Protecting history: vandalism at the historic Hegeler-Carus mansion gymnasium

The Hegeler-Carus Mansion in the town of La Salle, Illinois, contains what is believed to be the oldest preserved residential gymnasium in the United States. As the only known remaining example of a traditional German turnhall, the Hegeler-Carus gym is a precious and truly unique resource for all historians of 19th century sport and exercise.

On the evening of Sunday, January 27th, vandals attempted to break into the mansion, first throwing a brick through one of the ground floor windows and then using a garbage can to break through the back door. The mansion’s motion sensor security alarm sounded and by the time police and members of the mansion staff arrived, the vandals had fled.

“Fortunately, they didn’t have more time in the house,” Hegeler Carus Foundation executive director Kelly Klobucher said on Monday.

Kelly Klobucher takes inventory in the historic gym following Sunday’s vandalism.

The thrown brick and broken glass damaged some of the historic gymnasium’s fittings and equipment, notably including a horizontal exercise ladder (similar to a set of monkey bars) that was set against the wall immediately below the window. According to Tony Wolf, a member of the Hegeler Carus Foundation advisory board with particular reference to the gym and its equipment; “As with much of the turnhall apparatus, the horizontal ladder is a one-of-a-kind antique dating to the 1870s, so it’s been difficult to establish a replacement cost. It’s very sad that it should have been damaged in this way.”

The intact horizontal ladder (picture taken circa 2010).

While the mansion’s insurance will cover the costs of the vandalism, Klobucher said it may be awhile before they are able to fully repair the original thick glass to historic specifications.

“A lot of the funding we’ve secured toward the end of last year is already tied to other projects,” she said, noting that preservation work is already underway on the home’s parlor and grounds this year. She said the foundation will likely also have to find money to improve security at the mansion.

Donations towards upgrading the mansion’s security can be made via this link.

Anyone with information about the attempted break-in incident is asked to contact La Salle police at (815) 223-2131.

4 thoughts on “Protecting history: vandalism at the historic Hegeler-Carus mansion gymnasium”

  1. The Hegeler Carus gym is a popular feature of the mansion’s regular tours, but it’s not operational in any practical sense – all of the equipment is antique and some items are, as far as we know, literally unique, so it would be too risky to allow members of the public to actually use them. Tony Wolf, who rediscovered much of the equipment and helped to reconstruct the gym, very occasionally demonstrates some of the equipment to special tour groups.

    A few years ago a tourist assumed the equipment was there to use and accidentally pulled a climbing pole down from the ceiling before the tour guide could stop him; that piece of equipment is a direct link back to the famous Buddhist scholar D.T. Suzuki, who exercised on it while he was staying at the mansion during the 1890s. Fortunately the pole wasn’t damaged, but that’s why members of the public aren’t allowed to use the equipment.

  2. Not as far as I know, unfortunately, but there have been no further attempted break-ins since the security system was upgraded.

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