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What Happened During the Taliesin Massacre?

Frank Lloyd Wright is arguably America’s most beloved architect, introducing the Prairie style and forever changing residential architecture. Throughout most of his life, the sought-after designer accepted commissions from all over the country, and even the world, designing the famous Imperial Hotel in Tokyo. Taliesin, Wright’s own home in Spring Green, Wisconsin, is one of his most iconic works. But did you know what happened during the Taliesin Massacre?

The Taliesin Massacre, was when Frank Lloyd Wright’s servant barricaded his house, set it on fire, and murdered seven people with an Axe.

What is the Reason for Building the Taliesin? 

In 1889, Wright, then 21, married Catherine Kitty Tobin, with whom he would have six children, and the couple settled in Chicago’s fashionable Oak Park suburb. Soon after, the architect began an affair with Mamah Borthwick Cheney, the wife of his neighbor and client. 

Wright and Cheney left their families in 1909 to travel Europe for a year together. They were shunned by Chicago society upon their return, so they relocated to Wisconsin and built Taliesin to begin their lives anew. (Source: Architectural Digest)

How Many Times The Taliesin was Burned Down?

The Taliesin was burned down twice. Cheney and Wright’s romance ended abruptly. On August 15, 1914, a servant at Taliesin went on a murderous rampage, torching Taliesin’s private living quarters and murdering seven people with an axe, including Cheney and her two children. The house had been completely demolished. Wright, who was out of town at the time of the massacre, immediately rebuilt Taliesin, but the house burned down again in 1925 due to faulty wiring.

Again, Wright rebuilt, and the version of Taliesin that exists today is known as Taliesin III. You can see some evidence of the fires: while most of Wright’s art collection was destroyed in the blazes, some pieces survived, and were blackened, the architect included some of these burnt works in Taliesin III. (Source: Architectural Digest)

Did Wright Finish the Taliesin? 

Wright was constantly modifying Taliesin until his death. There are 200 documented changes, ranging from major ones like room additions to minor ones like painting walls, and there were most likely many more. The conversion of a chicken coop into a dormitory for the architecture school was one of the most recent changes to the property. 

I wanted a home where icicles by invitation might beautify the eaves. So there were no gutter

Frank Lloyd Wright

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Works were Constructed on the Estate

In 1886, Chicago architect Joseph Lyman Silsbee designed the Unity Chapel for Wright’s maternal family, the Lloyd Jones family. The chapel’s interior, which is located just off the estate, was designed by Wright, who was 18 at the time. However, Wright’s first solo project was on the property itself.

In 1887, his aunts Jane and Ellen Lloyd Jones commissioned Wright to design the structure for their Hillside Home School, which he later demolished. A second structure he created for the school in 1901 still stands on the property today as part of Taliesin’s School of Architecture. (Source: Architectural Digest)

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