History of Gertrude - History


A former name retained.

(ScStr. t. 350; 1. 156'; b. 21'; dph. 11'; a. 2 12-pdr. r.,
6 24 pdr. how.)

Iron steamer Gertrude, a British blockade runner, was built in Greenock, Scotland, in 1863. She was captured 16 April 1863 by Vanderbilt off Eleuthera Island and purchased from the New York Prize Court by the Navy 4 June 1863. Gertrude was fitted out at New York Navy Yard and commissioned there 22 July 1863, Acting Master Walter K Cressy in command.

Assigned to the West Gulf Blockading Squadron under Rear Admiral Farragut, Gertrude arrived off Mobile in early August and on 16 August captured Confederate blockade runner Warrior following a 9-hour chase. After taking her prize to New Orleans, Gertrude was assigned blockade duty off that port. She served as a blockading ship, alternating between New Orleans and Mobile, until May 1864, and was credited with the capture of schooner Ellen 16 January 1864. During this period she also spent short periods at Ship Island, Miss., and New Orleans for repairs.

Beginning in May 1864, Gertrude was assigned to blockade the Texas coast, and spent most of the next year off Galveston. She visited blockading stations off Sabine Pass and Velasco, and took blockade runner Eco off Galveston 19 Feburary 1865. Gertrude also captured over 50 bales of cotton 19 April 1865 which were thrown overboard by famous Confederate blockade runner Denbigh' during her escape from the blockading fleet.

Gertrude decommissioned 11 August 1865 at the Philadelphia Navy Yard and was sold 30 November at New York to George Wright. She was redocumented Gussie Telfair in 1866 and sailed as a merchantman until 1878.

Gertrude the Great

Gertrude the Great (or Saint Gertrude of Helfta Italian: Santa Gertrude January 6, 1256 – November 17, 1302 [1] ) was a German Benedictine nun, mystic, and theologian. She is recognized as a saint by the Catholic Church and by The Episcopal Church. In addition to being commemorated in the Episcopal Calendar of Saints on November 19, Gertrude is inscribed in the General Roman Calendar for optional celebration throughout the Roman Rite, as a memorial on November 16.

Searching for Gertrude Bell: How the colonial 'mother' of modern Iraq was snubbed by history books and museums alike

The role Bell played in the formation of the nation — especially remarkable back then as a woman in a very male-dominated world — is largely unknown by most Iraqis.

A picture shows the grave of British archaeologist, writer, diplomat and spy Gertrude Bell (1868-1926), with a plate mentioning the name of Tamara Chalabi, from an influential Iraqi family who grew up in exile and returned to Iraq in 2005 after the US-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein, after Miss Chalabi paid to repair and clean Bell's grave, in the cemetery of the Protestant Christians in Baghdad on 18 May 2021. AFP.

For someone credited with being an architect of the nation, the grave of British archaeologist, writer, diplomat and spy Gertrude Bell in the Iraqi capital Baghdad is hard to find.

Down an alley in the heart of the capital, through a heavy locked gate into the Protestant cemetery, and then amid a confusing maze of gravestones, caretaker Ali Mansour leads the way.

"Miss Bell", as the Iraqis call her, played a key role in forging modern Iraq a century ago.

She helped redraw the map of the Middle East as the Ottoman Empire was crumbling after defeat in World War I, based on intelligence she gathered during extensive travels with Bedouin tribes.

The controversial role Britain and its rival France played in dividing the region by creating new borders and nations reverberates in conflicts and politics today.

But the role Bell played in the formation of the nation — especially remarkable back then as a woman in a very male-dominated world — is largely unknown by most Iraqis.

Scattered artificial flowers lie on her simple yellow-stone tomb.

"Those who do come leave real ones, but I take them off quickly because they wilt in heat," said Mansour, the 77-year-old caretaker, who inherited his job from his stepfather, who got it from the British more than 60 years ago.

Bell's role was key in expanding Iraq to include the vast northern regions of Kurdistan and Mosul, including valuable oil fields.

'Author' of Iraq's creation

The inscriptions on her gravestone are weathered and hard to read, but record that she died in 1926, at the age of 57.

