I reached both milestones in the month of October. I tagged my fiftieth state, and I reached the final year of the waiting period toward universal healthcare…. One more year to go for Medicare! As my insurance agent Colleen told me during last year’s enrollment period, “You don’t have a 65th birthday party…you have a Medicare party!” Eleven months and counting…
I recently read an article in BBC.com, “Baby visits all 50 states in first six months!” Those kind of articles and milestones irk me beyond words. Really? You needed to drag your newborn to all fifty states, just to gain 15 minutes of fame on social media? The quest featured photos of “Baby Harper” being held up in front of each state line “Welcome” sign, so it wasn’t just a flight, but also involved a considerable amount of car seat drive time. They wanted “Baby Harper” to hold the record of being the youngest person to visit all 50 states, their hope being that it would “instill a sense of adventure and curiosity, and a sense of confidence in herself that she can do anything.” No, I am pretty sure what it’s going to instill is that her parents were a couple of social media attention-seeking millennial nuts. (Am I am starting to sound like the “You kids get off my lawn!” guy?)
I have now reached my goal of visiting all fifty states in the US, but I am proud to say it has taken me sixty-four years to do so. That means I have actually had a reason to visit. Not just for the sake of tagging a cut-out image on a map. That means I actually spent time there, not just connecting on a flight, or driving across the state line, stepping out of my vehicle to touch ground, and driving back. I can’t think of a single state that I didn’t at least overnight in, visit a famous landmark, try the local cuisine, or figure out what the state was proud to show off as their featured attractions. Okay, well, maybe Kansas. I went there for a business trip back in the 90’s. Sorry, Kansas, if I slighted you.
On to my 50th state…Wisconsin. What a difference it is, crossing over that mighty Mississippi River, leaving behind the ninety degree right angles of the golden cornfields of Iowa, and entering the rolling lush green hills and dairy farms of Wisconsin!
So beyond tagging my 50th state, what brings me to Wisconsin? Well, as you’ve no doubt figured out by now, I’m a big fan of Frank Lloyd Wright. Having visited his designs in Buffalo, Pennsylvania, Arkansas, Scottsdale, Manhattan, and most recently Iowa, it was high time I visited his primary home and work studio in Spring Green, Wisconsin…Taliesin.
I first fell for Frank when I was in college and took “Appreciation of Architecture” as an elective. It was by far my most memorable course attended during my 4.5 years at UT. My professor was passionate about Frank. I can still hear her voice when sounding out the name of Wright’s beloved home, “Tal-i-ESS’-in.”
Wright grew up in the Wisconsin River Valley, having been born from Welsh parents, which is the reason many of his favorite places had Welsh names. Taliesin means “Shining Brow” in Welsh, an intended name for his home to stand out among the rocks in the bluffs in the surrounding hills.
I decide to splurge on a full four hour Estate Tour, at a jolting price of $84, but I want to see it all, as it’s not likely I’ll pass this way again. I also book the first tour of the day, as I have learned it pays to be on the first tour to get out ahead of the masses. In addition to touring Wright’s home, the Estate Tour includes a walk about on the grounds, as it visits not only the home, but the other buildings on the property. It’s been raining every single day since I left Forest City, so what a treat to wake up to blue skies for the tour on this quintessential fall day!
The 800 acre property was first established in 1902 with the Hillside Home School Wright built for his aunts. You may recall, it was the affluent parents of two students of this boarding school that brought Wright’s designs to Mason City, Iowa. The Hillside School is now home of the Wright School of Architecture, a Masters level program where 20 students in residence spend a summer here and winter in Taliesin West in Scottsdale. In the fifties, the school was expanded to include a dining Hall and theater, still used for concert venues today.
Frank Lloyd Wright has been called everything from an egomaniac to a fanatic to a genius. If you have an interest in learning more about his drama-filled life, I recommend an easy read, Loving Frank, a novel penned in the voice of his muse, Mamah Borthwick Cheney, the wife of one of Frank’s clients. Wright fell in love with Mamah in the height of his career in Oak Park, Illinois, and they absconded to Europe leaving behind his wife and six children, as well as Mamah’s two children. When they returned to the US, it was amidst scandal, which prompted Wright to build his home and refuge, Taliesin, in Spring Green rather than return to Oak Park, Il.
The living quarters of Taliesin have gone through three iterations, the first of which was built in 1911. In 1914, a mentally disturbed domestic employee brutally murdered Mamah and her two children and four others in the home with an axe, and set fire to the living quarters. (Again, read the book! It’s interesting how most tours of Wright properties avoid talking about his scandals, but with Taliesin, there’s no getting around it.)
The second iteration of the living quarters, Taliesin II, was rebuilt, but was destroyed by an electrical fire in Wright’s bedroom in 1925. It was again rebuilt into the version that stands today.
Wright’s home and workshop were considered to be a laboratory of architectural design, with innovative features far ahead of his time. He continued designing right up to the end of his life to include his most famous works such as the S.C. Johnson and Wax Building, Fallingwater, and the Guggenheim Museum in Manhattan. He died while still working on the Guggenheim commission, just shy of his ninety-second birthday.
Wright died in 1959 from complications from surgery. He was originally buried in the nearby cemetery of the Unity Chapel where he completed his first architectural project on the interior at 18 years old. However, his third wife Olgivanna had his remains exhumed and cremated to be scattered with hers over Taliesin West in Scottsdale.
Although I enjoyed my brief time in the state of Wisconsin, and can see there is much to explore here, I am feeling antsy about making it back to my favorite spot in time for my favorite time of year. Having missed autumn in southern Utah last year due to my trip to Atlantic Canada, I am determined not to miss it again this year. So I make a solid U-turn in Spring Green, Wisconsin, breathing a sigh of relief as I cross back over the Mighty Mississippi, with the GPS set for Red Rock Country.