Taliesin Massacre: The Bloody History of Frank Lloyd Wright’s WI Home

Nestled in the rolling hills of picturesque Spring Green, Wisconsin is the home of celebrated architect Frank Lloyd Wright. While thousands of people visit the estate every year to enjoy its beauty, Taliesin’s dark and little known past has left it scarred with the lingering spirits of a brutal massacre that happened there over a hundred years ago.

When Wright left his wife and family in Oak Park, Illinois to start a new life with his mistress Mamah Borthwick, he decided to build a new studio on his family’s ancestral farm land in Spring Green. Completed in 1911, Wright named it Taliesin, after the legendary bard of Welsh mythology. He lived and worked there with Borthwick and his employees until tragedy struck in 1914.

Wright had recently hired a new chef, 31-year-old Julian Carlton. In a few short months the residents of Taliesin noticed Carlton’s increasing paranoia, and saw him sitting in his window late at night holding a butcher knife. Carlton was given notice that his last day would be August 15th, 1914…but Carlton had other plans.

While the chef’s wife packed and prepared to leave on their final day at Taliesin, Carlton was planning to kill. At noon, when he knew Borthwick and her children would be awaiting lunch on the opposite end of the complex from the personnel, Carlton grabbed a hatchet and attacked them in their seats on the porch. Borthwick and her 11-year-old son John were killed where they sat. 9-year-old Martha ran, but Carlton caught up with her in the courtyard.

He doused the bodies with gasoline and set them on fire.

Carlton then went after the other six residents. After serving them soup in the dining room, he locked the entrance, poured gas under the door, and lit it. Hatchet in hand, he tracked them down in the ensuing panic. Two men, a draftsman by the name of Herbert Fritz, and foreman William Weston, survived the ordeal. Weston’s 13-year-old son Ernest and three others were not so lucky.

With the house empty, Carlton hid in the basement in a fireproof furnace chamber to wait out the blaze. He brought along a vial of hydrochloric acid so he could commit suicide if the heat became unbearable. When authorities found him, he had ingested the acid. Though it didn’t kill him, it severely burned his esophagus, which caused him to die in jail of starvation seven weeks later before he could stand trial.

Wright, who had been in Chicago finishing Midway Gardens, returned that night on a train along with Borthwick’s ex-husband Edwin Cheney. Heartbroken, Wright buried Borthwick without a funeral, and in an unmarked grave because he couldn’t bear to be reminded of her loss. She was buried on the grounds of nearby Unity Chapel, where Wright’s family attended church. Cheney took the remains of his children back with him to Chicago.

Taliesin after the fire
Taliesin after the fire

Eventually Wright rebuilt Taliesin, but he didn’t live there again until 1922. Much of the house was destroyed by fire again in 1925. This time it was believed to have been caused by an electrical surge through newly installed telephone lines during a storm. He rebuilt it again and lived there until his death in 1959.

In 1914, while Taliesin smoldered, rescue workers carried the dead or dying victims of Carlton’s carnage to a cottage up the hill called Tan-y-Deri, where Wright’s sister lived. Today, there are numerous accounts of strange happenings there. Witnesses have seen lights flashing on and off, windows opening and closing by themselves, slamming doors, and other phenomena, accompanied by phantom smells of smoke and gas, as well as the voices of children.

The apparition of a restless woman in a white gown has also been reported throughout the years.

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Taliesin Massacre: The Bloody History of Frank Lloyd Wright’s WI Home

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