Francesca Falk Miller.

Across the little space; the life of Dr. Louis Falk, as told to his great-grand daughter, Dorothy Cara Strong online

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resided on Washington Street a few houses west of the church.

They were Congregationalists of the New England variety. The
father's middle name was Brewster; he mentioned this often with
just pride and could count rapidly and accurately back through nine
generations to the Mayflower. (There is an old knife, my Cara, that
has been handed down from generation to generation, that is sup-
posed to have come over in that famous ship, and one of these days
it will belong to you. )

Mrs. Dickinson was Caroline Dayton by birth, but her line ran
back only as far as the sober Ralph Dayton who had assisted in
founding New Haven, Connecticut. There was a friendly rivalry
between husband and wife over the merits of early ancestry, that
became more and more exciting as the arguments progressed. Each
had Colonial ancestors "under the crown"; Revolutionary and War
of 1812 soldiers, and of course plenty of elders, deacons, ministers,
or at least "Pillars of the Church." Later I joined in these pleasant
controversies, most casually "throwing a monkey wrench into the
works" by mentioning with a i)olitely stifled yawn a certain Falken-
l)erg Castle and Coat of Arms, that my family possessed in Germany.
From that day on, the Mayflower and New Haven accepted the dis-
tant romantic "Castle" and all went on happily together.


Mrs. Dickinson was a patrician to her finger-tips ; a gentlewoman
to the manner born. She was an accomplished musician, playing the
piano well — especially Beethoven and Chopin ; a talented artist who
painted landscapes in the truly mid-Victorian style ; did exquisite
needle-work, and wrote sentimental but charming poetry. Their home
reflected its stately mistress and was run with a smoothness that be-
spoke a stern, though kindly, hand at the wheel. Into this home of
perfect clock-work running order, entered the gentle personality
of the master of the house ; a man of so winning a nature, that
his friends were unlimited in number, and loyal in devotion and
respect. They were a well-balanced couple.

The two daughters of this household were as different as a crim-
son rose from a tall day-lily. The elder was dainty, petite and a
vivid brunette ; the Irish type, with blue eyes and midnight hair.
The younger was as tall as her stately mother, a blonde, blue-eyed in
lighter hue than her sister and had a skin that was like alabaster.
Each was beautiful in her way and with two such attractive daugh-
ters it was small wonder that this New England family became popu-
lar in the social life of the neighborhood. The elder girl had a lovely
soprano voice, much sought after for all musical affairs of the church.
Her younger sister had a decided talent for art. The little boy was
too young at this time to cause me to notice him, save that he was a
blonde lad and had mischief in his blue eyes. There was never a
time when he and his younger sister were not ready for some sort
of prank.

Mrs. Dickinson was a devout lover of a pipe-organ, often re-
ferring to it as "the king of instruments," so it was not a bit sur-
prising that she became one of my staunchest admirers. She was
also very ambitious for her elder daughter, who was studying vocal
at the College where I was on the Faculty. It was to this ambitious
mother that I owed the romance that came into my life.

On one Sunday morning, following a lengthy service, I found
her patiently waiting for me in the church aisle. I came down
from the organ loft rather weary and probably eager for my sister-
in-law's good Sunday dinner. But always recognizing friends who
had waited to see me, I paused, smiling into the face of this tall
woman whom I knew but slightly. After holding out her hand with*
a few words of compliment, she said :

"Mr. Falk, I want you to know my daughter and hear her sing.
We Ihink she has a very fine voice!"

It was then I noticed a small slight figure behind her tall mother,
lialf-hidden and rather shrinking from modesty as she heard her
voice praised. The older woman caught at her hand and pulling her
forward proudly but quite firmly, presented her. But before she


could speak I saw all that I needed to awaken that "soinethino'" tliat
lifts its head but once in the human heart.

I saw the deep blue eyen — like yours, my little one — filled with
a great wonder not altogether hidden by timidity. I saw these eyes
fall before mine and their dark lashes droop over them. I noted
the cheeks, stained with rose tints of embarrassment. I let my gaze
travel down the soft lines of her petite but rounded young figure.
Then, as if from some far-off place, came the matter-of-fact voice of
the eager mother.

"This, Mr. Falk, is my eldest daughter, CARA!"

