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Taliesin mass murder: 100 years later

CREATED May 14, 2014

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SPRING GREEN - Frank Lloyd Wright's masterful estate Taliesin is a thing of beauty. Built into a hillside, you almost feel like a part of nature.

Your guide and Taliesin expert Sid Robinson says, "The thing that makes it such an amazing location is primarily this sense of floating."

It's hard to believe that on this same site 100 years ago this August, one of the state's most grisly mass murders occurred.

Journalist and author Ron McCrea has been studying Taliesin for years, and wrote the book "Building Taliesin". He explains, "Nobody really wanted to talk about it, or think about it, or remember it."

McCrea has long been intrigued by Frank Lloyd Wright, saying, "Frank Lloyd Wright is actually kind of heroic. He's constantly pushing against the grain of the dominant culture of American life, and American values."

A prime example: Wright, who was married, fell for Mamah Borthwick Cheney, the wife of one of his clients. Before long they were lovers.

"They both wanted more. Maybe it was a midlife crisis, but they really fell in love," McCrea says.

Wright built Taliesin as a getaway for himself, Mamah, and her young children. Their happiness was short-lived. House cook, Julian Carlton, murdered Mamah, her two children, and four other workers, and set the estate on fire.

"His motive is still unknown. He seems to have become paranoid or feeling oppressed or picked on," McCrea explains.

Despite medical attention, Carlton died in jail just a few weeks later - never revealing his motive. The damage was done. Wright's Spring Green paradise was a distant memory.

"It burned his house down, and it destroyed, at that moment, the love of his life," Robinson says.

Our tour of Taliesin today included the room where the murders happened..

Robinson points to an area, saying, "That's where, not here, but in the past, is where Mamah and her 2 children were having lunch on August 15, 1914."

Less than a mile from the home is Frank's family cemetery, including Mamah's grave.

While the story behind Taliesin may be tragic, McCrea feels it could serve as a life lesson for us all. "How much life can be lived in just a few years, and how quickly it can all be blown apart."

As a way to cope with his grief, Wright rebuilt Taliesin right away. It went up in flames again in 1925, due to faulty wiring. Wright rebuilt again, and the estate was donated to the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation after his death in 1959.