Solving the Mystery of the Carriages that Remain at Taliesin: The Puzzle and the Denouement
Vicki Nelson Bodoh | Jul 5, 2018
In this, the second installment of a two-part series, Vicki Nelson Bodoh shares her journey of finding and researching Frank Lloyd Wright’s carriages.
Read Part 1 here.
Because several of the Fellowship members had mentioned the carriage borrowed from Sheboygan and carriages taken to Sheboygan for restoration, I knew my research would take me back to the Wisconsin Carriage Museum at the Wade House in Greenbush, WI. I had been there a few times in the past and I remembered that there was a Frank Lloyd Wright connection. I needed to see if the connection was accurate.
In early 2002 I made an appointment to visit The Wisconsin Carriage Museum (now the Wesley W. Jung Carriage Museum) that houses the Wesley Jung carriage collection donated to the State Historical Society in 1968. Jung came from a carriage and wagon building family in Sheboygan. He started collecting and restoring carriages and wagons with a focus on those built by his family. I wanted not only to view the carriages but to get information from the archives. A volunteer was assigned to help me. The Canopy Top Surrey borrowed by Frank Lloyd Wright and built by J. & W. Jung ca. 1890 was on display as was a Roof Seat Omnibus purported to have belonged to Frank Lloyd Wright. Could I prove it?
In the museum archives we located a catalog. On May 17 and 18, 1958, an exhibit of 50 horse drawn vehicles was held at the Legion Memorial Ball Park in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. These vehicles were part of Wesley Jung’s collection and a catalog was provided for the spectators. The catalog includes “No. 76 Rubber tired, closed 6 Passenger Omnibus Restoration incomplete.” This vehicle, with the same number, appears on subsequent insurance inventories as having been owned by Frank Lloyd Wright.
Wesley Jung was a CPA and kept impeccable records. The archives contained his insurance inventories for 1961 through 1982. He insured both his own collection of carriages and those he was storing for restoration. The September 1961 insurance inventory of Wesley Jung’s carriage collection contains a numbered list of carriages and their estimated date of manufacture. Jung rarely includes the manufacturer of the vehicle in this list unless it is a vehicle made by J. & W. Jung, Sheboygan. The following vehicles are listed as having been acquired from Frank Lloyd Wright:
“76. Rubber Tired Omnibus 1890
77. Rubber Tired Governess Cart 1900
78. Jaunting Cart 1890
79. Rubber Tired Phaeton 1880
80. Steel Tired 8 passenger Carry-all 1875
81. Steel Tired Hunting Brake 1890
82. Rubber Tired 4 passenger Dos-a-dos 1890
83. Side Spring, 2 passenger Cutter
84. Side Spring, 2 passenger Cutter”
In the 1963 inventory, #83 and #84 have been assigned to other vehicles. Either the cutters were sold or returned to Taliesin. In the 1965 inventory, only #76, the omnibus, remains as having been acquired from Frank Lloyd Wright. [Governess cart is hand written between #56 and #57 but it may be a different governess cart.] No mention is made of any of the vehicles other than the omnibus in the subsequent inventories of 1969, 1970 and 1982. In 1968 the Wesley Jung collection was donated to the State Historical Society of Wisconsin. The roof seat omnibus was the only vehicle acquired from Frank Lloyd Wright to be included in this donation.
At the present time, the Wesley Jung Carriage Museum in Wisconsin has one of the Frank Lloyd Wright carriages in its collection, the Roof Seat Omnibus. From two photographs taken at Taliesin in the 1ate 1940’s, it appears to be this same vehicle.
According to the records, Wesley Jung restored the omnibus in 1967. The other eight vehicles from the 1961 insurance inventory did not come with the collection when it became part of the Wisconsin State Historical Society property. It is supposed that all of these vehicles were sent to Wesley Jung; perhaps for restoration and possibly for sale. They were quite probably sent shortly before or after Mr. Wright’s death in 1959 but definitely before 1961 when the insurance inventory was written. The restoration bill may never have been paid and, as a result, the roof seat omnibus was kept by Jung to settle the bill. I think that two of the carriages, the Governess Cart and the Gig, were restored. These, along with the other vehicles on the insurance inventory (except for one of the cutters), were returned to Taliesin sometime between 1963 and 1965.
The Denouement, Carriages Tell the Tale
Armed with the information from the 1961 insurance inventory, I was ready to go back to Taliesin. I wanted access to the carriages. I wanted to bring them out into the sunlight and photograph them. I wanted to assess whether these were the carriages that appeared on the inventories. I had an ally in Frances Nemtin as she had a personal connection to two of the carriages and she helped me to arrange a visit. On a bright spring day in May, 2002, Sue Schuetz, a volunteer at Taliesin, met me and we went to the garage where the two small carts were stored. We pulled out and photographed the carriage that I believe to be number 77 Rubber Tired Governess Cart 1900 E (estimated date of mfg.) acquired from Frank Lloyd Wright and insured for $150.
I believe it to be the same carriage that Brandoch Peters (Wright’s adopted daughter Svetlana and Wes Peters’ son) has the pinto pony Diamond put to in the photo taken about 1950.
