They're at Home in the Mansion

The following is the text of an article in The State Journal of Wednesday, October 24, 1979. Upon request, the Secretary can provide a copy of the article, with the accompanying photo of Pat Pemberton and Frank McLean in the music room.

They're at Home in the Mansion


by Virginia Redfern

A great big historic house where you spent your childhood is bound to evoke a host of memories.

And this was the experience over the past week of Patricia McLean Pemberton and her brother, Frank McLean, who grew up with two younger brothers, Rod and Andy, in the Turner Dodge mansion, now the property of the City of Lansing.

"It was a wonderful place to grow up," Pat and Frank recalled. "And we slid down every banister hundreds of times. (This entails two staircases and three stories of sliding - a lot of fun.)

They also reminisced about the hide-and-seek games with the cushioned window seat in the alcove between the foyer and the entrance hall ... a favorite hiding place. (The seat was hinged and no one would know there was a soul around. Unless they giggled.)

They also recall with love the formalities of the big house of a different era. Driving up the circle drive to alight under the port-cochere, family conferences in the library, with velvet portiers drawn and a fire crackling in the classic fireplace, solemn funeral services and elegant weddings in the music-drawing room. Music for both occasions was played on the grand piano. And the brides descended the winding staircase.

"Remember our little, private dinner parties in Grandmother's (Abby Turner Dodge, widow of the late Frank Dodge) room?" Frank said. And his sister described the little suppers upstairs in their grandmother's big bedroom (where a fire always was blazing) while their parents entertained as many as 24 guests at the oval dining table downstairs.

"This was when we were little," Pat said. "Later on, we were allowed to join the family for gala parties in the ballroom. "For these parties, legs were removed from one of the two grand pianos and it was rolled up on dollies - three flights." Frank and Pat also recalled with impish delight a few off-the-record parties, hosted by the boys but usually including their only sister by invitation.

The punch at these little parties was often spiked with a little recipe from the liquor closet off the master bedroom and bath and next to the watchful eye of the ever-present live-in maid. They recall Hattie, Rose and Julia among the many over the years.

(Obviously, these impromptu parties had to take place when parents were out and the maid busy in the kitchen. Her room was equipped with a sink and was adjacent to the back stairs leading to the kitchen and the basement were other toilet facilities were available.)

Pat said she was not one of the brides descending the winding stair. "I think I'd seen just about enough formal weddings," she laughed, "so Bob (Pemberton) and I eloped." He used to come over after school, she said, and tinker with old cars in the drive. Now the owner of Auto Parts, he taught his future bride all about mechanics and eventually they raced together at Daytona Beach, winning many trophies.

Parents of the McLean children were Josephine Dodge and Andrus B. McLean Jr. Their grandparents were Abby Turner and Frank Dodge and their great-grandparents were James Turner and Marian Monroe.

Pat and Frank enjoyed the "restored" look of the house (remodeling by Lansing Jaycees and redecorating by talented area decorators), but said it was different than in the past. The woodwork, now rubbed down to natural finish, always was painted white, the walls Wedgwood blue. "It was more Williamsburg than Victorian in style," they said, in the years they lived there.

Now the scene of a benefit Decorator Showcase tours, it is open Monday and Friday from 7 to 9 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday from 7 to 9 p.m. and Sunday afternoon from 2 to 5 p.m. Sponsors have asked "please, no children under 10 and no cameras."

It is one of Lansing's major restoration projects, following similar examples set in New York City, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Chicago and Grosse Pointe. After the tours, the mansion will be the scene of community events and meetings.