"I felt tremendously sad for this woman, who I feel had done so much for the country — not only in terms of being an author of its creation," said writer and historian Tamara Chalabi, a specialist on Bell.

"She was in a sense a 'mother of Iraq' if you like, for better or worse." Fiercely intelligent and a masterful linguist fluent in Arabic and Farsi, the daring Bell carved out a unique place for herself in the macho world of British colonial administration.

A picture shows Ali Mansour, the care taker of the cemetery of the Protestant Christians in Baghdad, where British archaeologist, writer, diplomat and spy Gertrude Bell (1868-1926) is buried, on 18 May 2021. Down an alley in the heart of the Iraqi capital, through a heavy locked gate into the Protestant cemetery, and then amid a confusing maze of gravestones, caretaker Mansour leads the way to show visitors the tombs of historic figures. AFP.

She was instrumental in Faisal I becoming the ruler of the new Kingdom of Iraq, founded in 1921, under the grip of British forces.

But her greatest pride was the construction of the Iraq Museum in Baghdad, a treasure trove of priceless items from some of the most ancient civilisations.

When Chalabi, from an influential Iraqi family but who grew up in exile, returned to Iraq in 2005 after the US-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein, she was surprised at how few knew about Bell.

For Chalabi, it is "not only" because Bell was a woman that she has been largely forgotten.

"I think there is a problem with the way history has been taught in Iraq. people don't have good sense of their heritage, so it goes beyond Gertrude," Chalabi told AFP.

"For me, it's a problem of Iraqi and Baghdadis' identity. when you talk about culture and heritage and history, it is a very monolithic story."

In a country which will celebrate its centenary next year, the history books have been modified by revolutions, coups, dictatorships and regime changes — and schooling disrupted by years of devastating war.

"I studied the modern history of my country between the ages of 12 and 15," said Heidi, a 23-year-old Iraqi student.

"You had to learn dates, but Gertrude Bell's name was never mentioned."

'Interests of the Crown'

But there are critics too.

For Ali al-Nashmi, professor of history at Baghdad's Munstansariya University, Bell has faded from the country's story for a reason — her role benefitted Britain and "only served the interests of the Crown, not those of the Iraqis".

In the West, on the other hand, Bell's role has been somewhat rehabilitated in popular memory in recent years, with several new biographies and histories written, and Werner Herzog's 2015 film Queen of the Desert, in which Nicole Kidman played Bell.

Chalabi helped repair and clean Bell's grave, planting trees around it and attaching a small metal plaque beside it. "In recognition of Gertrude Bell's historic contribution to Iraq," it reads.

To find a trace of Bell today, you have to go to the Iraq Museum.

A list of names of the chiefs of Iraq's Antiquities and Heritage Authority inscribed on a door at its premises in the capital Baghdad, topped by Gertrude Bell who was director between 1922-1926. AFP

In his office, Laith Hussein, the director of Iraq's state board of antiquities and heritage, shows a wooden board on the wall inscribed with the names of his predecessors.

Top of the list is Gertrude Bell, with her dates as director, 1922-1926.

"She has never been forgotten," Hussein said. "She established the Iraq Museum and contributed to the country's first archaeological structure."

However, her statue, erected by Faisal I, disappeared during the looting of the museum amid the chaos that followed the US-led invasion of 2003.

"We still have not found it," Hussein said.

Updated Date: June 02, 2021 16:59:46 IST

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Who We Are : Our Story

was almost 22 years old when 1900 arrived and had almost 78 more birthdays in her future. Her family moved to New Orleans during her early childhood, and she eventually married into one of the families whose name was associated with the funeral business. Her first marriage was to Clem Geddes who died in 1913. He was one of the three sons of George Geddes, pioneer in the funeral business who had a establishment on Rampart Street. His other sons also established separate funeral buinesses. One became proprietor of Joseph P. Geddes Funeral Home, and the other became co-proprietor of Geddes and Richards Funeral Home. In 1919 she became the wife of a local dentist and businessman, Dr. William A. Willis, who died in 1947.

