl

William’s room, which previously functioned as meeting space, has been refurnished.  Additional exhibit panels continue the story of the sons of Salisbury House here as well.

Wrap up panel

Ultimately, the story of the Weeks boys resonates with families everywhere.  Aspects of their lives, especially the splendor of their home after 1926 were unique, but the rhythms of life common to most families emerge as well.  Incorporating the Weekses’ narrative into the broader fabric of the museum enhances the richness of Salisbury House.  Come by for a visit to view all of our treasures!

Heads

Hemingway & Weeks

Carl Weeks was a man of action.  “If you dream it,” he once declared, “you can build it.”  Weeks achieved a considerable amount of success in his life: a magnate of the cosmetics industry, his business made him a millionaire by his mid-forties.   Salisbury House itself stands as a testament to the man’s financial success and purposeful vision.

A man similarly defined by action and vigor entered Carl Weeks’ life in the 1920s.  First through the written word and then a personal relationship, the lives of Carl Weeks and Ernest Hemingway intersected.  Although the men were born a generation apart – Weeks in 1876 and Hemingway in 1899 – shared tastes in both literature and recreation eventually created a link between the two men.  Fragments of this fascinating story remain today in the collections of Salisbury House.

Carl and Ernest.3

Weeks had made his millions by the 1920s, but Hemingway was just beginning to exert what would become his considerable literary might.   Post-World War I Paris proved a salutary writing environment for Hemingway, and in 1926 he added two books to his growing oeuvre with the publication of The Sun Also Rises and The Torrents of Spring.

Something about young Hemingway’s prose appealed to Carl Weeks.  A first edition of The Torrents of Spring was added to Weeks’ already-extensive book collection.

Torrents_JPG

 When Carl Weeks purchased Torrents in 1926, he was at his financial and professional peak.  Hemingway’s star, on the other hand, was still on the rise.  Three years later, A Farewell to Arms (1929) catapulted him even further into the whirlwind of literary celebrity.  By now, Weeks’ grand home in Des Moines included a richly-appointed library which stored a trove of rare, limited and first-edition books by renowned authors, including, of course, Ernest Hemingway.

Library Original

Farewell_JPG

Weeks also purchased a first edition of Hemingway’s Death in the Afternoon for his collection in 1932.

Death_JPG

During the first half of the 1930s, the interaction between Carl Weeks and Ernest Hemingway extended beyond that of enthusiastic bibliophile and prolific author.  The two men met.

The location and manner of the meeting between Weeks and Hemingway remains difficult to ascertain.  Still, a shared interest in two legendary Hemingway pastimes – drinking and fishing – emerged in correspondence between the two men.

An inscription from Hemingway to Weeks, penned inside the front cover of a first edition of The Green Hills of Africa (1935), suggests the pair had shared drinks and perhaps planned to do so again.

Green Hills_JPG

To Carl Weeks

Instead of a drink at Penas’

With very best wishes

Sincerely,

Ernest Hemingway

Where did Hemingway and Weeks meet each other and, apparently, drink together?  One possibility seems to be Havana, Cuba.  Sloppy Joe’s Bar in Havana was a well-known watering hole for American tourists and celebrities, including the Weeks and Hemingway, in the 1930s and 1940s.

A photograph of Edith Weeks (on right, with an unidentified woman) at Sloppy Joe’s in Havana could suggest the location where the paths of Carl and Ernest may have crossed.

Edith Havana

In 1936, Carl Weeks and Ernest Hemingway exchanged correspondence regarding Week’s planned fishing trip to Florida.  Hemingway’s response to Weeks, sent by postcard from Key West in May 1936 to Weeks’ business address, illustrates the mutual interests of the two men.

Postcard_JPG

Key West

May 31 

 Dear Mr. Weeks,

Should be good chance for marlin and big sails off ten fathom bar, then I’ll be at Miami after tuna so will probably miss you.  But two years ago we had excellent big sailfishing here in June.

Thanks  for the Punch parody.

Ernest Hemingway

Whether or not the two stayed in contact remains uncertain.  Weeks, at least, continued his interest in Hemingway’s work, and purchased a first edition of For Whom the Bell Tolls in 1940.

For Whom_JPG

For Whom the Bell Tolls represented the last of the Hemingway first editions in Weeks’ collection.

Hemingway went on to win the 1954 Nobel Prize in Literature, and by the late 1950s both men neared the end of their lives.   Hemingway’s suicide in 1961 preceded Weeks’ death of natural causes in 1962.

