I wasn’t aware that it was approaching the 40th anniversary of the famed murders at the historic Congdon Mansion in Duluth when I visited in June. I make it to Duluth probably once or twice a year, and every time I’ve passed the historic estate, situated just northwest of town behind iron gates, I’ve reminded myself that I always meant to go there.
This summer, I finally made it. The 39-room mansion that faces out on Lake Superior is now run as a museum by the University of Minnesota-Duluth. I’ve read in several articles that many visitors don’t know about the murders that took place there in the 1977, but it was the first thing I learned about Glensheen when visiting Duluth on a family vacation. Someone even told me you could still see bloodstains from that gruesome night.
The story goes that the elderly heiress Elisabeth Congdon and her live-in nurse were killed as part of a plot by her adoptive daughter. Both were killed in the middle of the night — the nurse was bludgeoned to death on the main staircase, and Elisabeth was smothered with a pillow while sleeping in her second-floor bedroom.
Having read this story in advance sated my curiosity about the mansion’s grislier moments, which allowed me to enjoy the rest of Glensheen’s unique, rich history.
Each successive room is like a museum in itself, with different interior styles influenced by cultures from around the world. Chester Congdon, who made his fortune in the mining industry, was a world traveller. Evidence of this is visible in his many collected items of exotic decor throughout the home. His smoking room, influenced by Japanese style of the time, is one of the most interesting examples, with a carved wooden door that seals so thoroughly as to block out sound (and smoke).
I think my favorite room of all was the deep, sea-green breakfast room, with a panorama of windows facing out to the lake. A wrought iron table and chairs sit in the corner, while lush green plants line the walls. Natural light filters through custom stained glass oak leaves, creating an atmosphere of quiet tranquility.
I was especially intrigued to learn about Helen, the Congdon’s middle daughter who seemed like a woman after my own heart. She enjoyed hunting and shooting sports with her brothers, and despite her father’s political stances had the audacity to marry a Democrat.
Of course, my ticket limited me to the first two floors of the mansion, so I did not get a peek at the “men’s floor.”
If you’re willing to spend a little more, you can see the upper floor of the mansion, and even take a “nooks and crannies” tour into places not normally accessible to tourists. I had only an hour to visit, but in that time I managed to get a sense of the family history tied to the mansion, and enjoy a stroll around the picturesque grounds on the shore of Lake Superior.