Of course you have guessed, my little one, for whom you were

My Cara! The loveliest woman God ever gave to a gruff, senti-
mental, unworthy man like myself! (in spite of all the things she
said to the contrary). My Cara ! She of the golden voice, the dainty
ways, the exciuisite beauty of mind and spirit, and withal, she of the
kindly, unselfish, courageous womanhood.

From that day I became a constant visitor at the Dickinson home
on Washington Street, while at the Sunday services, would watch
frantically from my organ ])ench to see the tall mother sweep regally
up the long aisle followed by her family. If Cara was there all was
well and my music would take on new volume and rapidity that
surprised and sometimes shocked the sedate elders and deacons who
ushered the church worshipers up and down the aisles with stiff
dignity and stiffer high white collars.

But I was a shy man in spite of daily contact with feminine
seekers of musical training at the College. I had never entirely out-
grown the timidity of my youth; those days of freckles and adoles-
sent blushes. I called often and stayed late, but my attention was
purposely directed toward my hostess and not the vivacious daughter
I wished so desperately to court.

I played the piano upon request, selecting the most sentimental
pieces I knew. I allowed myself to be drawn into learning Cribbage
— a game Mrs. Dickinson greatly admired and played well. I talked
to the father regarding business conditions and allowed young Allan,
the brother of my adored one, to ask the foolish and unanswerable
questions that boys are capable of. And I also drank quantities of
lemonade (for Mrs. Dickinson was a teetotalar) and ate rich cake.
All for the sight of two Irish blue eyes with a twinkle in them !

But as time passed the family began to realize that my visits
were not motivated by cake or Cribbage. They began to leave us
alone, retiring behind the plush portieres to the all-too-near "back-
parlor" but allowing us at least to exchange low words, shy glances
and perhaps a touch of hands over the leaves of the Family Album.


Dear old red-plusli-eovered Family Album ! I never could re-
member if Aunt Susan was a Brewster or a Dayton, or I'ncle Jona-
than a real man or just a nice red apple. I only knew, Cara mia,
that I loved this gfirl more than anything else in the world and it'
(rod wanted to l)e good to me, He would give her into my keeping
for life ! I had never been a religious man I fear, but I suddenly
became very humble and devout, and as a concession to Mrs. Dickin-
son, left my Lutheran connections and joined the Congregational
faith — where I remained for over fifty years or until my life's end.

But Cara Dickinson was an extremely popular young woman.
All the swains of the West side were at her tiny feet ; especially one
man from Geneva, who seemed to be unusually favored. He was
Avealthy, handsome, popular and a fine dancer — all the things that
I was not. At the gay entertainments where the youth of Chicago
made merry, I was obliged to stand on the side-lines and watch my
beloved trip by in the gay polka or schottische. And what was worse,
see her gathered into the arms of various youths in the newest craze
- — the waltz. Mrs. Dickinson did not believe in "round dances"
(what would she have thought of our dances today, Cara mia?) but
allowed her children to step to the more proper music of the polka
and its kind. That the quadrilles and lancers had "round corners''
— when the waltz swung the couples about — .she never discovered,
and Cara dancing them, felt confident that she was not disobeying.

]\Iy soul was wrung with jealousy. I passed through the most
exquisite of tortures ; especially when the young man from Geneva
was present. I am afraid I actually hated this man, and would
honestly have enjoyed seeing him drawn-and-quartered or boiled in
a nice big vat of boiling oil, especially after hearing a slurring re-
mark that he had made to my adored one — laughing at my German
birth, my sentimental love for poetry and music, and the blue ring
I still wore on my first finger.

But you never can add to your charm by ridiculing a friend,
my Cara, nor lift yourself by pulling another fellow down. I think
the tide turned right then and there. I saw the Geneva suitor less
and less around the Dickinson home, and sensed a growing warmth
and tenderness in my dear one's attitude. I'nder the glow of this
subtle encouragement, I took heart.

I had always been a lover of the great (German poets, so I
brought my Goethe and Heine when I called, to read aloud. So
much can be expressed in exquisite poetry, my little one. AVhen you
are a big girl, take down the old grey-covered book of Heine's poems
from your grandmother's shelf of poetry and there you will see
faint pencil-marks around the verses I used to read.


Mr. Falk in 1876




"Stars with golden feet are wand'rino-
Yonder, and they gently weep
That they cannot earth awaken
Who in night's arms is asleep.

