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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My wife's engagements were many and flattering. She sang
Avith the Theodore Thomas Orchestra, The Minneapolis Symphony,
and was soloist at many of my own organ dedications throughout
the middle west. She toured the country as a special soloist -vvath
the original Shubert Quartette and had a very successful Testimonial
Concert given her in the early 80 's.

About two years after our marriage she became the soprano in
the quartette of the Union Park Congregational Church — a position
she held for over seventeen years. During that period we were
together in our work almost constantly. Aside from the two serv-
ices on Sunday, we were both engaged in the Jewish Synagogue on
Saturday mornings — first in Sinai and later, for eleven years, in
Zion Temple on Ogden Avenue facing west at Union Park.

In those days, the churches of Chicago had the finest singers
that could possibly be engaged, for it was the correct thing to attend
church on the first day of the week, and no one made apology for
going. So it was no small wonder that when a company was formed


to present the famous Gilbert and Sullivan operas — causing: such a
furor in England — the solo parts of the casts should be drawn from
the city church choirs. And when in 1879 the "Chicago Church
Choir Company" was organized, it was composed of the picked
voices from city churches. And from "Union Park" — my wife was

"Pinafore" was chosen to open the venture and its success was
instantaneous and assured. There are probably many still living
who remember the popular performances in Haverly's Theatre (Avhen
J. B. Haverly was proprietor).

Will J. Davis was the producer and manager. ^My wife was
chosen to play the lead and so became the original "'Josephine."
Ada Somers, Hehe: John McWade, the Captain; Charles Knorr,
Ralph Rackstraic, and Jessie Bartlett (later the wife of Mr. Davis)
Buttercup. Dear Jessie! She was so high-strung (temperamental
you would call it today) so beautiful and such a favorite. She al-
ways sang in her dressing-room if anything displeased her. We
would smile to hear her voice as she shut herself in to dress and
"make-up" for a performance, for the madder she was, the louder
she sang. Years later Jessie Bartlett Davis went into "The Bos-
tonians" — a very successful opera company in the east — and will
always be remembered for her singing in "Kobin Hood" that well-
known, beloved song that she made so famous — ' ' Promise Me ! ' '

The "C. C. C. C," as it was called, toured the country follow-
ing their long successful run in Chicago. I want to cjuote here from
the press of that day, so that you may always have the authentic
words before you, regarding your dear great -grandmother's lovely
singing, for having been named for her, Cara mia, who knows but
what you may inherit her voice.

Toledo : ' ' Mrs. Louis Falk as ' Josephine ' stands pre-eminently
forth as a superior artist."

St. Louis: "Mrs. Louis Falk charmed the audience with her
clear voice and graceful acting."

Louisville Post: "The high art .standard which Mrs. Falk as
prima donna sets up is attained by all the others, and a pleasing
arti.stic delivery of Sullivan's musical gems is the rule and not the
exception in the Chicago Church Choir Company."

Chicago Times: "Mrs. Louis Falk and Jessie Bartlett Davis
did full justice to the solos and duets which fell to their characters.
. . . ^Irs. Falk in new costumes* was as delightful as ever. . . ."

Chicago Tribune: "The famous 'Chicago Church Choir Com-
pany' close the most successful of all their wonderfully successful
engagements, at Haverly's this evening . . . they will soon make

* All of Mrs. Falk's costumes were made by Field, Leiler & Co. — now
Marshall Field & Co.


^J^verly's jjcheatre, If

J. H. HAVERLY, Managtr oii.l Propritlor.

(mcAGo (hurch (hoir (ompany


131. IMI. S.


'THtim THAT lOra ASM,

Musical Director - - A. J. Creswold.

Organisl of Trinity Episcopal Church.

Stage Manager. - - Con. T. Murphy

Of Wallack's Thtatrt, N«w Vork.


Every Evening, Wednesday and Saturday Matinees.

Rt. Hon. Sir JOS. i'ORTER. K. C. B ,

First Lord of the Admiralty;


Command's H. M. S. Pinaroie.

Able Seaman— Josfphine's Lnver.

DICK DEADEYE— Able Seaman. -


BOB BECKETT— Carpenler's Male, •
TOM BOWLIN, - r - •

Boatswain's Mate.

TOM TUCKER— Midshipmite.