We also pulled out the Gig. I believe it to be the birthday cart given to Frank Lloyd Wright by Wes Peters in about 1939, driven by Mr. Wright in Frances Nemtin’s wedding and listed on the 1961 inventory as number 78 Jaunting Cart 1890 E acquired from Frank Lloyd Wright and insured for $175.
It is the same carriage being driven by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1946.
We went on to Midway Barn. The larger items in storage had been moved so we had access to the carriages. We pulled out one at a time and began photographing.
Inventory number 79 Rubber Tired Phaeton 1880 E acquired from Frank Lloyd Wright and insured for $75 is actually a Brewster Skeleton Gig. It is a style of phaeton and has rubber on the wheels. (Many years later, Howard Kietzke located the serial number on the lamp bracket. According to the Brewster records serial # 23155 is a skeleton gig ordered by J.N. Bonapart for $437 in 1899. Photos of other Brewster Skeleton Gigs are similar to the Brewster at Taliesin.) How it came to be at Taliesin is a mystery as it is unlikely to have been part of the Hillside Home School collection and may have been one of the “new” buggies that Olgivanna wrote about in 1944.
Inventory number 80 Steel Tired 8 passenger Carry-all 1875 E acquired from Frank Lloyd Wright and insured for $75 is surely one of the wagonette style carriages that were used by the Hillside Home School to pick up students arriving by train to Spring Green. Indeed when we got it out into the sunlight and began to examine it, we found definite proof and it substantiated the theory that the remaining carriages at Taliesin had once been brought to Sheboygan for restoration and/or sale and then returned to Taliesin. A dusty tag with the numeral “80” and “Wesley Jung, Certified Public Accountant, Sheboygan, Wisconsin” was on the floor in the back of the carriage. Through the fading “Cherokee Red” paint along the sides of the body could be seen the shadow of the lettering for Hillside Home School. (We know from the local Spring Green newspaper that the carriage was actually manufactured in 1894 and delivered to the school in April of that year.)
Only a piece of Inventory number 81 Steel Tired Hunting Brake (more commonly spelled “Break”) 1890 E and insured for $150 remained at Midway Barn. While pulling out bits and pieces, we found a seat back with the Wesley W. Jung tag and numeral “81” attached. (Further research led me to believe that this carriage may have gone to Jackson Kemper, Barrington Hills, IL, for restoration [Jackson’s cousin Patty Kemper Kaeser and her architect husband, Bill, were frequent guests at Taliesin]. June Butler Kemper, Jackson’s second wife, remembers one of the Wright carriages with fleur di leis decoration was given to Jackson. John Greenall, carriage collector, bought a break from Jackson in the 1980’s that was very old. It had steel tires and a fleur di leis cut into the seat riser panel. It later sold at Martin’s Carriage Auction.)
Inventory number 82 Rubber Tired 4 passenger Dos-a-dos 1890 E acquired from Frank Lloyd Wright and insured for $125 was pulled out into the daylight. There is no photograph of this carriage that I have seen from the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives. It does not have a maker’s tag. It does have the original “white” rubber on the wheels, is four passenger and has back to back (Dos`a Dos or Do-si-Do) seating. It has the original paint and real louvers on the body sides so that hunting dogs could be carried underneath the front seat. This carriage could also be called a Hunting Trap or a Dog Cart Phaeton. It is unlikely to have been part of the Hillside Home School property. How and why it came to Taliesin remains a mystery.
Insurance Inventory numbers 83 and 84 Side Spring, 2 passenger Cutter acquired from Frank Lloyd Wright and each insured for $25 has no estimated date of manufacture. At one time there must have been two of these cutters but only one remains at Taliesin. We brought it into the light in several pieces and fitted the pieces together to see the little Portland-style sleigh with side springs. It has a maker’s tag—OWOSSO CGE & SLEIGH, Owosso, Michigan. A little of its carpet and a tattered piece of its maroon mohair upholstery remain. (After doing some research, I know that the Owosso Carriage & Sleigh Co. was in operation between 1906—1921.) It is possible that this cutter came from the Hillside Home School and was used in the school’s sleigh rides. It could have been pictured in the Lloyd-Jones sleigh ride photo (second row on right) as the dates of the manufacture and the dates of the photo coincide. However there is no definitive proof.
We moved parts of the final carriage remaining at Taliesin outside to photograph. It is a Side Bar Sailor Wagon with wood body panels pressed in a basket weave pattern. Only two wheels remain. It is very old and probably came from the Hillside Home School collection. I surmise that even in the 1950’s this vehicle’s deteriorated condition kept it from being sent to Sheboygan for possible restoration. No photographic evidence of it has been found in the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives. It remains shrouded in mystery.
Though I couldn’t discover everything about the carriages at Taliesin, I do believe that in addition to the vehicles that came along with the Hillside Home School property, other carriages were added. Many of the carriages were used by Wright, his family and the Fellowship for transportation and later, recreation. Several carriages were taken to Wesley Jung for restoration and/or sale and all but one of these were returned to Taliesin. They were no longer used and ended up in storage on the property.
A number of years ago the seven remaining carriages were moved to a property adjoining Taliesin. They remain to remind us of Taliesin’s past; waiting for the master who never again will come to drive.