The Splendor That was Prairie Avenue

A great resource for information
about Prairie Avenue is this
"Images of America" book by
William H. Tyre.
One of the best perks to writing historical fiction is gaining a nodding acquaintance with fascinating places in the past. Some still exist today and can be visited, but most have disintegrated into a bygone time or only exist in a radically altered form.

The real life locale of much of the action in Seance in Sepia is a storied street in Chicago called Prairie Avenue. In 1875, the year my novel takes place, Prairie Avenue was the finest address one could hope to claim in that city. Chicago's elite all built mansions there after the Great Fire of 1871 destroyed much of the city center.

Household names like Marshall Fields, of department store fame, Phillip Armour of  meatpacking renown, and George Pullman of the train cars carrying his name, are just three of the millionaires who built mansions there which eventually totaled fifty in number.  Those built during the 1870's and 80's were styled in the manner the Second Empire with mansard roofs.

The home I describe my characters living in was inspired by the Daniel Thompson house. Readers of Seance in Sepia will recognize the third floor tower room in the drawing as the location where the lifeless bodies of Medora Lamb and Cameron Curtis Langley were discovered by Medora's husband, Alec Ingersoll, who was subsequently charged with their murders.

Viewing a photograph of this house and that tower room literally created the scenes of the novel in my mind. Sadly the mansion in question no longer exists. I visited the real Prairie Avenue on a trip to Chicago a number of years ago and found only remnants of its past glory. The monied interests of Chicago eventually migrated northward to the shores of Lake Michigan near the end of the 19th century. The encroaching heavy industry and the growing rail lines in the Prairie Avenue area made it a less than desirable place to live for families who could afford to live anywhere.

A few mansions remain and one, the Glessner House, is now operating as a restored Museum. It has a website listing events there:

The elegance of Victorian Chicago can be experienced or at least imagined there.

Seance in Sepia is available for purchase from Amazon.com and other fine online retailers. Or ask for it at your local library. 


Meg said...

What a fabulous blog! I looooove Chicago history - thanks for the tip on Prairie Avenue. I'll be checking out Seance in Sepia and your other books too, Michelle. Thanks!

Michelle Black said...

Meg--Thanks for stopping by my neck of the web!