Clem and Arnold Moss Had established Geddes & Moss Undertaking Parlor in 1909. After the deaths of her husbands and partner, Gertrude filed for reorganization and renamed the business Gertrude Geddes Willis Funeral Home and Life Insurance Company, which name it bears today. She expanded the facility and increased services.

Probably the fact that she was hailed as a millionaire would seem less important to her than her community services and professional impact on other African-American women who desired to enter the same business. She advised, assisted, and encouraged several of those who sought her counsel. It was also her practice to hold membership in civic, social, and fraternal organizations. Included among these were local, state and national associations of funeral directors. Memberships in Crescent City Funeral Directors and Embalming Association of New Orleans and the National Insurance Association NIA provided opportunity for her to meet with fellow professionals. It was her pleasure to hold office in the Ladies Auxiliary of the Knights of Peter Claver Court #52 of Holy Ghost Catholic Church which she served as treasurer for many years. She was a member of the NAACP, Urban League, and other Organizations, continuing to maintain an interest in some of the social clubs to which male members of her family belonged, such as the Orignal Illinois and the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club.

Gertrude Bell

‘Queen of the Desert’ and the female ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ are just some of the names attributed to the intrepid female traveller Getrude Bell. At a time when a woman’s role was still very much in the home, Bell proved what an accomplished woman could achieve.

Gertrude Bell became a crucial figure in the British Empire, a well-known traveller as well as writer, her in-depth knowledge of the Middle East proved to be her making.

Such was the scope of her influence, particularly in modern-day Iraq, that she was known to be “one of the few representatives of His Majesty’s Government remembered by the Arabs with anything resembling affection”. Her knowledge and decisions were trusted by some of the most important British government officials, helping to define a region as well as break new ground as a woman exerting power in the same sphere as her male counterparts.

As a woman seeking to fulfil her own ambitions she benefited enormously from the encouragement and financial backing of her family. She was born in July 1868 at Washington New Hall in County Durham, to a family that was purported to be the sixth richest family in the country.

Gertrude aged 8 with her father

Whilst she lost her mother at a very young age, her father, Sir Hugh Bell, 2nd Baronet became an important mentor throughout her life. He was a wealthy mill owner whilst her grandfather was the industrialist, Sir Isaac Lowthian Bell, also a Liberal Member of Parliament in the time of Disraeli.

Both men in her life would have an important influence on her as she was exposed to an internationalism and deep intellectual discussions from a young age. Moreover, her stepmother, Florence Bell was said to have had a strong influence on Gertrude’s ideas of social responsibility, something that would feature later in her dealings in modern-day Iraq.

From this grounding and supportive family base, Gertrude went on to receive an esteemed education at Queen’s College in London, followed by Lady Margaret Hall at Oxford to study History. It was here that she first made history as the first female to graduate in Modern History with a first class honours degree, completed in only two years.

Shortly afterwards, Bell began to indulge her passion for travel as she accompanied her uncle, Sir Frank Lascelles who was the British minister in Tehran, Persia. It was this journey which became the focus of her book, “Persian Pictures”, containing a documented account of her travels.

In the following decade she was destined to travel the globe, visiting numerous locations whilst learning a variety of new skills, becoming adept in French, German, Arabic and Persian.

Aside from her linguistic expertise, she also applied her passion for mountaineering, spending several summers scaling the Alps. Her dedication was evident when in 1902 she almost lost her life after treacherous weather conditions left her hanging for 48 hours on a rope. Her pioneering spirit would remain undeterred and she would soon apply her undaunted attitude to new ambitions, this time in the Middle East.

Her tours of the Middle East over the course of the next twelve years, would inspire and educate Bell who would apply her knowledge during the outbreak of World War One.

Intrepid, determined and unafraid to challenge gender roles at the time, Bell embarked on sometimes perilous journeys which were physically demanding as well as potential dangerous. Nevertheless, her appetite for adventure did not quell her passion for fashion and luxury as she was said to travel with candlesticks, a Wedgwood dinner service and fashionable garments for the evening. Despite this love of comfort, her awareness of threats would lead her to conceal guns underneath her dress just in case.

