DeKALB – On the day Mary Powell McConnell Glidden married Josiah Willard Glidden on Sept. 14, 1857, she arrived by train in Chicago from Philadelphia with her minister and a dress she made by hand.
Josiah Willard Glidden, barbed wire inventor Joseph Glidden’s 9-year-younger brother, lived on a farm a mile outside of DeKalb, across the street from where Fatty’s Pub & Grille is today.
In early 1857, Josiah Willard traveled to Philadelphia to learn to paint. While in Philadelphia, he met Mary when he joined the choir at her church, The First Universalist Church.
After writing letters to each other for a few months, Mary traveled to Chicago to marry Josiah Willard.
To tell their story of love and life in DeKalb County pre-Civil War, the Joseph F. Glidden Homestead and Historical Center will present “Love and Life Letters” from 2 to 5 p.m. Sunday at Faranda’s Banquet Center, 302 Grove St. in DeKalb.
Tickets cost $35 and can be purchased at the door or in advance at the Glidden Homestead, American Title Guaranty, Helen’s Hair Designs, MCR Framing/Blue Door Décor or online at www.GliddenHomestead.org.
Mary Glidden’s well-preserved wedding dress and a gallery of historic wedding dresses spanning five generations from two DeKalb County families, the Williams/Nelsen and Malone/Ball families, will be on display during the event.
The Stage Coach Players will read love letters written by Mary and Josiah Willard Glidden before their 1857 marriage. The performers will wear period dress and vocalist Rachel Hunter-Rosene will perform.
The event also will feature appetizers and refreshments by Faranda’s, a wedding cake made by Sweet Dream Desserts in Sycamore and a benefit auction by Almburg Auctioneers that includes a new wedding dress.
“Their wedding records were lost in the Great Chicago Fire, but their letters and Mary’s wedding dress still survive,” said Rob Glover, executive director of the Glidden Homestead. “Some of the only stories of life in DeKalb from that time, including what was being planted, how businesses and farming functioned and settlers’ lives, are chronicled in their correspondence. … The letters and gown remind us how important it is to preserve the history and heritage of this area.”
While living in DeKalb, Josiah Willard and Mary Glidden had six children, one of whom was Annie Glidden. Josiah Willard was a poet, artist and farmer, and Mary was a seamstress who had the first sewing machine in DeKalb. Together, they organized a literary society which met in the schoolhouse. Their house was a stopping place for long-distance travelers, and the Gliddens entertained and hosted guests.
In December 1876, Josiah Willard was chopping wood and a stick flew up and cut a gash above his eye. An infection set in and he died less than a week later on Dec. 10, 1876.
The winter after his father’s death, 8-year-old John took a team and drove his older sisters to school daily with a sleigh. John graduated from MIT in 1890 and a year later brought electricity to DeKalb.
In 1877, Mary started a dressmaking shop on the corner of Fourth and Main streets in DeKalb to support her family. Mary died June 9, 1909.
All proceeds from “Love and Life Letters” will benefit the Glidden Homestead and their purchase of a museum-quality display case for Mary Glidden’s wedding dress.
For information about “Love and Life Letters,” call 815-756-7904 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. To read the preserved letters between Josiah Willard and Mary Glidden, visit Northern Illinois University’s Regional History Center.