Ultimately, the full extent of the relationship between Carl Weeks and Ernest Hemingway remains a matter for further research.  The fragmentary story that remains, though, suggests a fascinating confluence in the lives of both men.

Company Women

Salisbury House graces the crest of a hill just off 42nd Street on Tonawanda Drive in Des Moines.  Surrounded by old oaks and formal gardens, the imposing brick and limestone structure evokes a time and place far removed from twenty-first century life.

For some visitors, a walk up the driveway towards Salisbury House generates a range of responses: gasps, jaws-dropping, and a general sense of awe are often elicited by the majesty of the property.

Exterior

This is where I get to come to work every day.

My name is Megan Stout Sibbel and I have the great pleasure of taking over the position of Curator and Chief Historian here at Salisbury House.

I first visited Salisbury House on a long-ago field trip during (I think) elementary school.  As with most kids who grow up in Iowa, I am fairly sure we hit the state’s classic field-trip trifecta: Living History Farms, the Science Center, and Salisbury House.

Following that first school-age encounter with Salisbury House, I drifted in and out of Iowa.  A double-major in English and History rounded out a B.A. from Simpson College.  Next up: the Peace Corps.  For a little over two years, I taught English in a small town named Kochkor up in the mountains of Kyrgyzstan.  Upon my return from the Peace Corps, I eventually landed in a PhD-track graduate program in history at Loyola University Chicago.  The focus of my graduate work and dissertation – public history and women’s and gender history – culminated in the completion of my doctoral degree in the spring of 2013.

Now, back in Iowa, I am thrilled to come on board at Salisbury House.  As an historian, I am continually amazed at the wealth of the collections and the great potential for this museum to garner rightful recognition as a national treasure.

From my perspective, one of the intangible treasures of Salisbury House appears in the how the house and its collections reflect our nation’s broader history.  For instance, women’s entry into the public workforce at the turn of the twentieth century represents an especially rich example of the intersection of Salisbury House with the American past.

The images included below come from a 1916 scrapbook compiled by Carl Weeks, the man who built Salisbury House.  He documented the packaging and shipping of primarily mail-order pharmaceutical products from D.C. Leo & Company, a business that Weeks and his partners originated in 1901.

An essential part of Weeks’ workforce – and the individuals he chose to document in this scrapbook – were women.

By the early twentieth century, the “new woman” in America was on the rise.  Whereas the culturally idealized nineteenth-century woman remained cloistered in the “domestic sphere,” raising children and taking care of husband and home, this situation changed significantly by the end of the century. Increasingly, women found work in the burgeoning manufacturing and mercantile economy across the country.   The women of Carl Weeks’ D.C. Leo &  Company in Des Moines, Iowa, reflected this nation-wide trend.

The scrapbook compiled by Weeks showed the steps involved in the receipt and filling of pharmaceutical orders to D.C. Leo & Company.  Female workers, representatives of this broader cultural shift in women’s labor, appear in nearly every step of the process.

WEEKS’ CAPTION: THE PHOTOGRAPH SHOWS JUST AN AVERAGE MORNING’S MAIL, REMITTANCES AND ORDERS.  The young lady is opening, sorting, stamping each piece of mail matter with “Date Received.”

Opening mail

The woman pictured in the foreground is engaged in typical clerical work.  Only a generation or two before, however, this type of office job would have probably been held by a male worker.

WEEKS’ CAPTION: HERE ARE THE YOUNG LADIES WHO MAKE OUT YOUR ORDERS. 

Two at desk

Here again, female workers fill clerical positions for D.C. Leo & Company.

WEEKS’ CAPTION: FIRST PRINT SHOP.  FOUR OF THE LABEL PRESSES ARE SHOWN IN THE PHOTOGRAPH.

Print room

Here, the women of the company. prepare the labels that were affixed to the pharmaceuticals and cosmetics sold by the company.   More than basic clerical staff, women were involved in the production of supplies for the company as well.

After the labels were produced, other women applied the labels to the boxes and packets sent out from the factory.

WEEKS’ CAPTION: After the labels are printed, and dry, they go to the labelling [sic] table.  At each table, the young lady has an assortment of all preparations, in boxes, on shelves before her.  If the order calls for Cold Tables, she takes down the Cold Tablet container, gets out the required number, and LABELS THEM AS SHOWN IN THE PHOTOGRAPH.