By 1907 she produced one of many publications detailing her observations and experiences of the Middle East entitled, “Syria: the Desert and the Sown”, providing great detail and intrigue about some of the most important locations in the Middle East.

In the same year she turned her attention towards another one of her passions, archaeology, a study which she had grown interested in on a trip to the ancient city of Melos in Greece.

Now a frequent traveller and visitor of the Middle East she accompanied Sir William Ramsay on an excavation of Binbirkilise, a location within the Ottoman Empire known for its Byzantine church ruins.

On another occasion one of her intrepid journeys took her along the Euphrates River, allowing Bell to discover further ruins in Syria, documenting her discoveries with notes and photographs as she went.

Her passion for archaeology took her to the region of Mesopotamia, now part of modern-day Iraq but also parts of Syria and Turkey in Western Asia. It was here that she visited the ruins of Ukhaidir and travelled on to Babylon before returning to Carchemish. In conjunction with her archaeological documentation she consulted with two archaeologists, one of whom was T.E. Lawrence who at the time was an assistant to Reginald Campbell Thompson.

Bell’s report of the fortress of Al-Ukhaidir was the first in-depth observation and documentation regarding the site, which serves as an important example of Abbasid architecture dating back to 775 AD. It was to be a fruitful and valuable excavation uncovering a complex of halls, courtyards and living quarters, all stationed in a defensive position along a crucial ancient trading route.

Her passion and increasing knowledge of history, archaeology and the culture of the region became increasingly evident as her final Arabian trip in 1913 took her 1800 miles across the peninsula, encountering some dangerous and hostile conditions.

With much of her time taken up by travelling, educational pursuits and pastimes she never married or had any children, although she did engage in an affair with a couple of individuals from the British colonial administration, one of whom sadly lost his life during World War One.

Whilst her personal life took a backseat, her passion for the Middle East would serve her in good stead when the ensuing global conflict of World War One necessitated intelligence from people who understood the region and its people.

Bell was the perfect candidate and soon worked her way up through the colonial ranks, breaking new ground as she had done at university, to become the only woman working for the British in the Middle East.

Gertrude Bell with Sir Winston Churchill, T. E. Lawrence and other delegates at the Cairo Conference 1921.

Her credentials were essential for British colonial success, as a woman who could speak several local languages as well as having travelled frequently enough to become accustomed to the tribal differences, local allegiances, power plays and such, her information was invaluable.

So much so, that some of her publications were used in the British army as a kind of guide book for the new soldiers arriving in Basra.

By 1917 she was serving as Chief Political Officer to the British Resident in Baghdad, providing the colonial officials with her local knowledge and expertise.

During her time serving the British Army in the Middle East she also encountered T.E Lawrence whilst working in the Arab Bureau in Cairo, gathering intelligence on the Ottoman Empire.

The British attempts to defeat the Ottoman Empire were significantly challenging, suffering numerous defeats, until that was, Lawrence launched his plan to recruit local Arabs in order to propel the Ottomans out of the region. Such a plan was supported and assisted by none other than Gertrude Bell.

Eventually this plan came to fruition and the British bore witness to the defeat of one of the most powerful all-encompassing empires of the last few centuries, the Ottoman Empire.

Whilst the war was over, her influence and interest in the region had not diminished as she took on a new role as Oriental Secretary. This position was that of a mediator between the British and Arabs, leading to her publication, “Self-Determination in Mesopotamia”.

Such knowledge and expertise led to her incorporation into the Peace Conference of 1919 in Paris followed by the Conference of 1921 in Cairo attended by Winston Churchill.

Cairo Conference of 1921

As part of her post-war role, she would prove instrumental in shaping the modern-day country of Iraq, initiating borders as well as installing the future leader, King Faisal in 1922.

Her dedication to the region continued as she was keen to preserve Iraq’s rich cultural heritage and for the rest of her time dedicated herself to such a task.

The new leader, King Faisal, even named Gertrude Bell as the director of antiquities at the new National Museum of Iraq housed in Baghdad. The museum opened in 1923 owing much of its creation, collections and cataloguing to Bell.