The Captain's Daughter.
HEBE, . . . . ,

Sir Joseph's First Cousin.

A Portsmouth Bumboat Woman.
Fir.1 Lord's Sisters, his Cousins and his Aunts S.i


(Basso Plym
. J NO. E. McWADE,

(Baritone Triniiy Methodist Chui

(Tenor Trinity Chui

(Basso Oriental and Chicago Quartet

(Basso Profunda Sl.Patrlc




(Soprano Union Park Cong'l Chu

(Contralto Church of the Mess


SCENE: Deck of H. M'. S. Pinafore, oft Portsmoutli, England.
ACT I.— Noon. ACT II — Moonlk.iit.

Opera: Pinafore, 1879

a tour of the Eastern cities, which they will 'capture,' of course, as
they have done wherever they have gone."

Later in the season "Trial by Jury" and "The Rival Can-
tineers" replaced "Pinafore," but none of the other operas had the
great success that the first achieved.

For awhile I directed the orchestra of this opera company so that
my wife and I might remain together, but when the College opened
in late September, I was back again at my classes and church posi-

Several famous organs were now being built in Chicago ; organs
made by well-known firms, such as Hook and Hastings, Skinner, and
later Austin and W. W. Kimball. The day of the theatre organ
that could produce anything from a cow-bell to a bomb explosion
had not yet arrived — praise be ! — and the selection of combination
of "stops" was still an art in itself, to say nothing of the manipula-
tion of the great pedals. Many concert halls and private homes were
installing various sized organs, but the churches possessed the largest.

Ole Bull, greatest violinist of his day, came to Chicago in 1877
and it was my pleasure not only to hear this great man, Cara mia,
but to play on the same program with him, and my wife to sing.
She was also soloist for Zaver Scharwenka, when he came to Chicago
in 1891, with Charlotte Cushman en tour, and with "Johnny" Hand's
famous band.

About this time I had a flattering offer to go to Brooklyn and
become the organist of the church where the famous Henry Ward
Beecher was pastor. It was so tempting in both salary and position
that I wavered for several days, but knowing that it would mean
an entire new start, in both teaching and my concert work, to say
nothing of leaving my friends and our two families, I at last decided
against the change, much to my wife's joy and also the Union Park
committee and Dr. Frederick Noble, the new and well-loved minister.

Had we moved East, Cara mia, your grandmother would have
been born in Brooklyn, and no telling where your own mother would
have seen the light of day, or you, for that matter, my sweet one.
On such a thread of chance hangs our destinies — or, is it not truer
that our lives are governed by a wiser Providence than we realize.
But the die was cast. I chose to remain in Chicago, and here three
generations have come into existence since that day.

During these busy years we moved from Ashland to Warren
Avenue, into a very modern three-floors and a dining-room-and-
kitchen-basement stone house. This stood directly opposite Union
Park and very convenient to my churches. We felt very proud of
our home. The city had been growing rapidly when the "Elegant
eighties" arrived, and the years of that decade and the following,
were perhaps the most profitable and assuredly the busiest of my
musical life. My wife, too, had achieved a position of recognized


success, second onl}^ to the artists of Europe and New York City.
Following Pinafore and the other Gilbert and Sullivan operas she
appeared in, she received many flattering offers to join Eastern
companies and continue her professional life on the stage. Many
managers sought her out ; she received what is now known as ' ' fan
mail"; flowers and press notices were daily food at her breakfast
table, and one night a valuable diamond bracelet arrived at her
dressing-room, tied to crimson roses. (This, however, was promptly
returned to the sender, Cara mia, I assure you!)

But a greater event in a woman 's life than applause or diamonds
was Hearing.

Several years after Pinafore had reached its height of popularity,
a dear thing upset three families in the company. Three of the
women soloists — the leading roles to be exact — were looking forward
to the blessed event of motherhood. Ada Somers, recently married
to John McWade; Jessie Bartlett Davis and my own dear wife. A
clever little article appeared in one of the newspapers, which you
will find in our old scrap-book carefully kept through the years.
(Quote) "It has been an open secret in social and musical circles
for some time, that the three leading lady members of the Church
Choir "Pinafore" company were competing for the honors of ma-
ternity. Mrs. John R. McWade (Ada Somers) took first prize with a
boy, and now Mrs. Louis Falk takes second money."

