Discover the Most Famous Mansion, and Murder Site, in Duluth

Posted by Mark

Heading north out of downtown on London Road takes you past an old elite neighborhood of Duluth. On the lake side of the road you will find the Glensheen Mansion, one of the most popular tourist destinations on for a Duluth vacation.

Glansheen was built as a family home for Chester Congdon. Taking three years to build, from 1905 to 1908 the site of the mansion, while now urban, was wilderness at the time. It was difficult to even get the building supplies to the construction site, many of which were brought up the shoreline by boat and hauled over the rocky Superior shore.

The mansion sits on 7.6 acres of prime lake front property, providing spectacular views of Lake Superior from many of it’s 38 rooms. The Congdons retained the services of Minnesota architect Clarence H. Johnston Sr. to design the home and had the interior designed by Willian A. French. The New York firm of Charles W. Leavitt designed the garden and landscaping around the mansion.

William French used Late Victorian, Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau styles when designing the home’s interior. Furniture was selected to match the style and wood used in each room. The original furniture is still in the house, in most of their original locations. Circassian walnut, mahogany, cyress, fumed oak and American walnut woods were used throughout the house for trim and panelling. Doors were made to match both the hallway and the room with oak on the hallway side of the door and wood matching the room on the interior.

The art collected by Chester Congdon is still hanging, primarily, where he had it hung. The collection includes a range of American and European artists.

In 1968 the estate was given to the University of Minnesota Duluth with the understanding that the youngest child of Chester Congdon, Elisabeth, be allowed to live there until her death. Little did the family know that Elisabeth’s life would end tragically.

On June 27th, 1977, Roger Caldwell, the second husband of Congdon’s daughter Marjorie murdered Elisabeth Congdon and her nurse Velma Pietila. Roger was charged with two counts of first degree murder and sentenced to two life sentences. His convictions were later overturned by the Minnesota Supreme Court in 1982. Facing a retrial, Caldwell confessed to the murders and pleaded guilty. Marjorie was charged with aiding and abetting and conspiracy to commit murder but was acquitted on all charges. She was later convicted, in unrelated matters, to two counts of arson for which she served 12 years in prison. At one time, she was also wanted in North Dakota for bigamy.

Although it’s widely believed that tour guides aren’t allowed to talk about the murders, many of them will talk about it at the end of the tour.

The University of Minnesota Duluth opened the mansion to the public in 1979. The third floor and attic were closed to the public for many years due to concerns about safety due to limited access. Limited small group tours of both the third floor and attic started in 1992.

In 1991 the mansion was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

The tour gives a glimpse at what life was like for the Congdons and their help over 100 years ago. After the tour, visitors may take their time wandering the grounds of the estate looking at the gardens, boat house and barn.

For movie buffs, the 1972 movie, “You’ll Like My Mother”, staring Patty Duke and Richard Thomas was filmed at the Glensheen mansion.

The mansion is available for parties, weddings and events.

Find out more about this great stop on your Duluth vacation by visiting Glensheen, the Historic Congon Estate

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