Her involvement in the museum was destined to be her last project as she died from an overdose of sleeping pills in Baghdad in July 1926. Such was her impact that King Faisal arranged a military funeral for her and she was laid to rest in the British Civil Cemetery in Baghdad, a fitting tribute to a woman who had dedicated and spent much of her life absorbed in the culture and heritage of the Middle East.

Jessica Brain is a freelance writer specialising in history. Based in Kent and a lover of all things historical.

Notable Artwork

Hestercombe Garden remains her signature flower garden and her well-known legacy. Before she took over the management of the garden, it was wedged between nature and artifice. Some people believed that the garden should be left to follow its natural course while others argued that the gardener's purpose in the garden is to remove unwanted plants that coursed interference and keep the garden in shape. Jekyll found a compromise between the two concepts by introducing flower borders that combined elegant lines, forms, structure, and natural effects.

Between 1881 and 1883 she purchased Munstead Wood close to her home. Over several years she transformed the land by allowing the woodland to grow back and thinning younger trees. She created various combination using several species of plants, and the resulting woodland was accessible by a series of long woodland walks along specific paths. The garden became popular among visitors may of who tried applying the design in their own homes.

Holy Cat

So like, you know, that’s cool and all , but where do the cats come in? Come for the Catholicism, stay for the cats, am I right? Well, it all started out with the whole rats and mice thing. Rodents were a huge problem in the Medieval Ages, we know this. When someone wanted to get rid of a rat infestation, they called upon Saint Gertrude. As such, much of the iconography that surrounds Saint Gertrude includes little rats and mice at her feet. Did people in the Medieval times necessarily know that rats carried with them the Black Death? Weirdly enough, probably no t . At least not for like, a while. Yikes.

In the 1980s, devoted Christian Gertrude-lovers took the leap from associating Gertrude as a rodent-banisher to a protector of cats (who, you know, are also rodent-banishers.) To quote Thomas J. Craughwell, “St. Gertrude is invoked against mice and rats, which has led cat lovers to assume that Gertrude was a cat person, and so the ideal patron of their favorite pet.” Now that’s some logic I can get behind.

Clark, Carolee. Saint Gertrude of Nivelles, Patron of Cats and Gardeners. Acrylic Painting. Purchase print here.

History of the Barber National Institute

As an administrator in the Erie School District, Dr. Gertrude Barber was faced with a difficult task: telling parents that there was no place for their children with disabilities. These youngsters would either have to be educated at home, or sent to a distant institution to live.

Dr. Barber believed that there had to be a better way, and her vision would change the landscape of modern education forever. She began meeting with parents and, in 1952, borrowed a room from the local YMCA to begin the first class for students with intellectual disabilities.

As word of her work spread, Dr. Barber began opening more classrooms and services throughout Erie to provide education and training opportunities for children and adults with disabilities. When the City of Erie closed its communicable disease hospital in Erie&rsquos east Bayfront neighborhood in 1958, the Barber Center had its first permanent home.

Over the course of the next six decades, what would become the Barber National Institute would help make dreams come true for thousands of people with disabilities and their families. In carrying out the late Dr. Barber's legacy, the organization she founded remains committed to combining the best research with training and education - resulting in the finest prescriptive programming in the nation.

A history of St. Gertrude: One hundred years in the life of a faith family

This abridged history of the St. Gertrude Roman Catholic parish in the Edgewater neighborhood of Chicago was read at Pentecost mass on May 27, 2012. The full history is to be published later this year.

Eileen Quinlan and the other parishioners here and there in the pews of St. Gertrude church knew something was wrong. Nine a.m. had come and gone, and, though the minutes ticked away, Father Bill Kenneally hadn’t arrived at the altar to start mass.

“Then he came out, and he was white,” Quinlan remembers. “He said he just watched the second plane hit the building. He was so shaken, he could hardly say mass.”

The bright, sparkling, clear-skied Tuesday was September 11, 2001.

In the hours and months that followed, the people of St. Gertrude drew together as a faith family to confront the terror, confusion and anger of that day.