Labelling

For women entering the workforce in this era, a set of assumptions often underpinned their efforts.  First of all, these positions were generally considered jobs – not careers.  Young, often single, working women, so the theory went, should remain in the workforce only until they found a husband.  Then, it was often back into the home to care for the family.  The women of D.C Leo & Company may have felt the potential pressure of this dynamic.

WEEKS’ CAPTIONFIRST FILLING DEPARTMENT.  This machine counts, fills and boxes a gross of Cold Tablets every four minutes, fifteen gross an hour, one hundred and twenty gross a day.  They are seldom idle…the circular machine in the foreground does the same thing for Kidney Pills.

Group filling

Each step of the process, as documented by Weeks himself, relied primarily upon the labor of women.

The image below is unlabeled, but it appears to show another view of the filling department.  The young woman pictured is filling a number of small boxes with a product from the container above.

Lone girl filling

By 1916, the year from which these photographs date, D.C. Leo & Company had been in business for fifteen years.  Carl Weeks was on the verge of the greatest business success of his life.  The Armand Co., a sister company to D.C Leo & Company, was newly incorporated.  The cosmetics line produced and sold by Armand would make Weeks a millionaire in just a few years’ time; construction on Salisbury House would begin soon after.

This collection of photographs offers a glimpse into the very particular story of the man who built Salisbury House.   Behind the man, however, was a workforce composed of increasing numbers of American women.

Willie Nelson and Sons at Salisbury House

Yes, you read that correctly. A couple of months ago, Salisbury House hosted a photo shoot with American music icon Willie Nelson and his family as they modeled the new fall line of fashion maven John Varvatos. Famed music photographer Danny Clinch directed the shoot, while the Salisbury House staff peeked respectfully around corners, enjoying the experience. Here’s a video from the full campaign, with thanks to everyone involved in the shoot. You’re helping us share Salisbury House with a whole new audience. We appreciate it.

Knocking Down History

The Salisbury House Foundation was founded in 1993 to preserve, interpret and share Salisbury House for the educational and cultural benefit of the public. Implicit in this mission is a role we have embraced since our inception as caretakers of the Weeks Family history: not just for Carl and Edith (who built the house in the 1920s), but for their forebears, their four sons and their later descendants. (Social media has proven an incredible asset in this latter regard, as we have connected with many Weeks grandchildren via our Facebook page). In 2012, we received a Historical Resource Development Grant from the State Historical Society of Iowa specifically to research and interpret Weeks family history, so we have spent much of the past year delving deep into local and remote archives to better tell the story of this remarkable family.

Of Carl and Edith’s four sons, only their third — Evert Deyet “Hud” Weeks — spent the majority of his life in Des Moines. Hud was born in 1912 and attended Hubbell Elementary and Roosevelt High School, where he was a state record breaking swimmer. He graduated from Wharton College at the University of Pennsylvania in 1934 and returned to Des Moines to help manage Carl’s business empire through the difficult days of the Depression. Hud served as a Naval Aviator in the South Pacific during World War II, then again returned to Des Moines and the family business, eventually becoming President of Weeks & Leo by 1954. Hud held this position until his retirement in 1986, at which point the business passed out the Weeks Family’s management and ownership.

nellieandhud

Nellie and Hud Weeks, 1938. (Photo courtesy Cooper Weeks).

Hud was an avid outdoorsman, pilot and speedboat racer. He married Ellen “Nellie” Cooper — the daughter of legendary speedboater Jack “Pop” Cooper and a record setting racer in her own right — in 1938, and the young couple moved into the gardener’s cottage at Salisbury House (now our Visitors Center and Gift Shop) by 1940. Around 1950, Carl and Edith Weeks subdivided their original Salisbury House property to produce a 2.5 acre lot at the western end, separated from the main house by a deep ravine, for Hud and his family (now including son Cooper and daughter Barbara) to build their own home, a task to which Hud applied his usual exuberance and creative elan.

The Hud Weeks home at 4111 Tonawanda Drive was a custom design that incorporated elements of two prefabricated Lustron Homes around a central atrium, with a large indoor swimming pool at its south end. Lustron Homes were viewed as an affordable and innovative solution to the post World War II housing crisis, and production of the distinctive porcelain enamel clad structures began in 1948 — then ended in 1950 when production problems and corruption scandals led to the dissolution of the company after about 2,700 homes had been manufactured and shipped. Only about 1,500 of them were still known to be standing by 2008.