What called yonder"? In my bosom
Rings the echo of the tone.
Was it my beloved speaking,
Or the nightingale alone?"

The sentimental style of the last century ? Of course it is ! Yet filled
with a beauty of crystal loveliness. Listen to this, my little one, and
feel the deep tenderness.

"0 smile thou not, my darling beauty,
smile not, full of charming grace !
But weep, that it may be my duty
To kiss a tear from off thy face."

Of course it is so much lovelier in its original German, for nothing
bears a translation so poorly as poetry.

It is said that love never sails on a calm sea. I think perhaps
it is true. The family were always just beyond the portieres and
one night I discovered the young brother squatted down behind the
very sofa we were sitting upon, listening to every word of my tender-
ly whispered wooing. A stifled giggle gave him away and I took
a keen pleasure in yanking him roughly out.

During the summer of 1874 the Union Park Church gave a
picnic in Lincoln Park. We went in large busses drawn by horses,
and carried our lunch-baskets and wraps on our laps. The streets
had not all been paved since the tire, but the roughness and lurching
against one another only added to the merriment. The Dickinsons
had packed a good sized hamper wdth food, and Cara and I managed
to get into the same bus, with the younger children hanging onto
the back steps. I remember we had been instructed to watch them
but am afraid they were allowed to shift for themselves from start
to finish.

The picnic was gay — what I remem])er of it — with many games, a
fine lunch, and a very congenial crowd. But I can only recall one
little figure sitting beside me ; her red hat tipped down rakishly over
her black curls and a demure twinkle in her eyes whenever they were
lifted to mine.


However, the crowd was not so stupid; they were altogether
wise to our love-affair, and had already planned a grand coup at
our expense. How little they knew that they were playing right into
destiny 's hand !

When it became time to leave for home there was a hurried
packing and loading of the busses combined with much whispering
and smothered giggles. Then a lash of whip, a shout, and the horses
were off leaving us alone on a park bench with the picnic ])asket
beside us. They simply had not called us or set a time for the sud-
den departure, and we — gazing out over the lagoon — had been too
engrossed in ourselves to notice that they were breaking up the party.

We laughed good-naturedly over the silly prank and gathering
up our things commenced the long walk through the park to the
Clark Street car-line. I was carrying our wraps on one arm, but
the lunch basket swung between us. All at once I noticed my sweet-
heart's wrist — so small, so white, so helpless. I could have put my
thumb and forefinger once-and-a-half way around it. That tiny
little wrist helping with the weight of the basket, looking as if it
might break at any moment — pathetically frail and lovely — was a
memory that I cherished all my later years. Suddenly a fierce de-
sire to own all tliat daintiness — to protect that tender bit of woman-
hood — to stand between such exquisite loveliness and the tragedies
of life forever — swept over me like a tidal wave. It seemed more
than I could bear! At first I could not speak from pent-up emo-
tion. I stopped in the middle of the path and let my end of the
basket slip down. Of course she stopped too and the slight hold on
the handle she had had gave way, causing the basket to roll over
and allowing the remaining food, silverware and napkins to tumble
out onto the grass.

Her surprised face lifted — and then she knew !

I shall not repeat what I said to her, Cara mia. Words like that
from a man to a woman are never told. What your own father
said to your sweet mother, when he asked her to share his life, must
forever be put away in the Holy of Holies, to be a secret shrine for
all time. But it is needless to say, that before we had reached the
end of the path that was taking us home — Cara — for whom you were
named, my darling — had promised to be my Avife !


Cara Dayton Dickinson
{Mrs. Folk)






WE WERE not married until the next Spring, my little one. A
blustering, cloudy March day ; cold and raw, Irat quite warm
within the four walls of human affection. Our engagement
had been a whirl of parties, visits, concerts and stolen moments of
companionship, when we planned our future together. Of course
we had very lengthy press notices, dwelling on my music and my
fiancee's charm and talent. One paper cleverly paraphrased a good
old Bible quotation under a cartoon showing two little love-birds
sitting on a twig with heads touching. "Louis Falk is joined to his
idol ; leave him alone ! ' '

But we were both too busy to be alone. The public seemed to
come first. A joint concert which we gave in the fall preceding
our marriage proved a veritable triumph and gave my sweetheart
a well-deserved start up the ladder of success. She sang gloriously
and the critics were most enthusiastic.