They provided support for each other as they had in fine times and dark times since the founding of the Roman Catholic community in 1912. They reached out to the rest of the Edgewater neighborhood. And they pondered the meaning of the day and what God was calling them to do in response.

Inside the rectory, telephone calls were quickly made to the leaders of Christian, Jewish and Islamic congregations to plan an interfaith service in the church on the following Sunday.

To help the older children at the St. Gertrude campus of Northside Catholic Academy cope with the shocks of the day, Father Kenneally led a prayer service at lunch time in the school cafeteria.

The doors of the church were left open for anyone who wanted to pray quietly.

That night, the Filipino members of St. Gertrude were in the midst of their annual novena to Our Lady of Penafrancia. A mass in response to the terrorist attacks of the day was joined with the novena, and 300 to 400 people attended.

“The church was packed, even though there was no notice,” recalls Carol Clennon, a lifetime member of the parish. “Like pilgrims, they just came.”

Coming to church that night felt, Margie Skelly says, “very much like the obvious thing to do.”

What mattered, she says, wasn’t so much the prayers said or songs sung but “the presence of all those people feeling vulnerable and connected to each other at the same time. Being at church felt like the absolute best place to be.”

Many, varied perspectives

Unlike many Catholic parishes in Chicago, St. Gertrude has never been identified with a single ethnic group. Rather, it has been a religious family where, over the course of a century, people of diverse backgrounds, viewpoints and social status have searched together to understand the message of Jesus and carry it out.

“This is a faith-filled community that really wrestles with the issues of its faith and its place in today’s society,” says Father Dominic Grassi who, in 2006, became the sixth St. Gertrude pastor.

The initial pioneers were immigrants from Germany, Ireland and Luxembourg, and, because Edgewater offered a wide range of housing — from mansions to apartments to two-flats and single-family homes — they represented many rungs on the socio-economic ladder.

By the 1980s, the people in the pews included immigrants with roots in other places ¬¬¬— Italy, the Philippines, Mexico, Poland, Nigeria and other parts of Africa. The blue-collar flavor of the parish was shifting as college-educated professionals from across the city, the nation and the world were moving in. Also arriving were many gay men and lesbians, individually and in couples, attracted by the openness of the St. Gertrude faith family.

The multiplicity of perspectives that such diversity entails has helped the parish develop a flair for learning and innovation. But it has also led, at times, to friction.

Through it all, though, the people of St. Gertrude have found a way to worship together and live together despite their differences.

Valiant and wonderful

In 1910, Catholics living in the northern portion of St. Ita parish were chafing at the inconvenience of traveling a mile or more each Sunday for mass. A year later, three men from the neighborhood met with Archbishop James Quigley and made their case for a new parish.

He agreed. And the new St. Gertrude parish was established on January 3, 1912, with Father Peter Shewbridge as pastor.

Like the early Christians, the people of St. Gertrude had to improvise in those initial days of the parish.

On Friday, Feb. 2, Father Shewbridge celebrated the first mass in the new parish in the apartment at 6328 N. Magnolia. where he was living. Two days later, he presided at two masses in the auditorium of the Hayt School for a total of 257 people.

The collection that day was $46.26 — or the equivalent of $1,040 in today’s money.

For seven more weeks, during a bitter Chicago winter, Father Shewbridge and parishioners met for mass at Hayt. That meant toting the altar, linens, chalice, hosts and other necessities six blocks from the Magnolia apartment and from a nearby store, and back again.

Meanwhile, construction was underway on a temporary wood-frame, one-story church on land now occupied by the St. Gertrude rectory. It was completed in time so that services could be held there on Palm Sunday, March 31.

While a testament to the determination of the pioneer parishioners, the structure was unheated, and, according to parish lore, there were times when Father Shewbridge would have to place his hands around the cruets for a few moments to thaw the contents before pouring the wine and water at the Offertory.

That building was one of two churches that St. Gertrude parishioners erected in the space of less than a year. The second — a three-story, red-brick combination church-school structure — was built at 6216 N. Glenwood and dedicated by Archbishop Quigley on Dec. 1.

