One Year on the Road

The Glensheen Mansion

Mansion from the back.

Kate was driving us through Duluth, Minnesota when she spotted this mansion from the road and a sign that said tours were available. Kat e loves outlandish old houses, so she pulled right in to the parking lot, and we signed up for a self-guided tour.

Congdon Family History

This stately home on the shore of Lake Superior was built in 1905 by Chester Congdon. He and his wife came from a modest background (both their fathers were clergymen), but Chester became a lawyer and moved to Duluth from New York. He invested heavily in Minnesota copper and iron mines, which was the source of his great fortune.

Stairwell window.

The Glensheen Mansion has three stories and a full basement, 38 rooms, and sits on 7.6 acres. It was top-of-the-line for its day and included such modern inventions as a furnace-warmed clothes dryer and a charging station for one of the first electric cars. Construction of the mansion cost $854,000, which would be worth around $21 million today.

Chester and Clara had seven children and adopted Clara’s nephew when he was orphaned at age six. The youngest daughter, Elizabeth, never married but adopted two children when she was in her early thirties. One of them, Marjorie, was seriously troubled and was diagnosed as a sociopath early in life.

The Congdon Murders

Elizabeth’s bedroom at the time of her death.

In 1977, Elizabeth was the sole heir to the Congdon family fortune. The mansion had been donated to the University of Minnesota Duluth, but Elizabeth was allowed to occupy it until her death. On June 27, 1977, Elizabeth was found murdered in her bed. Her nurse had been bludgeoned to death on the staircase. Marjorie, Elizabeth’s adopted daughter, and her second husband, Roger Caldwell, were arrested for the murders. Marjorie was later acquitted, although many believe she is the one who actually committed her mother’s murder. Roger committed suicide in 1988 and left a note proclaiming his innocence. Marjorie was later suspected in the deaths of both her third husband and his first wife, although she was never charged. She was convicted, however, on charges of insurance fraud, arson, and computer fraud and currently resides in the Arizona State Prison.

The tour guides politely refrain from discussing the murders, but a book in the gift shop tells all.

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