This ended my wife's stage career, for after our child was born,
no power on earth would take her from our home and ' ' on the road ' '
again. She continued with her church and concert singing, but re-
fused the most tempting offers to leave Chicago. And after all, are
not "home keeping hearts" the happiest?

The months of summer and autumn passed serenely. November
came. We were sitting in our living-room one stormy night, happy
in our calm companionship. My dear wife was embroidering some-
thing that looked like daisies upon a bit of soft white flannel, when
suddenly she glanced up at me with a new, strange look in her deep
blue eyes. I had never seen just that expression before, Cara mia,
and surprise kept me silent. Then suddenly I remembered another
Mother-to-be, who heard in the stillness of her heart a Voice speak-
ing — "Blessed art thou among women — " and I realized with a
great throb of wonder and awe, that all the mothers of the world
heard this same Voice, telling them that a little child would soon be
held in their w^aiting arms.

I smiled back into her dear eyes reassuringly and noticed that
she ran her needle thoughtfully into the place where she had stopped
sewing and slowly folded up her work and laid it away. Ask your
mother, Cara mia, to show you that little flannel garment, started
so long ago but never finished, for it is, with other "memories",
folded away in the old, old trunk.


^aticttl l|am




9^riday ^vetting, 9^chriiary 16, 1 81fY.

1. " Fantasie and Fugne," LiSzT


2. "The Snow lies White," Marston


3. " The Mountains of Norway," Ole Bull


4. " Shadow Song from Dinorah," Meyerbeeu


5. Overture, " Midsummer's Night Dream,"


6. " Sicilian c Tarantella," .• Ole Bull

Organ and Piano Accompaniment.

7. " Birds of Spring," Benedict


S. " Recitative and Carnival of Venice," Ole Bull


9. " Variations in F," Buck


^^The Piano used at this Concert, is kindly furnished by Mr. Henry Nunns,
the maker of the instrument."

Concert: Ole Bull, 1877

The next night our daughter was born and we named her after
the two grandmothers — Cara, for my wife's mother (and herself)
and Francesca for my own mother. My wife had sung many famous
lullabies in her years of music, but none so lovely as she would
now sing for her own child — she who became your grandmother.
And stranger still, in years much later, that child of ours wrote the
following verse to her mother — completing a circle, as it were, of

"Into her arms they laid me, newly born,
And they who stood beside her said she smiled
With that same holy smile that angels wear.
She loved me from my birth . . . her little child.
Forgotten were her hours of agony ;
Forgiven, Life, for every cruel pain.

'She smiled' . . . and trembling, drew her baby close,
And there a mother-love was born again ! ' '

Never was there such a happy home ! So many friends and
relatives calling with various gifts. Strange foreign-looking presents ;
articles made by New England aunts; more jewelry and expensive
gifts than a baby should ever have. And among all these lovely
things, was a huge cradle of roses and fern sent to the mother by
my dear friend Dr. Ziegfeld. (And in another score of years, Cara
mia, he sent its duplicate to our daughter when your mother was

In 1888 I took my wife on a second "Honeymoon" through
Europe. She would never rest until she had seen my birthplace, the
cities where I had studied, and where my first concert tour was made.
We left our bal)y with her grandmother — (a thing which seems to be
usual in most families) — and spent two happy months drifting about,
carefree and content. While on a trip down the Rhine, my wife
made some charming sketches of the old ruins of famous castles, all
of wliich are in our scrap-book, faded but tenderly interesting. We
also bought many gifts in Leipzig and Dresden, the cities where I
attended so many wonderful concerts and operas. Little did I think,
when I was walking fifteen weary miles in order to hear Lohengrin
in the cheapest possible way, that I v/ould ever return to give my
wife pleasures that I had never dreamed of. But she understood,
and loved that long-ago lad who heard his first Wagner from the
highest gallery, equally as well as the man who could now buy fine
seats for her.

We also returned to IJnter Ostern in Hesse Darmstadt, in order
to see my birthplace and the dear old nurse, Frau Maul. She was
in her garden when we arrived — the same little plot of green down
the hill where I first met her. Oldei", more feeble, wrinkled and l^ent,
but with the same bright eyes and sunny smile as when I stayed with


her back in my youth and slept under her feather-bed. How she wel-
comed my wife ! To her my Cara was an exquisite thing — an
American girl who had married "Mina's son Louis," and given him
a child.

