The Beauty and Mystery of Duluth: Glensheen, the Congdon Mansion
By Ellie M. Bayrd
Ever since I was a teen, my mom and I have taken mother/daughter weekends up in Duluth every few years, either just the two of us or with friends for a girls’ weekend. Whenever we head up to Duluth, I never miss a chance to wander the Lakewalk and view the Aerial Lift Bridge or shop along Canal Park. Sometimes my mom and I take a sightseeing cruise or explore Skyline Drive, a 30-mile drive with views of Lake Superior.
Every single trip includes a stop at Glensheen, the Congdon mansion. As a fan of mystery/crime novels, starting with Nancy Drew when I was little and graduating to local author John Sandford’s novels as an adult, the mansion's own murder mystery captured my attention on our first visit. (I actually bought Secrets of the Congdon Mansion: The unofficial Guide to Glensheen and the Congdon Murders.)
The Glensheen mansion belonged to Chester and Clara Congdon and first opened in 1908. Today, the Glensheen estate and gardens are on the National Register of Historic Places and owned by the University of Minnesota Duluth. The Jacobean-style mansion covers 27,000 square feet on a 7.6-acre estate. The death of Chester and Clara’s daughter Elisabeth Congdon (at age 83), and her nurse Velma Pietila (sadly an example of Clue's "with a candlestick"), put Glensheen in the national spotlight in 1977. Roger Caldwell, the husband of Elisabeth's adopted daughter Marjorie, was convicted of the murders (but his story doesn't end there). Marjorie Congdon Caldwell Hagen was charged but never convicted for her alleged involvement in her mother's murder (though she always seems to be in trouble and in the news).
A real-life murder mystery may be fascinating, but that’s not the main reason we keep coming back to visit Glensheen. Once you see the mansion, you'll know. The historic building is beautiful and full of period details (count the pineapples, symbols of hospitality) and the well-kept gardens on the shore of Lake Superior are gorgeous. For an avid gardener like my mom, the gardens are reason enough to come back. And even without the tragic end, stories about the history of the family and the house are captivating.