Found at an antique shop in Adel, Iowa: an Armand Cold Cream Powder box, with a black silhouette of a lady with her hair piled up on the back of her head. The perfect birthday gift for Mom.
Mom had told stories of playing with Armand cosmetic samples when she was a girl during the Depression Era.
And the little round box reminded me of an unusual link to a Des Moines treasure–the Salisbury House.
When my high school class took a trip to Des Moines to tour the 42-room mansion, Mom told me that her mother’s sisters, Georgia and Ruby Goff, had worked for the Carl Weeks family, who later had the house built, modeled after the King’s House in Salisbury, England. Evidently Ruby cooked for them, and Georgia took care of two of the rambunctious Weeks boys.
Carl Weeks had founded the Armand cosmetics company in 1916. By 1927, it was the leading seller of face powder in the United States.
The Goff sisters were also students at nearby Des Moines College. Many Des Moines families hired girls who attended college there. Georgia studied dramatic arts and museum. She could attend a lecture and remember nearly the entire thing, according to her older sister, Leora, who was my grandmother.
Leora also said that her younger sisters had lived at the Salisbury House, and had even gone on vacations with the Weeks family. She got it half right.
The Carl Weeks Family
A letter from Georgia to her parents from Clear Lake in July 1921 told that she had been learning to swim and dive. “The boys built a diving tower out in the lake and we certainly make good use of it. I shall certainly miss having the lake at my front door when I leave.” I believe she was with the Weeks family there. They all had taken the Sunset Trip on the James Dickerson, named for an early Clear Lake settler, seven miles around the lake.
Georgia asked her mother to send her button shoes, “the ones you gave me, Mama, and I’ll throw these in the lake that I’m wearing. Put in some shoe-buttons if there are any off, which I think you have plenty of laying around.”
Weeks’ returned to Des Moines that September, when Georgia Goff’s address became 1324 39th Street. That’s not the Salisbury House address–it hadn’t even been built yet–but was evidently the home where Weeks’ lived while the mansion was being built.
Carl Weeks didn’t begin the Salisbury House, which was modeled after the King’s House in Salisbury, England, until 1923, the year after Georgia Goff died.
Des Moines in the 1920s
The fall of 1921, Georgia and Ruby visited the Capitol grounds in Des Moines, the public library “which is situated on the Des Moines river just across the street from the Coliseum,” and attended an Industrial Show at the Coliseum. They spent Armistice Day at the Sherman Theater, at the Coliseum, and had watched “Mr. & Mrs. Kendall lead the ‘Grand March’.”
The spring of 1922, Ruby wrote home to Guthrie Center that Georgia was having spells, and to come to Des Moines to get her.
According to oldest sister, Leora (Goff) Wilson, Georgia had had what they called a “delirium spell” when she was in her late teens. The family thought it might have been caused from a bad fall when she was nine years old. She’d gone upstairs to make the beds and slipped while swinging between the beds. Georgia’s mother heard a racket in the stairway and when she opened the door, Georgia was crumpled at the bottom of the stairs.
So, the summer of 1922, Georgia was again living with her parents in their Victorian house in Guthrie Center. She had a couple of dozen piano students, and she even had a beau. But she quit dating when the spells became more frequent. Goffs thought having her picture taken with her sisters might help her cope.
My mother Doris remembered a visit from her Aunt Georgia one chilly day when Wilsons lived at Stuart, Iowa. Georgia walked uptown with her little niece to the post office. The three-year-old had forgotten her mittens, so Georgia told her to put one hand in her own little pocket, and to tuck the other up into her favorite aunt’s sleeve.
Doris was not yet four when she endured one of Georgia’s spells. A dissonance made by the torn spot in a piano player roll, made out of stiff paper, caused Georgia to make low, animal-like noises. Doris wasn’t afraid but she knew it upset her mother, who put her arms around her sister and cried, “Oh, Georgie, Georgia, don’t!”
Their father arranged for Georgia to go to the mental hospital at Clarinda, where she was admitted in August of 1922. Reason for admission: “Over study and nervous breakdown.” Diagnosis: “Manic Depressive Psychosis: Mania.”
Georgia Laurayne Goff died there ten days later. Cause of death: “Exhaustion and acute Mania: Congestion of the Brain.” She was 28.
Many people came to the funeral at the Goff home on the hill in Guthrie Center, several of them her piano students. Six girlfriends were her pallbearers. Little Doris’s father lifted her up to see her aunt in the casket, at the foot of which sat decorative folding metal “Golden Gates.”
Georgia Goff’s obituary said that “her demise had been caused from brain fever. . . It is thought that it was her close application to work and studies which brought on the illness which caused her death.”
Might it have been a brain tumor?
The round cardboard Armand powder box was too clean, so not even a little antique cold cream powder lingered in a crevice. But maybe the silhouette would bring back memories anyway, I hoped.
Yes, it did. Mom told about a Halloween party that her aunt Ruby Goff held a few years later, for cousins and neighborhood kids in the town of Dexter. There had been some kind of skit, and the girls were each given red sample tins–with the lady’s black silhouette on them.
So the stories were half right. Georgia didn’t ever live in the Salisbury House. But yes, Georgia probably worked for the Weeks family who had it built later.
And a small powder box holds bittersweet memories of Mom’s favorite aunt, but also a tenuous connection to Des Moines famous mansion.
Note: All that remains of Carl Weeks’ enterprises is Weeks and Leo, a private label business.