Three months earlier, the parish school had opened for 80 pupils in temporary quarters in the former Lucas home on Granville near Broadway. Overseeing the education of the youngsters were the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary (known as the BVMs), under the leadership of Sister Mary Verena. It was a task the BVMs would carry out for the next seven decades.

The parish boomed, and parishioners planned and collected money for a new church on the northwest corner of Granville and Glenwood, as well as for a rectory and a convent. Leading the effort was Father Bernard Heeney, who had replaced Father Shewbridge as pastor in 1918.

The new residences for the parish priests and sisters were constructed in 1929, and the limestone for the church had been cut and paid for when the stock market crashed.

Given the dire economic circumstances, Father Heeney wanted to delay construction of the church. But the people of the parish insisted that the building go ahead.

One example of the sacrifices they made: Parish women donated wedding rings and other jewelry to be melted down and fashioned into a solid gold chalice festooned with 30 diamonds, rubies and other gems, commemorating the dedication of the new church on Nov. 15, 1931.

The cost of the new church, rectory and convent came to $600,000, or the equivalent of $9 million in today’s money. It was one of the few large structures of any sort built in Chicago during the Depression.

Woven lives

At the age of 91, Ann Corso was in a nursing facility. She hadn’t had a home in St. Gertrude parish for more than 20 years. Yet, when her daughter Madaline Kiedysz would come to visit her, she had questions upon questions about her old friends and neighbors.

When she died in March, 2012, her funeral was at St. Gertrude.

“We weave our lives into and out of so many other lives and families,” says Kiedysz, “and we are all connected by one common thing, the yarn that is St. Gertrude’s.

“It reminds me also,” she says, “of the prayer shawls that the women in the parish make now and again, how the prayers are woven into the yarn and without words offer comfort to those who receive them.”

The middle of the 20th century when Ann Corso was living on Wayne Avenue was an era in Chicago when a neighborhood was known by its Catholic church, even among non-Catholics.

The children of St. Gertrude called their area the Turf. North of Devon Avenue, in the St. Ignatius parish — that was the Patch. “It was foreign territory,” says Dick Merrill. “It was like you were going to a different city.”

In the 1940s, when Carol Corbett was in St. Gertrude school, she remembers, “We wore uniforms — a navy-blue dress with long sleeves, a red tie and a white collar and cuffs which had snaps on them.”

Report cards were handed out in the classroom by one of the parish priests, and Corbett says, “When being dismissed from school, we marched out in twos while the music of John Philip Sousa was being played.”

Scores of BVM sisters shepherded and mentored generations of St. Gertrude children. “We loved those ladies,” wrote John Gaughan in a 1998 reminiscence.

He remembered the priests fondly as well: “We would knock on the rectory door and ask Fr. Tom Fitzgerald for $1 so we could go to the Protestant church on the corner of Granville and Greenview and rent the gym for an hour or so. He always said, ‘Yes.’ ”

Over the past century, tens of thousands of people have been members of St. Gertrude parish.

They’ve been baptized, taken First Holy Communion, been confirmed, married, ordained, been given the Last Rites. They’ve learned about God and learned about life and learned about each other.

Some parishioners have won fame. But most have been everyday people, such as Catherine Healy, a truant officer, and Frank Combiths, a produce merchant and one of the parish founders….

And James Ennis, a handwriting expert, and Benita Coffey, who grew up at St. Gertrude and has spent a lifetime with the Benedictine Sisters of Chicago, and John and Honor Loarie who celebrated their golden wedding anniversary in 1957, and Delle Chatman, a playwright and screenwriter…

And James Manning, a welder, and Janine Denomme, a gay rights activist, and Margaret Baynes, a women’s wear buyer, and Marty Hegarty, a resigned priest, and Denis Quinlan, a public relations executive, and Sister Dolores Perry, a BVM nun who taught in the parish school…

And Mary Heidkamp, Pat Conway and Kathleen O’Toole, stalwart volunteers and leaders, killed in an auto-truck collision in 2008 while returning from the funeral of another longtime parish member.

