Local Historian Brings Marshall Field's, Jacqueline Kennedy Back to Life

Leslie Goddard will present the lecture "Remembering Marshall Field's," also the basis for her forth-coming book, at the Darien Historical Society Sunday Dinner Jan. 30.

Leslie Goddard’s grandfather Joe worked at Marshall Field’s State Street store for 35 years. Yet as famous as the store is, when Goddard looked for a book about it, there were none to be found.

No problem for Goddard. The historian decided to write one herself.

The Darien resident’s first book, Remembering Marshall Field’s, will be published in 2011 by Arcadia press.

The book stems from Goddard’s lecture of the same name, which she is scheduled to present Jan. 30 at the annual Sunday Dinner fundraiser at .

In addition to her family connection with Marshall Field’s, Goddard said she’s long been fascinated with the intense devotion people have to the store.

“Every time I give the talk, I always ask how many people worked at Marshall Field’s or had family members employed there,” she said. “It’s not uncommon to have half the arms go up in the room.” (Including Goddard herself, who briefly worked at the Marshall Field's at Oak Brook Mall.)

And when she asks who remembers visiting the iconic window displays at Christmastime, she said the response almost invariably is 100 percent.

That devotion prompted hundreds of protestors to surround the store when it rebranded as Macy’s in 2006. Many inflamed shoppers return year after year, still attempting to get the name changed back.

“I wanted to know, ‘What about this store gets that level of reaction from people?’” Goddard said.

She has her theories—that the store created a strong brand even before the concept of a brand was well known, and that it catered in equal measures to both high-end and everyday customers.

Stories Familiar and New

Remembering Marshall Field’s, both the book and the lecture, recount well-known anecdotes as well as obscure facts about the store’s more than 150-year history.

Some stories, Goddard said, she has to tell. If she doesn’t mention the Walnut Room’s Special Sandwich—an open-faced turkey sandwich topped with a wedge of iceberg lettuce—audience members without fail approach her at the end of the lecture.

But during her research, Goddard uncovered some facts that even diehard Marshall Field’s fans don’t know.

Legend has it that Frango mints started out as “Franco” mints—based off the name Frederick and Nelson Co., which Marshall Field’s acquired during the 1920s.

During the 1930s, the store supposedly changed the mint’s name to Frango to distance itself from the rise of General Franco.

“It’s a great story, but it’s not true,” Goddard said.

Rather, Frederick and Nelson originally used the name Frango for a maple-flavored dessert, which Marshall Field’s later added to its menu. Goddard said the earliest reference to the name Frango in connection with mints appears in a 1947 Marshall Field’s ad.

“She’s excellent at doing research,” said Alice Brennan, who’s co-chairing the Historical Society’s Sunday Dinner with Cathy Marchese. “She’s known for authenticity and reliability of information.”

Living History

Remembering Marshall Field’s is just one of a number of lectures and “living history” presentations that Goddard has created. Goddard, who works in exhibit development at the , started branching out into the presentations around 2003 as a way to blend her background in theater and history.

A former co-worker asked Goddard, who has a master’s in theater, to perform as Frances Willard, the so-called mother of Prohibition, during a summer event. At the time, Goddard was working at the . Though she’d never considered doing in-character presentations before, she said that once she crafted her Willard character, she realized such performances were a natural fit.

“It’s a whole really interesting way to do history that’s different than what you can find in a book,” said Goddard, who also has a master’s in museum studies and a Ph.D. with a focus on U.S. cultural history. “In a book you might not get a sense of what the shoes looked like, or the hair. You can get at whole different aspects.”

From Willard, Goddard moved next to developing a character based on Violet Jessup, a stewardess who survived both the sinking of the Titanic and later the HMHS Britannic during World War I.

When constructing the narratives for these Great Women Programs, Goddard reads as much of the women’s own writing as possible and immerses herself in the history of the time period, spending about a year researching everything from the type of corsets to the color of apron popular at the time. She makes most of the costumes herself, though for the more modern Jacqueline Kennedy character she buys suits from vintage stores.

Goddard said she’s found that attention to detail to be crucial to successful performances.

“Once I had a woman come up to me after [the Kennedy performance], and she said, ‘Remember, women had to wear girdles. It really shaped the skirt,’” Goddard said. “So from that point on, I did.”

Still, Goddard said audiences are remarkably willing to suspend disbelief and be transported to the time and space each woman inhabits.

When Goddard performed as Kennedy at the last year, adult programs coordinator Cindy Kline said the audience was mesmerized.

“She had her mannerisms and speech so well defined. She has the voice perfected,” Kline said. “[Goddard] is one of our favorites.”

Brennan said she also admires Goddard’s ability to transform herself into these different women. “You wouldn’t see anything finer in the theaters downtown Chicago,” she said.

Goddard said her Kennedy performance elicits the strongest emotional reactions from the audience—but it’s the same kind of connection she strives for in all of her Great Women roles. 

“This kind of history tends to awaken memories,” Goddard said. “That’s strong stuff. That’s what history does.”

The Darien Historical Society Sunday Dinner will be held on Jan. 30 at Alpine Banquets. Doors open at 1 p.m. Tickets are $25. For more information, please call 630-964-6792.


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