Hud and Nellie lived in their double-wide Lustron Home on the knoll next to Salisbury House (visible from Hud’s boyhood bedroom) until 1988, when they sold 4111 Tonawanda Drive to the Muelhaupt family and retired to the Barbican Condominiums on Grand Avenue. The couple later relocated to Kansas City, Missouri, to be near their son, Cooper. Nellie passed away in 1995, and Hud followed her seven years later, the last of Carl and Edith’s surviving sons.

Fast forward to the present. Just before I became the Executive Director of the Salisbury House Foundation in April 2012, Chuck Muelhaupt — who had lived in Hud’s former home for 24 years at that point — passed away. Several months later, his widow put the house on the market.

Front view of 4111 Tonawanda Drive, showing the two Lustron Home elements (left and right) integrated into the custom home.

Front view of 4111 Tonawanda Drive, showing the two Lustron Home elements (left and right) integrated into the custom home.

In a perfect world of unlimited resources, Salisbury House Foundation would have snapped up 4111 Tonawanda Drive right away at that point, restoring Hud’s home and the land to our holdings, thereby improving our ability to preserve and tell the Weeks Family story. Of course, the reality is that we live in an imperfect world, and our financial position was (and remains) precarious to the point where we must strive mightily just to maintain the property we already own.

Despite a sympathetic donor making a very generous and gracious offer on our behalf, we simply did not have the financial wherewithal to acquire, refurbish, maintain and operate an additional house, garage, pool and 2.5 acres of land when time the opportunity presented itself to us. As Chief Executive of our corporation, I could not in good conscience recommend to our Board that we encumber ourselves with additional debt to acquire Hud’s home, as such a path could have quickly put Salisbury House itself at grave risk.

And, thus, the property was sold to a private developer in late 2012.

While we knew the developer planned to divide the 2.5 acre lot into two parcels, we were heartened when the plans he presented to the City’s Planning and Zoning Commission on January 3, 2013 noted that the existing single family dwelling would be retained, with only the pool house structure being demolished. The City approved the plans, and this gave us hope that we might, at some point in the future, still have the opportunity to acquire (most of) Hud’s home, and at least a part of his land.

Pool house at the south end of Hud and Nellie Weeks' former home.

Pool at the south end of Hud and Nellie Weeks’ home.

We watched over the ensuing weeks as a variety of contractors (including asbestos remediation crews) worked on Hud’s home, presumably preparing for the grading of the new lot and the demolition of the pool house. We saw nothing that caused us any alarm regarding our new neighbor and his intentions.

Yesterday morning, I had a doctor’s appointment, so I arrived at Salisbury House around 9:40, two and half hours later than my normal early bird tendencies get me here. Literally, as I opened my car door, I heard a tremendous smashing sound, and looked west . . . just in time to see a huge backhoe drive straight into Hud’s house with its arm swinging. The garage had already been knocked down at this point, and the Lustron and atrium portions of the house were flattened in less than 30 minutes, the prefabricated materials easily scattered by the power of the backhoe’s arm. Only the pool house remained.

Quick calls to the Des Moines Historical Society and to City offices revealed that the developer had filed a demolition permit that morning, and that the backhoe began its unfortunate work within minutes of the approval being received. Des Moines Historical Society volunteers arrived quickly, and were firmly asked to leave the property. We allowed them to document the demolition from our side of the ravine. At about 8:00 this morning, the backhoe went into action again, and we watched the pool house being flattened, leaving the top of the hill bare. By 8:20 AM, February 15, 2013, nothing remained standing from the home that Hud and Nellie Weeks had built next to Salisbury House.

Needless to say, we’re shocked and saddened by this turn of events. While the house had no formal standing as a historic property, and many Lustron buffs (often purists, like classic car collectors) would have dismissed it as a “modification,” rather than a true, collectible Lustron Home, it was an important part of the Salisbury House and Weeks Family stories, and it deserved a more noble end than it received. While we fully understand and accept that the developer fairly acquired an unprotected 60-year old residence on the open market after we were unable to do so, we were surprised at the rapidity with which his stated plans evolved, and the easy acquiescence he encountered from the City of Des Moines in the face of such changes.

