At home with the Wigmans

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In March 1896, William Henry Wigman and his wife, Gwendolen, moved into their elegant Queen Anne-style home in Carrick. A highly skilled carpenter and successful businessman, Mr. Wigman owned a South Side lumber company that had been co-founded by his father, also named William. He designed the spacious home and was involved in its construction.

Two years later, Mrs. Wigman, a teacher of Welsh ancestry, gave birth at home to the couple's first child, Dorothy. The baby received gifts such as dresses trimmed in lace, a golden ring, a set of gold pins, a silver mug, a bank book with $5, a fancy rattle and a gold spoon.

Mrs. Wigman's detailed diaries, kept for three years, chronicle the close-knit family's lives and the growth of their daughter and son. At 4 months of age, Dorothy Wigman was fingering the family's piano and organ. At 5 months, she accompanied her parents on a two-week summer stay in a cabin in the the mountains at Point View, Blair County.

As her second birthday approached, Dorothy loved to dance near the piano while her father played a song called "Nellie Bly." That early childhood passion blossomed into a career. Dorothy Wigman began teaching music at Taylor Allderdice High School in 1931 and also sang in the Mendelsohn Choir.

Her brother, Donald Prosser Wigman, was born in 1901. Mrs. Wigman wrote that her newborn son "is a great fellow for catching cold when the weather changes. Dr. Martin said he was as good as a barometer."

For his first Christmas, Donald Wigman received a bank book with $5, a white dress, a drum, a pair of silver mugs, a pair of booties and a white petticoat. On his first birthday, he received a wagon. He went on to work in the marketing department of Pure Oil Co.

When Mr. Wigman played the organ or piano, his children liked to sing and dance in the front parlor. When the children were older, they learned how to shoot rifles by aiming at muskrats and groundhogs. In the summer, the Wigmans decamped to Chautauqua, a summer retreat in western New York.

In her Nov. 23, 1902, entry, Mrs. Wigman wrote that Dorothy could sing "God Is Always Near Me," while her father played the organ. "Has a very sweet voice," Mrs. Wigman wrote.

With the coming of World War I, anti-German sentiment ran high in the United States and the Wigmans fell on hard times. The family left the house in 1917, taking records, diaries and photographs as well a bronze statue that adorned the newel post in the front staircase. Today, that bronze statue belongs to Kitty Martin, the daughter of Donald Prosser Wigman, who grew up in the house. It may have originally been used as a gas lamp.

Mrs. Martin, who lives in Minneapolis, never knew her grandfather, the lumber mill owner, because he died in 1930. But she treasures all of the family heirlooms, including a miniature sewing machine her Aunt Dorothy used to make doll clothes.


Marylynne Pitz: or 412-263-1648.


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