Two entrances to Clayton lead to two different worlds?
By Jake McCormick
Two doors offer entrance into Clayton—one is the grand entrance which is framed by a porte-cochère featuring four ornate pillars connected by bowed arches; the other, the unpretentious service entrance, is much less elaborate framed by a small, covered porch. The service entrance, accessible from the Great Lawn, was used by the Frick children and staff members, alike. The Frick’s payroll documents show that employees hired between 1892 and 1897 included florists, landscapers, a chef, valets, maids, and private tutors, among many others. All of these workers would have used this unassuming door. The following sound file re-constructs the sounds of the daily activity surrounding the service entrance in the late 19th century. As you listen, consider how this soundscape might have been different from the sounds heard at the main entrance.
The clip presents a thirty-second soundwalk, recorded from the perspective of a Clayton employee. The employee starts on the Great Lawn where natural sounds, like the wind and birds, are heard. Children laugh and play in the background. As the employee walks up the wooden porch steps and through the staff entrance, the murmuring of men and women is heard. The employee passes a sink adjacent to the staff door and hears its running faucet. The annunciator buzzes in the kitchen signaling a service request at the push of a button. After pausing in the kitchen, the employee leaves through the same service door and returns to the Great Lawn.
Sound clip created by Jake McCormick
The employees may have felt like they occupied a different world than the Fricks for a few reasons. Most of the staff members were younger than the Fricks and, according to a study by Caitlin Henningsen, many were immigrants from Scandinavia, England, and Scotland. The staff members also occupied different sound worlds than the Frick adults. The location of the staff entrance would have had a mechanical, business feeling, with constant exposure to the sounds of service-work, whereas the main entrance of the house would have been quieter and more regulated for several reasons. The carpeting leading up to the main entrance door would have muffled visitors’ footsteps. By contrast, the aged wood on the porch by the staff entrance would have resounded with each footstep. The staff members would hear the natural sounds of the Great Lawn, however, the Fricks might have heard fewer outdoor sounds as their carriages were shuttled straight to the door. As a result, the staff might have felt a sense of community and comradery due to their exposure to wide range of loud and varied environmental sounds; whereas, the Frick’s might have felt more disconnected and isolated since their soundscape comprised quieter sounds, muffling the presence of other people.
In the 21st century, we still separate the sounds of work from consumers. Consider how a customer entrance to a convenience store sounds quite different from the loading dock to the same store. Has society effectively hidden the sounds of service work from those receiving the service? In the Frick’s era (and perhaps today), is a person’s degree of exposure to working sounds an indicator of social class? For the Fricks, there seemed to be a direct correlation—the mid/lower class was surrounded by sounds of work while the elite class was shielded from audible labor.