June 19, 2012

The Driehaus Museum Introduces New Summertime Servant Tour

On July 2, the Driehaus Museum debuts an interactive, living history guided tour that allows visitors to discover how the servants in the Samuel M. Nickerson Mansion lived and cared for their distinguished employers and unique residence.

When Mr. Nickerson’s mansion was completed in 1883, it was recognized as the most lavish private residence in Chicago. But Nickerson’s Marble Palace, as it was nicknamed, required an invisible staff of qualified servants who worked diligently to keep up with the high-society lifestyle of its owners. Elegant, multicourse meals; freshly-pressed linens; and immaculate rooms were all coordinated, back of the house, by up to 11 domestic servants. Their living and working quarters, a generous area comprising the rear one-fourth of the mansion’s four floors, were built to house these working-class Americans and immigrants who meticulously maintained the residence.

“With the current popularity of the television series Downton Abby, we get requests daily from Museum guests seeking more information about the domestic servants who lived and worked in the mansion,” says Museum Director Lise Dubé-Scherr. “We felt the timing was right to bring their stories to life through an interactive living history tour, which will be both insightful and fun. It will give visitors of all ages the opportunity to experience the mansion through the eyes of the help and visit areas of the building that are not normally open to the public.”

The Summer Servants’ Tour is a highly-interactive blend of history and theater. The year is 1899 and a number of the Nickersons’ servants have been dismissed following a mysterious late-night incident. As Museum guests arrive, the Nickersons’ housekeeper greets them, but they are no longer visitors, but instead are candidates for domestic employment at the Nickerson Mansion.

At the start of the tour, each visitor receives a position description for which he or she is applying.  The next hour is spent exploring the mansion’s hidden passageways and staircases and learning about being a domestic servant in late 19th- and early 20th-century Chicago. The tour blends historic facts and anecdotes that describe immigration along with working conditions and wages, servant responsibilities and etiquette, and true tales about the Nickerson family and other wealthy turn-of-the-century Chicagoans.

Help Wanted: The Summer Servants’ Tour complements the range of guided experiences offered by the Driehaus Museum. Guests may also explore the historic neighborhood surrounding the Nickerson Mansion during the McCormickville Walking Tour, hear about the Museum’s history and collection during the daily Highlights of the Museum tour, and learn about how the Nickersons entertained and socialized during the seasonal Twilight Tour.

The Summer Servants’ Tour takes place every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from July 2 to September 14, 2012, at 5:30 p.m. Tour duration is approximately one hour. Admission is $15 for adults and $8 for youth 12 years and under. Tickets may be purchased online at http://www.DriehausMuseum.org or by calling 312 482 8933, ext. 21.

The Summer Servants’ Tour is suitable for all ages. As space is limited due to small passageways, reservations are required. Visitors should also wear comfortable shoes since the servants’ quarters are explored via several staircases. For questions about accessibility during the tour, please call 312 482 8933, ext. 21 or email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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