But that was not all. That evening we sat in the garden, listen-
ing to the nightingales, when suddenly my wife started to sing —
softly, so not to disturb the birds — with little runs and thrills, en-
tirely without words. My old nurse listened in awe for awhile, then
whispered to me solemnly — "You said you had no nightingales in
America, Louis ? So ? Then the good God gave you one ! ' '

Frau Maul was in her seventies now, and not so very well. When
we left her the next day I knew that I should never see my old
nurse again. But I had made her happy by those two visits —
especially when I brought my wife.

By autumn we were anxious to return to Chicago. Even though
my wife's father cabled a code word at every city we visited —
"Jasmine" — meaning "All is well!" — we were hungry to see our
little daughter and home once more. We had a busy winter booked
ahead of us and were eager to be back in our musical world again.
Life was promising so much ! We were entering our noon-day to-
gether, and the best was before us !

Note: A "Figurine" of Mrs. Fall^; appears in the case of "Early Chicago
Women" at the Chicago Historical Society Building.


The Falk Brothers — 1880

Florenz, 20; John, 22
Louis, 32; Theodore, 34; Rudolph, 30






THE "Gay Nineties"! The days of the Columbian Exposition!
The sinking of the battleship "Maine" and the Spanish-
American war ! Ten thrilling years !

And in our city. The building of the Auditorium, Art Institute's
new headquarters, Public Library, and all the early ' ' sky-scrapers ' ' —
as the buildings over ten stories were then called. The rapid growth
of the residential sections and the building of the Elevated "Loop,"
that gave downtown Chicago its jDermanent name. The park sys-
tem of beautiful boulevards through six large parks and many smaller
ones. The Drainage Canal, changing the course of the Chicago river.
New suburbs opened up. Expansion.

And in our families — also many changes. The death of my
wife's father in 1895 — that gentle personality so greatly missed from
the home. My brother Florenz, who left us in 1900 at the age of
forty-two, and my step-mother, who died in Sandusky. Also many
musical contemporaries and dear friends.

There was the usual scattering of relatives, as the years went on.
My wife's brother Allan — married for the second time following his
first wife's early death — moved to Texas in 1893, where his children
and grandchildren are now living. Two of my brothers also left
Chicago. John — who had married sweet Amelia Starr of Belvidere
in 1881 — decided to make his home in New England; and Rudolph
settled in Missouri and later in California. Of all our number, only
Theo and I remained in the Middle-west.

Chicago was just sixty years old when the World's Columbian
Exposition opened its wide, white gates. It was a great success, my
Cara, and to my mind more beautiful than the one now commemorat-
ing the city's 100th birtliday.

Of course there were no exhilnts quite so wonderful as those
shown today, with aeroplanes, radio, television and other breath-
taking inventions of this age, but the buildings themselves were so
dignified and beautiful, and conformed so perfectly in architecture
and absence of any color, that it deserved its immediate name of


"The "White City." All statuary, domes, fountains and esplanades
suggested European grandeur and all the beauty of the Old World.

I had many concerts in the Auditorium that season, along with
other of our Chicago organists — Clarence Eddy, Harrison Wild,
and Wilhelm Middelschulte.

How tragic it would have been, Cara mia, had that grand old
building been torn down or condemned in these recent years. And
how loyal and brave it was to re-condition and re-dedicate it for
music in this year of 1933 — A Century of Progress. It only shows
what Chieagoans can and will do !

But the organ — my old organ, as I love to think of it — is gone !

In 1923 I was asked to give my opinion as to whether the noble
old instrument could be repaired and used again, but I found the
great pipes rusted entirely through in places, the bellows warped
and torn, and so much needed for its restoration, that I reported
sadly that a new organ would be cheaper and give better service.
So the old instrument remains simply a silent memory of a past
chapter in Chicago's musical history. A golden voice mute with age!

In 1898 I left the Union Park Congregational Church, after
twenty-seven years as organist and choir master, to take a new
position in the Oak Park Congregational Church of which Dr.
William E. Barton was pastor. (He was the father of Bruce Barton,
noted writer.) I remained in this Oak Park Church ten years,
during which time. Dr. Barton and I collaborated in a New Year's
Midnight Service and several short cantatas — he writing or arranging
the words and I the music. The quartette was a splendid one and
the soloists excellent.

