Connections and Reunions

As mentioned in last week’s post, The Livingston Inn was honored to have hosted a reunion for the Harman sisters on Sept 16, 2012, exactly one year to the day from our Grand Opening celebration.

This was indeed a special afternoon.  When you talk to Gail and Jacquie about The Leitch House and what it’s meant to them, you get such a warm and friendly feeling about their family, and what a fun, welcoming role this historic home has played in so many Madisonians’ lives.

We can’t begin to tell you all the stories they’ve shared with us, but I’ll try to do some of their joyful family history justice here.

Gail and Jacquie decided to have a private dinner at the inn when Gail came back to Madison from Texas for her 50th UW class reunion.  As a reunion planning committee member, Gail had worked hard to make that a success, and she and Jacquie thought it would be appropriate to try to connect with other local and Midwest friends while she was here.  They contacted us to see if they could arrange a party at the inn, and we were only too happy to help them make that happen.  (And the evening ended with Gail spending the night at the inn, sleeping in her childhood bedroom, now known as The Willow Room.)

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A portrait of the Harman ladies painted when Jacquie was six and Gail was ten. The artist, a neighbor, was only 20 years old when she painted it. Her brother was one of the guests at the reunion.

The guest list was memorable since it truly was a broad swathe across the family’s past, and encompassed people from many different chapters of the sisters’ lives.

From family and relatives; to the daughter of their childhood neighbor; to a godchild of Dolly and Gordon’s; to a college student who lived in the house when the university faced a housing shortage in the early ‘60’s and the Harmans opened their home to four women students each semester.

We were happy to be able to host this wonderful event that presented many opportunities for these friends and family members to reminisce.  Some notable details and memories:

The Harmans frequently entertained, and they always served a special punch known as “Fluid Druids” – which more than one guest specifically requested.  Gail and Jacquie provided the recipe and we made a great big batch of it for their guests!

The Harmans often had musical afternoons as a family, or parties around a musical theme.  They had a grand piano, and each family member played at least one instrument (piano, organ, violin and harp among them).  Jacquie remembers being a little amused at times by the themes – like the “Chinese Singalong.” Hmmmm…

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A 1960 Cap Times news article that featured the Harmans’ ‘Aunt Polly’

The Harmans had three mannequins that they kept in various places in the house, dressed in period and/or seasonally themed outfits.  Aunt Polly stood in the front hallway by the antique wall phone.  She was dressed in period clothes appropriate to the season, or a Graduation cap & gown, Halloween costume, etc.  “I remember whipping around the corner from the back parlor into the foyer,” shares Jacquie, “nudging her arm and automatically saying ‘excuse me.’ Then I’d say to myself ‘Oh for Heaven’s sake, I don’t have to say excuse me to Aunt Polly.’”  Aunt Phoebe was a dramatic blond who resided in Gail’s bedroom near her cherry four poster bed.  Aunt Phoebe wore an exquisitely handcrafted wedding gown from the 1800’s (cocoa brown!).  And Roland was a little boy who stood in the front parlor near the concert grand piano in his velvet waistcoat and knickers – ever the polite audience.

Dolly and Gordon Harman were such a vibrant part of Madison society and supported many groups around the area, often opening their home for tour stops, planning committees and history buffs.  They were avid supporters of the Dane County Humane Society, and even adopted a dog from them.

One guest remembered that Gordon would host a huge Yard Sale in the fall, and neighbors could add their items.  He hoped to help students looking for household items for their apartments by selling gently used things at better-than-new prices.  He’d also pick up discarded items through the year — like lamps or furniture left at the curb — and fix them, giving them new life, so he could sell them at a modest price at the annual yard sale.

According to Gail and Jacquie, the Harmans simply loved living at 752 Gorham and sharing it with others.  Peggy and I are always happy to hear about this fun, loving family who lived here.  We love this home, too, and hope to share it with many, many more people through the years!

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Dolly and Gordon Harman: Never Boring!