By Megan McKinney
Lucy McCormick Blair Linn.
In our most recent Blair segment we promised more not only of Lucy herself but also of her cousin Wolcott Blair and his 1924 party for Edward, Prince of Wales, for which she was hostess. His Royal Highness had requested the party be “not too large” and—as one reporter put it—he would prefer “youth and informality to the pomp and dignity of the social rulers who have held the reins these last 20 or 30 years.” There was even the hint of a “30 age limit.”
These few royal requests set the party’s format, making the very non-stuffy Saddle & Cycle Club on Chicago’s Far North Side the logical location. Gossip was that the 50 feminine guests, who included such young matrons as Mrs. Leander McCormick, Princess Cantacuzène, Mrs. Lester Armour, Mrs. William Mitchell and Mrs. William McCormick Blair, formed the core of the next group of ladies to “hold the reins.”
The Saddle & Cycle Club.
The party was an immense success and source of an October 31, 1924 note from the Prince to Lucy at 55 Cedar St. Handwritten on SS OLYMPIC stationery, the note thanked Mrs. Linn for “the lovely ‘bones.’ I found them waiting for me on board in New York . . . I feel they are going to bring me luck.”
55 East Cedar was the Linns’ town house in the mid-1920s.
When Lucy gave the letter to the Chicago History Museum in 1961, she wrote, “We rolled dice during dinner and laughed about it many times later when we met, so I sent some ivory dice when he sailed for home.”
Throughout their long lives, Lucy and the Prince, later Duke of Windsor, would frequently find themselves at the same places. Here they are with his wife, the former Wallis Warfield Simpson. The Duchess is wearing one of the most famous pieces in her vast collection of well-publicized jewelry, the witty flamingo brooch set with diamonds, sapphires, emeralds and rubies.
Lucy was always an avid horsewoman and, during the 1930s and 1940s, rode with the Piedmont Hunt in Virginia in the company of such companions as the Paul Mellons. Like her husband, Lucy was a dedicated foxhunter.
Lucy, sidesaddle as always, on her horse, Verquin.
Lucy won several steeplechase races, including the 1939 Piedmont Point-to-Point Ladies Race, which she had just completed in the photograph above.
She and Howard also belonged to the Mill Creek Hunt closer to home. Established in 1897 as part of Onwentsia Club, Mill Creek moved north, near the Wisconsin border, and added its name in 1930.
Lucy in a February 1950 article on The Middleburg Hunt in Fleur Cowles’ spectacular magazine Flair.
In 1931, when an Argentine polo team traveled to Lake Forest to play against locals at Onwentsia, it was Lucy who organized the round of luncheons, dinners, cocktail parties and balls that surrounded the series of matches. She saw that party hostesses were sent stacks of Spanish-English dictionaries to set around at their dinner tables, and she solved disputes about guest lists by having names drawn out of her hat. When, during a practice match a ball was knocked near her, she quipped, “If they think it would help polo’s publicity, I’ll let one of the ponies run over me.”
There was time when it was considered an honor for a woman to participate in a magazine or newspaper ad for a commercial product: actress Joan Crawford did it for Maybelline Mascara, Russian Princess Alexandra Galitzine, who became a Romanoff and then a Chicago Armour, did the same for many products in her younger days. So when Lucy was asked to lend her name and image to Simmons Mattresses, it was an endorsement of her star power. Although the young expatriate Aleka Galitzine needed the money then and Joan Crawford, the publicity, it would be like Lucy to ask that her fee be given to a charitable cause.
The vivacious Lucy lived to be 90, and through the mid-20th century was still enthusiastically traveling the world accompanied by trunks filled with many wardrobe changes, including fancy dress for costume parties that might come up somewhere in India—as did occur on one trip. Although fashion was only a small part of what she did, Lucy contributed more than 150 couture ensembles to the Chicago History Museum, from designers who included Chanel, Vionnet, Lanvin, Balenciaga and Dior.
In 1961, when her life still had another 17 years to run, a journalist wrote of her, “Seven decades is a long time to be feminine and exciting and gay, to be best-dressed, to have the figure of a young girl, to be, in the French fashion, an intriguing woman, timeless and vital.”
What we have not mentioned is that she also developed a reputation as one of Chicago’s first female interior designers. And there is so much more to tell about Lucy McCormick Blair Linn; perhaps someone will write a biography of this fascinating woman.
Megan McKinney’s series on The Blairs will continue next in Classic Chicago with a feature on Lucy’s brother, William McCormick Blair.
Previous articles on The Blairs and other Classic Chicago Dynasties may be found at https://www.classicchicagomagazine.com/category/vintage/classic-chicago-dynasties/
Robert F. Carl