Today, Madaline Kiedysz sums up the deep affection that generations of parishioners have felt for St. Gertrude by saying,

In February of this year, she attended the funeral of seven-year-old Jake Wons, a second-grader at the St. Gertrude campus of the Northside Catholic Academy who had lost his battle with cancer.

“I looked around the church,” she says, “and saw that all this is still going on — this entwining of families, many that are so familiar to me and many more that are not. And I was overwhelmed by the strength and compassion of our community.

“It felt wonderful knowing that the potholder is still being woven.”


The mansion was modeled on the chateaux of the Loire Valley in France. [1] Architecture critic Henry Hope Reed Jr. has observed about it:

The fortress heritage of the rural, royal residences of the Loire was not lost in the transfer to New York. The roof-line is very fine. The Gothic is found in the high-pitched roof of slate, the high, ornate dormers and the tall chimneys. The enrichment is early Renaissance, especially at the center dormers on both facades of the building, which boast colonnettes, broken entablatures, finials on high bases, finials in relief and volutes. In fact, although the dormers are ebullient, ornamentation is everywhere, even in the diamond-shaped pattern in relief on the chimneys (traceable to Chambord). [6]

The first floor was a large center hall with rooms on each side for reception and servants activities. The second floor housed the main salon, the dining room and the butler's pantry. The third floor was where the master bedroom was located while the fourth floor housed the servants quarters and guest bedrooms.

Although the house had been commissioned by Gertrude Rhinelander Waldo, the eccentric heiress never moved into it, preferring to live across the street. [1] The building remained vacant until 1921, at which time the first floor was converted into stores and two apartments were carved out of the upper four floors. Commercial enterprises which have used the location at various times include an antique store, Christie's auction house and a Zabar's-owned restaurant. [2]

Photographer Edgar de Evia first saw the duplex apartment on the fourth and fifth floors when it was occupied by Dr. Stanton, a homeopathic physician who de Evia consulted on the recommendation of Dr. Guy Beckley Stearns, for whom de Evia worked as a researcher. When de Evia's photographic career was taking off in the late 1940s the duplex became available and he rented it as his home with his companion and business partner Robert Denning and his mother Miirrha Alhambra, the former Paula Joutard de Evia. It would remain his home for over 15 years.

The building was owned by the 867 Madison Corporation in the 1950s, which offered it to de Evia for sale or net lease in 1956. At that time he created Denvia Realty Corporation with his partner Denning and they entered into a ten-year net lease, becoming the landlords of the building. [7] At this time de Evia and Denning began using the entire third floor for de Evia's studios, while the fourth floor, the lower floor of their original duplex, contained the living room, dining room, ballroom and de Evia's mother's bedroom. The fifth and top floor contained the master bedroom which had a bathroom at either end and the servants' rooms. Offices on the second floor were rented to the interior decorators Tate and Hall, among others. The shops on the street level included the Pharmacy on the corner and the Rhinelander Florist on the Madison Avenue side.

After meeting Vincent Fourcade in 1959, Denning started to entertain prospective decorating clients in the apartment while de Evia was at his Greenwich, Connecticut estate. These included Ogden and Lillian Phipps and led to the forming of Denning & Fourcade. [8]

By 1963, de Evia took the fifth floor and converted it into his own residence, opening up the smaller rooms. The 10 rooms on the fourth floor were at this time rented to the restaurateur Larry Ellman, owner of the Cattleman Restaurant. [9]

During the Denvia net lease the building was sold by the 867 Madison Avenue Corporation to Central Ison, Ltd. for US$590,000. [9] From 1967 until the early 1980s a nearby church used the top two floors for their offices.

Ralph Lauren obtained the net lease in 1983 and started a massive overhaul of the building to create his Ralph Lauren flagship store. Naomi Leff supervised the rehabilitation of the building. It took around 18 months working in the final months around the clock. Published figures put the cost around $14–15 million. Ownership of the building has changed several times during his lease from US$6.4 million in 1984, five years later in 1989 it sold for US$43 million, [10] and the most recent sale in 2005 was reported at a record US$80 million. [11] [12] [13]

The Gertrude Rhinelander Waldo House was designated a New York City Landmark in 1976, [1] and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980. [3]