My wife left Union Park when I did ])Ut never accepted another
church position, choosing rather to devote more time to her home
and social life. She continued with concert engagements, however,
until 190-!-, or thereabouts, when our daughter stepped into her
mother's shoes and became the soloist at nearly all of my orgaii
dedication concerts — saving me from many a lonely tour.

But I am ahead of my story, Cara mia, and into another century.
Let me go back. The Chicago Musical College, now in its new home
on Michigan Avenue, was at the height of a successful career. It
was ranked as one of the leading musical schools of America, and I
believe the largest in class enrollment. Its Faculty read like a
page from a European conservatory — great names — great teachers.
The Commencement exercises were held in the Auditorium each June ;
the graduating classes numbering up into the hundreds. Dr. H. W.
Thomas always gave the Valedictory address and Dr. Ziegfeld handed
out the diplomas and awards. Diamond medals were given for the
highest standing — these artist-pupils appearing on the program —
vocal, violin and piano students — accompanied by full orchestra. The


Faculty sat on the stage in front of the great class. Perfume of
flowers; dazzling white of the gowns; hundreds of hands clapping;
proud parents, friends and teachers. And Dr. Ziegfeld's dream come

Meanwhile, his eldest son Florenz had become a power in the
theatrical world. The "Follies" came later, but "Flo's" spec-
tacular start was in bringing Sandow, the world's strongest man,
for a wide tour, and later Anna Held, Parisienne actress and beauty,
who immediately became a sensation on Broadway. Flo, Jr., months
later married Miss Held — (Dr. Ziegfeld always referring to her lov-
ingly as "Mein daughter Ahnna") — and although divorced in later
years, remained her close friend and advisor. How years pass!
Since those days, he became New York's greatest producer, the
husband of the lovely Billie Burke and father of Patricia, and now
has also passed on into the land of the silence and spaces . . .

We were not always solemn and severe on the Faculty, Cara
mia. We had a great many good times together and played many
jokes. I shall never forget one pianist, who fearful of a high note
struck "stacatto" would mark the key with his pencil before a per-
formance. Another artist — a violinist — changed that mark five min-
utes before his friend's appearance, to the next note. When the
time came and the key was struck, of course it was a discord. Our
performer looked dazed, swore softly under his breath, but realizing
what had happened, continued unperturbed, hitting the right note
(unmarked) triumphantly. The next time the violinist had a big
concert, he noticed a peculiar smell on the stage. Walking back and
forth he tried to escape the odor but it followed him. He found, after
the number had been finished and he had left the stage, a bit of
Limburger cheese tucked carefully under the fret of his fiddle, so
that he unconsciously had been "cuddling" the vile odor under
his chin.

Never think for a moment, Cara mia, that professional jealousy
creeps in and disrupts loyalty and affection. Some of the truest
friends I ever had were among my fellow musicians. Naturally we
discussed other artists when together — sometimes critically — l)Ut
never with venom or even sarcastic wit.

It was our custom to gather around a table after closing hours
at the College, or during an evening when we were not engaged,
eating our sandwiches or — if hungry — thick steaks with "German
fried," and drinking beer or strong coffee. We usually chose the
grill of the old Auditorium. I can see the room this moment, with
my old friends about the table; Hans Yon Schiller, Jacobsohn, Btune
and Dr. Ziegfeld. Sometimes musicians from other schools would
join us and famous writers or private instructors, such as Bernhard
Ziehn, one of the greatest musical theorists ever known. He tried
to "stump" me once with an original manuscript, but having made


somewhat of a study of this in Europe, I surprised him with my
answer. When he asked ''Who wrote this, Louis?" I took the old
script reverently in my hands, studied it a moment, then answered
' ' Bach. ' ' He had many famous books, manuscripts, and autograplied
compositions in his possession, but after his death most of them
were never found.

There were several popular German restaurants in Chicago in
those years, my Cara, that faded from sight during the cruel days
of the Great War. Men are so apt to become unjust and bitter in
times of stress, so that former brother or friend changes over-night
to an enemy. But in the days I am writing about, Germany was
well-beloved and her cafes and food very popular indeed. There was
the old Kaiserhof, noted for its steaks; The Union, where we held

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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 6 of 7)