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Friday, August 15, 2003

Inside the Cronin House (1977)

Jeremiah Cronin, Jr. House
As a fifth grader growing up in Marshall, Michigan, author Bryndis Rubin had a class interview assignment.  Being extremely fond of John Bellairs' books, she talked her classmates into doing something involving the Cronin House, the inspiration for the house with a clock in its walls. Upon calling the owners, the Misses Elizabeth and Virginia Cronin, she explained the project and was granted a tour and interview.

"As visuals were a requirement, I borrowed a Polaroid camera from my friend's mom. It was 1977 and Polaroid's were not common then, as I recall, so we thought it was really neat to be able to have such a high-tech aid for our project."

The classmates ended up touring the house with the Cronin sisters, learning interesting trivia and getting photographs of the interior and exterior of the popular Marshall landmark. "Some of the shots are a little blurry because I was 9 or 10 at the time, and not that great a photographer. Most are clear and not too bad and as a result I have used the pictures in my work as a librarian – nothing turns a kid on like visuals."

All this talk of the interior made us wonder if there was a coal pit and a boarded up tunnel behind it somewhere in the basement. We're joking, of course (and we hope you could figure that out), but like most old houses, coal was very much present in the house at one time. "There was a coal area somewhere but we were not allowed to see it because the Cronin sisters wouldn't let us go down into the basement. She said it was very dirty and the stairs leading down were rickety. The house had been converted from coal to gas and eventually electricity; it still had most of the original gas fixtures." We have to wonder how much of what the pictures show still existed at the time of Virginia Cronin’s death last year and how much of that was put up at the estate auction.

Rubin says she kept the project all this time because she loves the books. She kindly has allowed us to share her project to allow others a chance to see what the popular house looked like in the years following the publication of The House with a Clock in its Walls. She tells us, too, that the descriptions (below) are verbatim from the project (“and definitely in the fifth grade style!”). Enjoy!

The Cronin house was built by the sisters' grandfather, Jeremiah Cronin. It is at least five stories high and 105 years old.

This is the marble fireplace in the library. Above Virginia Cronin is a chandelier that was lit by gas when the sisters' grandfather lived there.

This is a view from the front parlor through the big bay window.

This is the fireplace in the living room. The clock on the mantle is 200 years old.

This is the view from coming in the front door and the old fashioned loom that Elizabeth Cronin still uses.

Standing in front of the china closet are Elizabeth L. (1906-1989) and Mary Virginia (1904-2002) Cronin.

This is a view from downstairs looking up the staircase.

This is a view from looking down the staircase.  Notice the light, it too was lighted with gas.

This is a view from the southeast corner of the cupola.

This is a view from the cupola showing Elizabeth Cronin walking her dog, Katy.

This is another view from the cupola showing the street.

 This is a device that was used to heat the Cronin house. First, water was brought from the creek and heated, then maids would carry water up to the device, then the hot water was distributed through the tubes to heat the house.

An old-fashioned bed in one of the upstairs bedrooms, with a large headboard.

This is another old-fashioned bedroom in the house.  The headboard and backboard have a spindle design.  Hand-made!

A back staircase - with a young Bryndis - used by the servants who were not allowed to use the main stairs.

Dishes used for marmalade, cream, and sugar.

I'm not sure if many people know about the "clock from the dump" story anymore, says Rubin, but the Cronin sisters told us that that story was a great favorite of their family. It was found in the city dump with the Cronin's name on it. A friend of theirs found it and brought it back to them. The family had Henry Hoolup fix it in 1900; it cost two dollars to fix. It is a beautiful clock and the sisters loved it very much.

The rear of the house.


Unknown said...

I like this article! I noticed the 1977 pic of the front of the house is slightly different than the one at the top in this article. The tree....on the left side is missing. I wonder if a storm blew it down, or what?

Also I love the pic showing the street. Its exactly as I envisioned the street in the books. :)

bellairsia said...

Glad you enjoyed it. I forget just how we found Bryndis but once she offered to share this project with us, we knew others would find it just as interesting. I hadn't noticed the tree in the 70s photo, though...good eye.

As far as pictures are concerned, it's interesting to compare these late-1970s photos with those someone shared in our forum of more contemporary times. There's a photo in the forum of the same room as in one of Bryndis's photos shown here (I forget which one, maybe the one with the clock) - at any rate, the newer photo shows the same room but with green wallpaper. I laughed when I noticed the match - it was such a strange thing to think exists in a house that so many people want to believe holds much more sinister stuff. Though green wall paper might be sinister for some.

Especially if it were the colour of a lime gelatin dessert. Never mind.

Rod C. said...

The tree isn't gone, the photo at the top is just taken from a different angle - a little further to the right and looking a little more to the left. You can even see some of the tree's foliage in the upper left of the frame. Every other photo of the house I've seen on Google shows both trees.