I bought Regency Redux the first week it was out, and I loved everything about it: the big, handsome format, the excellent production, and seeing a lot of photos for the very first time. The only thing missing was a mention of Rue Winterbotham Carpenter.
So I wrote to Emily, told her about Rue, and told her that if she was ever planning on coming to Chicago, to let me know, because I would try to get us in to see the interior of the Casino. She wrote back right away, saying “I’ll be there on May 1 to give a lecture on my book at the Merchandise Mart!” So I called the only member whom I know well enough to ask the favor of getting inside, and voila!—ten weeks later, after a full background check, we were given permission to enter. I’ve been there many times, but always as an invited guest, never as a miserable, cringing supplicant. I felt as though we were going to call on the Great & Powerful OZ.
Fortunately for us, our elegant and gracious guide was patient & she showed us everything there was to see. When it came time for her to smash any hopes we had of taking a few photos of the stunning rooms, she did it in the mildest, most elegant way possible. We spent half an hour in what is—for me, anyway—another world.
Then, suddenly, we were cast back, blinded & disoriented, into the noise & dirt & chaos of a regular weekday morning in Chicago. Actually, we were in a really tony area of town, halfway between the Ritz-Carlton & The Drake Hotel, but compared to where we had been, well, there was no comparison.
Anyway, we walked back to the Merchandise Mart, stopping into Alessandra Branca’s on the way, where Emily autographed a few books, then we went up to the 8th floor of the Mart, where Emily gave her lecture to a nice-sized crowd. Afterward, she asked me if I’d like to go walk the show floor with her, looking for a few special items to feature in a piece she was doing for the Magazine Antiques. Sure I would.
Pair of French Cornucopia, circa 1840 from Mark J. West
One of the things she had already picked out was a pair of pretty blue opaline glass Victorian cornucopia vases that ended, not in a typical scroll or ram’s head but in a pair of silver hands resting on marble bases. They were beautiful. -
And here's where things get weird. A few days later, I was at the library, paging through the volume of Vogue magazine for 1930, looking for the article that Rue Carpenter had written, when, there on the page in front of me, was a photo of the very same pair of vases, featured in an unsigned piece that, having become familiar with the quirks of Rue’s writing and the kind of things she liked, I’d swear she wrote herself.
Later, I was looking through some photocopies I had made earlier, showing an apartment in an Art Deco building on Chicago’s Gold coast, an apartment that, to anybody who knows Rue Winterbotham Carpenter’s style, could only have been decorated by her, even though her name isn’t mentioned anywhere in the article. Then again, it hardly needs to be, since the apartment is that of Mrs. John H. Winterbotham. And there (cue the dissonant music) on the dining room table, and again on the table by the bed, were VERY SAME vases that, out of tens of thousands of top-quality antiques at the show, Emily had selected.
I can connect a lot of dots, but that I can’t explain that. Unless...