I can see her as if it were but yesterday ! Perhaps, in my clumsy
man's way, I can describe her to you, Cara mia. She wore a corn-
colored dress — I do not know the material, but it was something like
heavy silk — looped about her slender hips and drawn back over a
small "bustle", which made her waist appear unbelievably small.
The neck was cut square and edged with rare old lace, that Mrs.
Dickinson said had been in their family for generations. (Some of
this same lace is on one of your carriage-robes, my little Cara.)
Down the front of the bodice and around the waist ran a little row of
flat velvet pansies in all shades of purple and yellow. I remember
that this was quite a new idea and received several enthusaistic

But at last the winter passed and the holidays were over. I
called daily at my fiancee's home, taking exquisite pleasure in see-
ing her bending over some fine bit of sewing, which she often hur-
riedly hid under her ample apron, knowing it was a garment for
her marriage to me. In those days the bride spent hours, Cara mia,
putting tiny stitches into fine linen — and also weaving dreams into


a deathless pattern. With the first warm rays of the sun on the
snows of winter, we were to begin our journey together,

March 11, 1875. (Remember that date always, my darling child.)

What excitement around the Dickinson home on Washington
Street and the old Union Park Church. Flowers on the font and
pulpit, ribbons in the aisle, presents on tables in the church parlors,
where the reception was to follow the ceremony, everyone running
back and forth between the two places. Crowds of invited guests
arriving in carriages (no autos then, my dear) and greater crowds
of uninvited, frankly curious. Washington and Ashland Streets were
blocked for a half-mile and the entrance of the church resembled
a riot.

At the house the bridal party were gathering; gay, colorful,
excitedly giggling. The names you may wish to know, for they were
the popular young people of that neighborhood and time. There
were four girls attending my bride; Eva Locke, Mary Goodrich,
Marian Egan and Delia Dean. (Eva married Judge Ives, Marian
became Mrs. Lucius Cheney, "Dell" Dean is happily married to
an Evanston man, and Marian never wed.) Cara's sister Pleda was
the maid of honor and looked sedate for once in her radiant young
life. Cara wanted her dearest friend Eva Butler, to be in the party,
but she was married, and a "Matron of Honor" was not the style
in those days. Eva and her sister Nellie were very popular in the
social life of Chicago. Eva had married JuW. Ellsworth, whose son,
Lincoln Ellsworth, flew to the North Pole not so long ago, and Nellie
married William Linn.

Can you go back with me to that night, my little one? Can
you see the long chui'ch aisle and that wedding procession? The
pretty girls ; the six self-conscious young men who ushered and the
groom waiting for his bride? And at last she came toward me on
the arm of her father; my sweet one — smiling!

Her wedding dress is folded away in our old trunk of memories
— yellowed with age. It is for you to cherish and pass on to your
children's children. It was new then, white and gleaming; satin,
with tiny puffed sleeves. Down the front panel were orange-blossoms
made of velvet, but a cluster of the natural flowers nestled in her
dark curls sending out their fragrance.

Upon my own organ bench sat J. V. Flagler playing the wedding
march from Lohengrin, while smilingly awaiting us before the flower-
filled font, stood dear Dr. Helmer. Some forget their marriage — its
beauty— its sacredness^but not I ! If I were still a mortal on this
dear old earth of yours, I know that my eyes would be filled with
tears — not of sorrow, but of joy, to think that I had lived through such
happiness — and won such a woman as my Cara !

A few words — God's blessing — and we were man and wife; to


remain so for fifty long happy years, until the golden half-century
put its blessing once more on our brows. Yes, divorce is easy in
these later times, Cara mia, and vows are lightly taken. But the
glory of a manned life that can stretch over the years until sun-
down, is the most perfect of all human experiences — except perhaps,

After the ceremony we went down to the gayly decorated par-
lors of the church to receive our guests and cut the bridal cake. We
stood under an arch of smilax and white flowers with the happy
bridal attendants stringing out into a long line beyond us, and our
families on the opposite side. In an adjoining room were the many
beautiful and costly gifts.

Some of our presents will come to you, little one, when you
are older, for they were mostly silver pieces and are still in the
family. You will hold those lovely old gifts in your soft young
fingers and think of that wedding so many long years before you
were born. Especially the fine old flat-silver in the chest of table
service that was given to us by the Union Park Church. In this
chest among the beautiful old pieces is tucked away two little clasped
hands that rested on the top of our wedding cake. They have
crumbled a bit with the passing of the years but you will love to
keep them always, for they are so old and exquisite and show such
tender and pathetic sentiment.