While the end result may have been the same regardless of what Salisbury House Foundation, Des Moines Historical Society, Salisbury Oaks Neighborhood Association or any other aggrieved parties said or did — in private or in front of television cameras or reporters’ clipboards — our own historic mission would have been greatly served had we been at least given one last chance to photograph the property thoroughly before it was demolished. One hour of time, literally, would have made a difference in our ability to tell the full stories of Hud and Nellie Weeks and the Salisbury House property, and it’s tragic that we were not accorded that opportunity on behalf of our community, as an important piece of Des Moines’ history is now being hauled away in dumpsters, having not been property recorded for history’s sake.

In a nutshell, this is why historic preservation work is so important, and so deserving of your financial support. The Salisbury House Foundation was founded, explicitly, to counter present or future threats to the sanctity of the property and its collections, and to this day we work diligently to ensure that no other Weeks Family property ever leaves these grounds, or suffers from abuse, neglect, or lack of maintenance. Sadly, our mission did not include the acquisition and preservation of the land that Carl gifted to his third son, and the house that Hud built there, so when the limited time window opened for us to acquire it, we did not have the means to do so. Such are the challenges in the imperfect world of nonprofit public service.

But, still, even as we mourn the destruction of Hud and Nellie’s home, we feel that it is important to celebrate the lives that were lived there, happily, with great humor and warmth. We know from numerous sources that 4111 Tonawanda Drive was the site of many amazing parties, and many great family gatherings, and that Hud and Nellie and their children were important, beloved members of our community. And so we would love to hear from you if you have memories, photos or stories about Hud and Nellie’s time in their uniquely futurist home on the hill, so that we can record them for posterity’s sake, and share them with others who may also be mourning the destruction of this property.

You can either post your thoughts and memories in the comments below, or you can contact our Curator and Director of Education Leo Landis via e-mail here to share photos, stories, documents or anything else related to 4111 Tonawanda Drive or Salisbury House. Thank you for your ongoing support through this difficult development, and please take a look around your own neighborhood soon to assess whether there are historic preservation needs there requiring your attention and support!

St. Bernard of Clairvaux’s “Liber Florum”

As we approach our 1,500th like on the Salisbury House Facebook Page, I decided to look for something in our library dating from around 1500 A.D. to mark the occasion. I found something beautiful, though a bit confusing: the book in question had been re-bound in more modern boards at some point with the title “Flores” and the date “1534” on its spine, neither of which reconciled to anything I could find in our databases or online. With a little bit of research, I discovered that what we actually have in the library is called “Liber Floru[m] Beati Bernardi abbatis Clareualle[n]sis,” and it was published in 1499. It’s a magnificent book, made more special by extensive marginalia throughout the text, including an end-note with the date 1534 in it, which perhaps contributed to the erroneous date in the new binding. Here are some shots of pages within this text, with explanatory notes gleaned from my research. As always, you can click each image to enlarge for more detail.

Cover page of “Liber florum Beati Bernardi abbatis Clareualle[n]sis” by St. Bernard of Clairvaux printed by Philippe Pigouchet in 1499. Pigouchet was a prolific printer who began printing around 1487. There are more than 150 known titles of his work surviving. He excelled at printing Horae (Books of Hours), of which there are more than 90 titles survive. The title of the Salisbury House book appears above Pigouchet’s illustrated mark, which features a fur-covered Adam and Eve!

This is the first text page of the Salisbury House Library’s edition of St. Bernard’s “Liber Floru[m].” St. Bernard had died over 300 years earlier, so this is a long posthumous edition of his words and wisdom. Our copy is filled with hand-written marginalia, some seen here at the bottom of the page.


A central page from “Liber Floru[m]” of St. Bernard of Clairveaux. The book was printed with movable type on a press, and it contains hand coloring at the start of each section and sentence.

The final page of St. Bernard’s “Liber Floru[m],” with an inscription at bottom in Latin dated November 1534.


Inside the back cover of “Liber Floru[m]” is an amazingly beautiful hand-written section with hand-coloring. The symbols atop the Latin words would most likely indicate that this was a text to be chanted. Any Latin scholars willing to translate for us?

Objects Come Home to Salisbury House

After a recent Chamber Music event at Salisbury House, two of our guests approached Deputy Executive Director Cyndi Pederson and offered her an envelope, asking her to open it while they were there. Much to her delight, the envelope contained a yellowed Christmas Card with an image of the Salisbury House north (front) door, signed by Carl and Edith Weeks, who built this house and amassed its extraordinary collections.

Cover of a Salisbury House Christmas Card, circa 1945.

Cover of a Salisbury House Christmas Card, circa 1945.

