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

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

by William R. Drennan


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     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, near Spring Green, Wisconsin. Unaccountably, the details of that shocking crime have been largely ignored by Wright’s legion of biographers—a historical and cultural gap that is finally addressed in William Drennan’s exhaustively researched Death in a Prairie House: Frank Lloyd Wright and the Taliesin Murders.
     In response to the scandal generated by his open affair with the proto-feminist and free love advocate Mamah Borthwick Cheney, Wright had begun to build Taliesin as a refuge and "love cottage" for himself and his mistress (both married at the time to others).
      Conceived as the apotheosis of Wright’s prairie house style, 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.
     Supplying both a gripping mystery story and an authoritative portrait of the artist as a young man, Drennan wades through the myths surrounding Wright and the massacre, casting fresh light on the formulation of Wright’s architectural ideology and the cataclysmic effects that the Taliesin murders exerted on the fabled architect and on his subsequent designs.
Best Books for General Audiences, selected by the American Association of School Librarians, and Outstanding Book, selected by the Public Library Association

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780299222147
Publisher: University of Wisconsin Press
Publication date: 08/21/2008
Edition description: 1
Pages: 232
Sales rank: 276,568
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.80(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

William R. Drennan (1944-2015) was professor emeritus of English at the University of Wisconsin-Baraboo/Sauk County and adjunct instructor in the Department of English at Appalachian State University, in Boone, North Carolina.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments     xi
Prologue: The House across the River     3
Prelude to Murder: The Architect and the Feminist     5
Scandal in Oak Park     43
"A Peculiar Establishment": Life at Taliesin, 1911-1914     69
"A Summer Day That Changed the World": Murder at Taliesin     85
"I Guess You Solved the Question": The Motives, Trials, and Lonesome Death of Julian Carlton     131
Epilogue: The Legacy of Fire     154
Notes     171
Selected Bibliography     207
Index     211

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Death in a Prairie House: Frank Lloyd Wright and the Taliesin Murders 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 15 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This absolutely fascinating book, now being optioned as a major motion picture, was more than I dreamed. I thought it would be a dry, historical account of yet another Frank Lloyd Wright angle. I was ASTONISHED when I discovered that the author had a hilarious dry wit, and that the story was a page turner--sex, violence, gore, art, beauty, feminism, racism issues--nothing left out. Bloody hatchet murders, burning alive, romance, betrayal. All meticulously researched and written in a diction that intelligent people will delight in. The book is curently number ONE seller in nonfiction books on Wright, and number three in the arts. And growing in popularity. Both TV and movies are in the works, and there is NO OTHER BOOK which covers this most riveting subject. THREE THUMBS UP! HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. One of the best reads in the last 10 years.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was fantastic! It sheds some light on an overlooked period in Frank Lloyd Wright's life. While there are ultimately no answers to the mysteries involved, it is a rivoting read!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I picked up this book out of curiousity and was disappointed throughout. There was overkill with detail. As I waded through the book it was difficult to understand who was who and what was going on. If you are looking for a book that will overwhelm you with unimportant details then this is for you - otherwise try something else.
bakersfieldbarbara on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
After visiting Taliesin and other FLW structures, I began reading this book. I had a hard time putting it down. Very interesting and easy to read. I was not disappointed.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
After reading "Loving Frank", this provided more insight to Frank and Maymah's life.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I picked up this book on a whim while at Taliesin and simply could not put it down. It was absolutely riveting.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
joy70 More than 1 year ago
My book club chose this book. We live in a suburb between Chicago and the Wisconsin border so Frank Lloyd Wright is very prevelant in our area and was of interest to many of us. I have gone on the Wright tours in Oak Park, Illinois (were they are very hush hush about the Taliesin murders and literally want to sweep it under the rug..makes me wonder if that is just so they can make a buck? If people lost respect for this man not as many would spend money to come and see his work) and had read Loving Frank. A novel based on Frank Lloyd Wright's life and his life he lived with his lover. Which I loved! This book starts out so slow and boring. I know the author wants to give us background on Frank's disfunctional family..but it was so flat and boring I had a hard time getting through it. The chapter about the fire starts out so brutal...and not necessary, especially since there wasn't actually anyone there who survived to tell exactly how it happened. I do have to admit that I am glad I struggled through the book and our bookclub meeting to discuss this was one of our best discussions of a book. I really have no respect for Frank Lloyd Wright after reading this book. I didn't feel that after reading Loving Frank. Lastly, the author uses such difficult words that I found myself looking up words just to understand a sentance. I am all for learning new words but who is the author trying to impress here? (examples: consanguinity, peripetcia, atavistic, bucolic, penury, miasma...and I could go on and on). With so many great reads out there.. I definately would not recommend wasting your time on this one.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
flippinwheels More than 1 year ago
This book is a documentary of the murders at Taliesen. It's well researched, but the author's attempts to include every possibility make it a slow read. It's a good source for term papers on Frank Lloyd Wright.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is a quick read. The sections about the murders are relatively short, slightly graphic. The rest of the book deals with Wright's buildings and his unsettled family life. The most interesting parts deal with life in Chicago and rural Wisconsin in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago