Thursday, October 16, 2008
Mass murder at Frank Lloyd Wrights Taliesin
The scene of devastation at Taliesin the day after the murders
Frank Lloyd Wright was born in 1867 in Wisconsin. He became America's most famous and influential architect and was a leading figure in world architecture until his death in 1959.
He gave the name Taliesin - after the Welsh bard - to the house he built in 1911 near his childhood home in the valley where his mother's Lloyd Jones family - originally from Llandysul - had lived for generations.
Taliesin was a showpiece of Wright's design principles.
However, it was also the focus of scandal because he built it as the home for himself and the woman for whom he had left his wife and six children, Martha "Mamah" Borthwick.
And three years later, on 15 September, 1914, it became the scene of the biggest single incident of mass-murder in Wisconsin history.
Ron McCrea said that on that day, "all hell broke loose" at Taliesin when one of Wright's servants unleashed an attack that claimed eight lives (including the attacker's), left the world-famous architectural treasure in rubble, and devastated Wright, who was then 47 years old.
The attacker was 30-year-old Julian Carlton, an estate worker originally from Barbados.
While Wright was away in Chicago, Carlton bolted the doors and windows of the dining room where Mamah Borthwick, her two children, and six other people were eating, poured buckets of gasoline under the doors and torched the building.
He then used an axe to attack those who jumped out of the windows to escape the flames.
Weston and draughtsman Herbert Fritz survived and raised the alarm.
The victims who died were: Borthwick, and her children, Martha, nine, and John, 12, Ernest Weston, 13, the son of carpenter William Weston; Milwaukee draughtsman Emil Brodelle, 26; handyman David Lindblom, 38; and Taliesin foreman Thomas Brunker, 68.
Scores of farmers arrived to help. Wright's relative, the Unitarian preacher Jenkin Lloyd Jones, Iowa County Sheriff John T. Williams and Sauk County Undersheriff George Peck set up a posse to hunt for Carleton.
He was quickly found hiding near the burned-out building. He had swallowed acid.
He was nearly lynched on the spot, but the sheriff and posse, pursued by three carloads of men with guns, got him to the Dodgeville jail.
He died from starvation seven weeks later, despite medical attention. He made two court appearances but never stood trial, and his motive for the attack was never explained, although there are various theories.
'Devastating scene of horror'
Wright arrived home on the night of Aug. 15, with Edwin Cheney, the divorced husband of Mamah Borthwick and the father of her two dead children.
Wright described it in his autobiography as a "devastating scene of horror.''
Mamah was buried in the cemetery of the nearby Unity Chapel, which Wright had helped design for Jenkin Lloyd Jones.
"I wanted to fill the grave myself,'' he said.
Ron McCrea says that shortly afterwards, Wright published an open letter in the local newspaper to thank the community for its support - but also to defend Borthwick and to show he was not about to be driven out.
He promised to rebuild Taliesin in her memory.
He kept his word and rebuilt the house, which was his home until his death and which is now a monument to his life and work.