Mrs. Potter Palmer (Bertha “Cissie” Honoré) by Anders Zorn
“She was beautiful, dashing, quick, and smart; and more than that, she was sure of herself,” wrote historian Ernest Poole.
The gallery, and the Potters’ mansion, “The Castle,” on Lake Shore Drive, Chicago’s Gold Coast
So fabulous were Bertha Potter’s jewels, wrote author Aline B. Saarinen, that when she appeared on the S.S. Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse, with a tiara of diamonds as large as lima beans, a corsage with diamonds, a sunburst as big as a baseball, a stomacher of diamonds, and pearls around her neck, a singer from the Metropolitan Opera, performing at the ship’s concert, was stopped in the middle of a high note.
Mr. Potter Palmer had made a fortune by buying cotton and woolen goods before the U.S. Civil War, and devoted much of his fortune to rebuilding Chicago after the Great Fire of 1871. He died in 1902, and in his will left money to whoever next married Bertha. When asked, at the time he was writing the will, why he would be so generous to his own replacement, he replied, “Because he’ll need it.”
However Mrs. Potter never remarried, and over the next 16 years she doubled the value of the estate left to her. In 1910, she bought 80,000 acres in and around Sarasota, Florida; in 1914, she bought 19,000 acres as a hunting preserve called “River Hills” in Temple Terrace, Florida. She encouraged the Florida ranching, citrus, dairy, and farming industries, and was one of the first famous people to winter in Florida. After her death in 1918, at her winter residence, The Oaks in Osprey, Florida, her body was returned to Chicago to lie in state at The Castle. Her remains were buried alongside those of her husband in Graceland Cemetery.