It was very kind of our guests to return this card to the House whence it originated, and we are grateful to them and so many others who have helped the Salisbury House Foundation recover lost or forgotten objects over the years. I have written before on this blog about the importance of objects in interpreting and presenting the human history of this and other historic properties, and new objects — while seemingly insignificant on their own — can often provide important insights when placed in their proper physical and chronological position.

While this card has no date on it, we can confidently state that it was mailed in the mid-1940s, because we have enough other images and data points to know that Carl and Edith habitually included the names of whichever of their four sons happened to be living at Salisbury House when they signed seasonal cards, so this piece is very likely from after 1940 (when Lafe left Salisbury House) and 1941 (when Hud and his wife moved into the Caretakers’ Cottage). Each and every small item like this provides us with another data point to track and hone our analysis of the family and their history here, and sometimes a single additional piece of information can provide a “eureka” moment to answering big questions or uncovering momentous matters.

Christmas greetings from Carl and Edith Weeks, after their boys had moved out of Salisbury House.

Christmas greetings from Carl and Edith Weeks, after their boys had moved out of Salisbury House.

One of the interesting aspects of having objects come home to Salisbury House is that it leads us to ponder the manner in which they left. Some of Carl and Edith’s art collections, papers, photos and memorabilia have been passed down to family members. Some art work was donated by Carl and Edith to sites such as the Art Center and Scottish Rite Consistory in Des Moines. Papers were donated by sons Hud and William to The University of Utah, documenting young Carl’s travels in Southwestern Utah around the turn of the 20th Century, while other papers relating to the Armand Company and books from Carl’s erotica collection now reside in the Special Collections Library at the University of Iowa.

Many objects left Salisbury House because Carl and Edith were both admirable, regular, well-traveled correspondents with a huge number of friends, acquaintances and admirers, so there are no doubt countless letters, cards and other ephemeral materials packed away in attics, trunks, antique shops and private residences around the country, if not the world. We have a mysterious 1930 note to Carl in our collection from Edith Bolling Wilson, widow of President Woodrow Wilson, thanking him for his “kindness in sending me the small package.” What was in the package? And what story would be able to tell if it came home?

What "small package" did Carl mail to President Wilson's widow? And what if it came home?

What “small package” did Carl mail to President Wilson’s widow? And what if it came home?

Other objects left the House when the Iowa State Education Association (ISEA) had its headquarters at Salisbury House from 1954 to 1998, and renovated parts of the property to make it work for their purposes. The kitchen and scullery, for example, were dismantled and converted into office spaces, so the stove, refrigerator and dishwasher that were once used to feed Carl and Edith’s family members and guests have disappeared into the haze of history, barring a few photos. We do, however, have some original kitchen cabinetry stored in an attic and some counter fixtures that spent years rotting in a farmers’ pasture, and we have recently been contacted about a possible Salisbury House kitchen sink that’s installed in a currently unoccupied home. We hope that sink and other similar objects might come home as we work to restore the historic kitchen to at least an accurate facsimile of its original configuration, and that such a restoration effort will roust other lost objects from their hiding places.

Perhaps the most controversial object to leave Salisbury House was Joseph Stella’s monumental painting, Tree of My Life, which was sold by ISEA in 1986 to raise funds for much-needed deferred maintenance on the property. It is now in the hands of a private collector with a bequest intention to a major art gallery, so it is not likely to come home, ever. And at a very bottom line basis, the Salisbury House Foundation itself was created to ensure that such trade-offs never have to be made again, by creating new philanthropic and operational revenue streams to care for the house, so that its objects may stay here, in perpetuity, for the cultural and educational benefit of the public.

As we mature into our role as an established and trustworthy operator of an exceptional historic house museum, more people are demonstrating their willingness to bring their own Salisbury House or Weeks Family objects back to us, either to be donated into the permanent collection, or to be properly researched and digitally documented for our archives, to help us better tell our story to the next generation of visitors.

Do you have any of the objects that left Salisbury House? They could be papers, furniture, paintings, books, photographs, house decorations, fixtures, Armand or related commercial products, or other objects that we don’t even know exist at this point. If you have some of them, we would certainly love to talk to you about having them come home, maybe just for a short visit and study, or maybe even for good, as a philanthropic donation to the Salisbury House Foundation.

You have our word that they will be in good hands, and that they will be cherished, studied, and celebrated as important parts of the extraordinary Salisbury House history. Who knows what “eureka” moment they might bring?