Kane County History: Family Secrets — Historian Finds 1866 'I Love ... ' Message Scratched in Tanner House Window

Kane County History: Family Secrets — Historian Finds 1866 ‘I Love … ‘ Message Scratched in Tanner House Window

  • Editor’s Note: This article is part of a series on Kane County’s amazing history. Today’s article was contributed by Aurora Historical Society‘s Mary Clark Ormond. Unless otherwise credited, all images are courtesy of the Aurora Historical Society.

The Tanner House Museum is more than a lovely showcase of Victorian style. It was the home of a real family, a very model of America during the Great Westward Expansion and one of Aurora’s finest gems. And home to a secret or two. Here is one.

We’d like to guess that Aug. 15, 1866, was a rainy day.

We’d like to guess that for some reason two sisters, the oldest of the Tanner daughters, were in the bedroom at the top of the staircase in the Tanner’s elegant house on Oak Avenue. Like to think that that was the bedroom they shared, maybe with the next oldest girl, Imogene.

Like to think that there was the rustle of light summer skirts and girlish giggling as they gossiped about the young men they knew, perhaps even admired. Like to imagine that Florence, the oldest at age 21, already had her sights on James Pattison , a plumber and gas fitter whom she would marry in two short years.

If that were really the scenario, then maybe Amy, 19 years old at the time and considered the artistic one of the family, might have been the one to come up with the idea of scratching their names and the date into the window glass. In a few years Amy would marry a DuPage County farmer, John Johnson, and leave that bedroom behind.

Family Secrets

Family reunion c. 1907. Bottom row left to right: Imogene, Florence, Amy.

We’ll almost certainly never know.

Most likely the girls didn’t tell their parents, William and Anna Tanner, what they had done. After all, why look for trouble — the scratchings were so faint perhaps no one else ever noticed.

Perhaps 16-year-old Imogene, who never married and lived in the house until her death in 1934, might have noticed or even been there. Maybe a sharp-eyed grandchild once spotted the writing on a visit. We simply have no record — no letter, no reminiscence, no family story.

Certainly no one at the Aurora Historical Society ever noticed the writing until it was recently discovered by Karen Blee Nickels, the house historian. That was 75 years after the house was donated to the society by two of the other Tanner sisters, the twins Martha and Mary.

What do the scratchings convey? Hard to say. There are the names Florence and Amy, the date Aug. 15, 1866, some hard-to-read miscellaneous words, and the start of a sentence:  “I love”.

It’s that “I love” that makes us think maybe it really was a rainy day, and the girls were being girls, and perhaps one of them truly did have a secret love to teasingly memorialize on a bedroom window.

Northwest bedroom with window containing scratchings.

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