As a (somewhat) new resident of Chicago, I had been eagerly awaiting the arrival of warm spring weather to make a field trip to the nearby suburb of Oak Park. This town was home for not one but two iconic figures in 20th century American art and history: the architect Frank Lloyd Wright, and the author Ernest Hemingway.
Visitors to Oak Park can see the home in which Hemingway grew up. Here is my rudimentary cell phone photo (left) of the Hemingway house. While looking at the front porch, I couldn’t help but recall the passages from In Our Time, when the war-weary young veteran returns home to his Midwestern home town. As he sits on his front porch, watching the “nice girls” walk past him on the sidewalk, he feels miles away from the street at which he stares. This is the porch Hemingway had in mind while writing, these are the very same streets he looked out on.
Just a few blocks away, the visitor to Oak Park enters the Historic Frank Lloyd Wright District, where a casual stroll will take you past a dozen homes designed and built by Frank Lloyd Wright, including the home that Wright himself lived in (photo to the right). For the price of a modest admission ticket, you can enter into the Wrights’ home and see where he drew, ate, and played with this children. You can see the mundane and the intimate – like the closet where he kept his pants, the cradle in which his children slept. But you can also glimpse the grandiose – like the drafting tables on which he sketched every single one of his early, novel homes – the projects that would forever change American architecture. This is a field trip worth taking!
I made the trip to Oak Park with my mother-in-law and sister-in-law. They were the perfect companions, because it is thanks to my mother-in-law that I first heard about Nancy Horan’s book, Loving Frank. The enjoyment of a great historical fiction novel is only elevated when you, as reader, then have the opportunity to step into the very scenes in which that book is set.
In Oak Park, you are able to walk the steps from Frank Lloyd Wright’s home to that of his client and later, lover, Mamah Borthwick Cheney (and the narrator of Horan’s book). In Oak Park, you can see the home that Wright built for Mamah and her husband (bottom left). This was the fateful project that introduced Wright to Mamah and began their scandalous, tumultuous, and ultimately tragic life together.