Saturday, April 2, 2016

My Country, 'Tis of Tea — Illinois

This week's focus is on Illinois, a state I appreciate for some very tea-significant reasons!

• When I hear of Chicago, Illinois, I always, always associate it with some of the most legendary tearooms in American department store history, the tearooms of Marshall Field and Company. I wrote a book about such tearooms in 2011 (and may write a second one, actually, because I’ve learned of quite a few more). After the book was published, I continued to acquire vintage postcards showing images of old tearooms. My favorite is this old postcard showing “a portion of the ‘Narcissus’ Room, Marshall Field & Company Tea Rooms.” (If you look at the black and white header up top, a portion of this image is what I chose to represent American tearooms.) I even have a demitasse cup and saucer and a nappy that came from these tearooms, which are treasured pieces from my department store tearoom collection! If you are someone who likes to shop and appreciates good customer service (a rarity today, I find), the thing to remember about founder Marshall Field is this: he is the merchant who famously said, when he overheard one of his clerks arguing with a customer, “Give the lady what she wants!” Amen.

• Have any of you read “The Devil in the White City,” Erik Larson’s novel-like nonfiction book about the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, Illinois? My husband actually got me interested in this fascinating tale that shares the creation of the magnificent 1893 World’s Fair alongside the horrific story of a serial killer who was operating in the same time and place. (Side note: I did not know until this week that Leonardo DiCaprio bought the film rights to this book, which is to be produced by Paramount Pictures and directed by Martin Scorsese. Interesting.) The fair was nicknamed the “White City” because of all the white stucco-sided buildings. I was also intrigued to learn of all the drama that went into the appearance of the fair’s star attraction, the Ferris Wheel, which at the time was considered America’s answer to the Eiffel Tower. If you aren’t too creeped out at the thought of reading about a serial killer, you’ll enjoy all the history, and you will not be surprised to learn that Ceylon Tea had a pavilion at the fair, as shown in this photo courtesy of the Library of Congress. And from that same World’s Fair, here is a photo of the Japanese tea garden. (Thank you, New York Public Library Digital Collections!)

• President Barack Obama came to us after serving as a senator from Illinois, and the president who is revered for leading the country during the Civil War also came to us from Illinois. Although he was born in Kentucky, our 16th president, Abraham Lincoln, was a lawyer in Illinois before he was elected to the Illinois Legislature, the U.S. House of Representatives, and then, in 1860, to the presidency. Many books have been written about President Lincoln and his presidency, but as a tea lover, I’ll admit to also having an interest in a much more frivolous aspect of his presidency, the china and silver he and Mary Todd Lincoln used. I highly recommend Beulah Munshower Sommer and Pearl Dexter’s fine book “Tea With Presidential Families,” above, which even provides a glimpse, below, of a Gorham silver tea and coffee service that was presented to Mrs. Lincoln as First Lady. Click here if you'd like to see some of the presidential china they used during their time in the White House (and read the parts about the purchase of it if you're so inclined; Mrs. Lincoln apparently enjoyed buying the china!). In ways both large and small, tea helps tell the story of our country.


  1. There's a great deal of tea information about Illinois, more than I expected.

  2. Another state with fine details about tea. Love the ceylon tea pavillion. And your department store connections always delight me, as so many of them were my accounts when I did collections for Catalina Swimwear many years ago. Marshall Field was one of them.

  3. I enjoyed your post and photos. Very interesting. Thank you!

  4. Thanks for another interesting state tea lesson

  5. Great post, Angela, I love the links you provided. That Marshall Fields teacup has always been one of my favorites!

    It's been awhile since I've been in Chicago but the shopping was always special. I'm enjoying this series, thank you for all your research. Joanie


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