A Mystical Evening at the Grove Park Inn

It was one of those rare evenings that you swear could never be repeated – then was.

In 1932 twenty-year-old Edgar Tafel stepped off the train in Spring Green, Wisconsin, and stepped into the world of Frank Lloyd Wright. Among the first class of apprentice architects who lived with and worked for the unpredictable Wright (who was strapped for cash at the time), Edgar remained with Wright until tensions between the two men prompted him to leave in 1941. After serving in World War II, Edgar carved a name for himself as a distinguished architect of more than 80 homes, 35 churches and three college campuses.

In 1994 Edgar Tafel came to the Grove Park Inn as our guest to reminisce about his years studying and working under Frank Lloyd Wright, including on such projects as Fallingwater and the Johnson Wax Building.

At least that was what the catalog description said.

What none of us gathered in the darkened Heritage Ballroom that night were expecting – or prepared for – was to see Frank Lloyd Wright take the stage.

As he spoke for nearly two hours that Saturday evening, in his soft, sincere voice, with no notes and no outline, Edgar Tafel became Frank Lloyd Wright. He looked like him, he sounded like him, he was him. No professor, no writer, no actor could have duplicated what Edgar Tafel did for us that evening – except Edgar Tafel.

A few years later Edgar eagerly returned to the Grove Park Inn, for he loved our group. Again he mesmerized us, but this time, unannounced, he brought along something very special, something no one had seen for decades.

Edgar brought a home movie shot in the 1930s of the apprentice architects at Taliesin taking a swim in the Wisconsin River.

Then, who should appear on the screen, but none other than the revered and sometimes feared Frank Lloyd Wright – in a classic, body-length swimming suit.

We sat spellbound, then began smiling, chuckling and, finally, even laughing out loud as we watched not the man knighted “the most important architect of the 20th century,” but Frank Lloyd Wright the man, the father, the teacher as he went swimming with his students.

Our friend Edgar Tafel passed away January 18th, at the age of 98. Edgar had preserved his memories of those years at Taliesin and of his own career as an architect in two books, “About Wright” and “My Years With Frank Lloyd Wright: Apprentice to Genius.” But for those who had the opportunity to see, to hear and to speak with Edgar Tafel those two magical evenings at the Grove Park Inn, he had also carried us inside the world – and the mind – of Frank Lloyd Wright.

See you in a few weeks at the Grove Park Inn – where the unexpected always seems to happen.

– Bruce Johnson