But among all the silver and other handsome pieces were some
really useful though plain articles. You will smile to read of them
I fear, and I know you will laugh outright over other quaint ones.

Mrs. Dickinson gave her daughter a sewing-machine — highly
valued in those days when "ready-to-wear" clothes were unknown.
Two friends gave us a "Rogers Group" — now a rare curiosity —
and a vase of wax autumn leaves under glass. There was also a
gift very popular at the time and also expensive ; a Stereoscope with
a set of "views". And a ravishing "mouchoir case" — (don't ask
me what it was for, my dear) — heavily embroidered in beads. But
the gift we had expected, and which no respectable family was with-
out, was a huge, almost impossible-to-lift Family Bible, wdth places
in front for records of marriages, births and deaths. This was a
gift of Mrs. Dayton, grandmother of the bride.

Musicians run true to form. Father and my brother Theo gave
us our piano, which made quite an impression on all the relatives.
Dr. Ziegfeld, knowing our love of opera, gave Cara an exquisite
pair of opera-glasses, "made in Paris" of mother-of-pearl. Then
I had been sitting for my portrait by the famous artist Peterson,
and this was to be a surprise to Cara from Theo. (Later he painted
the companion piece of my wife, and these two now hang in your
grandmother's home.) Young Allan and Pleda gave us a "water-


set" — huge pitcher, tray, and goblets, all of heavy silver-plate. You
see, Cara mia, this was long before eock-tails and high-balls were
known — and water was not to be apologized for. Cake baskets, card
traj^s, jewel-cases — oh, we were a popular pair, I assure you ! Linen,
mats, pictures, "tidies" for chairs, et cetera — we welcomed them
all, for after the honejTnoon we were to return to live in a home of
our own.

The reception was a blur of faces ; I can only recall a few. Mrs.
Dickinson, dressed in black satin and old lace, more a regal grande
dame than ever; Pleda, radiant and surrounded by a bevy of young
beaux ; Allan, with eyes on the abundance of refreshments ; my proud
father and his sons ; gentle Dr. Helmer and our many church friends,
and Dr. Ziegfeld with probably every well-known musician in Chi-
cago. Handshaking. Laughter. Congratulations.

But all the while, Cara mia, my heart was singing its immortal
"song without words" — for beside me — her orange-blossoms sending
out their exquisite fragi-ance — stood that other Cara, my wife. Every
now and then she would lift her face to mine and smile into my
eyes, with that smile brides have of utter trust in their chosen one
for all the years to come.

Before the gaiety was over, we hastened away in a shower of
rice to change our finery for travelling clothes. More hurry, more
excitement, more giggling of our friends. Then the hand-clasp of
the man who had given his child into my keeping ; a blessing in Ger-
man from my own father; the usual maternal tears from Cara's
mother ; final shouts ; a rush for the carriage, and we were ofP for
New Orleans !

' ' Oh, heart of mine ! Trusting to me
Your youth, your beauty — all
The intimate and secret dreams of life !
]\Iay God withhold the starlight and the sun,
If ever I should fail thee —
Sweetheart! Wife!"


.Mi;.s. Louis Falk as "Josephine'
{Pinafore, 1879)





My Wife

OUR first home, Cara mia, was on Ashland Avenue. My clever
little wife was a good housekeeper and a charming hostess.
We had many mutual friends in both social and musical cir-
cles, and found entertaining them one of our greatest joys. But
our professional life together was paramount to all else. It seldom
comes to husband and wife to share a joint success as we did. Never
did discord or jealousy creep in. We were proud of one another's
achievements and were happiest when appearing on the same concert

Your great-grandmother became a very popular soprano during
the ten or fifteen years that followed our marriage. Her high clear
coloratura voice was almost birdlike in quality, and she was so
small, so dainty, that she made a charming picture before her audi-
ence. But what delighted me most, she chose to use her married
name professionally, and became known over the country as simply
"Mrs. Louis Falk" — and I believe the public admired her for it.

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Online LibraryFrancesca Falk MillerAcross the little space; the life of Dr. Louis Falk, as told to his great-grand daughter, Dorothy Cara Strong → online text (page 5 of 7)