Mother Of Forensic Science’ To Be Honored At Family Home NORTH COUNTRY Rocks Estate Was Childhood Vacation Property Of Frances Glessner Lee BY ROBERT BLECHL Staff Writer BETHLEHEM — She is known as the “mother of forensic science” and her contributions helped modernize the field and inspire generations of young people to pursue homicide investigation as a career.
To honor Frances Glessner Lee, who spent much time at The Rocks Estate, which her father bought as a vacation property and her family later donated to the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, a historical marker will be placed and soon unveiled along Route 302 at The Rocks entrance.
“She had a big impact here,” Bethlehem residentMike Bruno, who spearheaded the effort to commemorate Glessner Lee, said Monday. “The Glessner name is typically associated with Chicago, but we hold her dear because of her influence and her time here.”
She is also the only woman from the 20th centuryto be honored with her very own, stand-alone historical marker in New Hampshire, he said.
It was a long road to actualize her passion, one Glessner Lee would not reach until she was in her 50s, after her father, John Glessner, who made his fortune as a co-founder of International Harvester, died and left her a share of the inheritance.
“Her father would not allow her to do anything in that field because he felt it was beneath a Glessner to pursue an interest in crime,” said Bruno.
But Glessner Lee was long intrigued with forensicpathology, after listening to discussions between her brother and his friend, physician George MacGrath, who would later become professor of pathology at Harvard Medical School, as the two detailed murder investigations in medical terms.
In her 50s, Glessner Lee began building what would be called the Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death.
They are 20 miniature, true-crime scene diora- See Rocks, Page A6
A painting hangs in the Bethlehem Heritage Society visitors center of Frances Glessner Lee, whose father owned The Rocks Estate before it was donated to the Forest Society. Glessner Lee will soon be honored with a historical marker near The Rocks Estate for her contributions to the field of forensic science. (Photo by Robert Blechl)
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mas that are the size of dollhouses, finely-detailed and painted, and depicting actual crime scenes, with tiny figures of murder victims and even tinier visual and material clues such as prescription bill bottles, newspaper piles, crushed cigarettes, blood spatters, bullet holes and more to instruct homicide detectives, who analyze the scenes.
The models, combining both art and instructional science, are each built to a scale of one inch to one foot.
They were reconstructed from real photographs and from statements by police and witnesses, and became primary tools to teach criminology to police personnel.
Today, the only diorama for public viewing is on loan from the Forest Society and on display at the Bethlehem Heritage Society town visitors center.
The diorama in Bethlehem, built in 1947, is “called sitting room and woodshed” and depicts “Eugene Black, town drunkard,” dead in the sitting room. Questioned were his daughter, Winifred Black, and a roomer in Black’s house named David Jackson.
The other 18 dioramas are at the University of Maryland Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, where they are still being used for forensic science study.
Until this past January, the 19 dioramas (one is presumed lost) were on display at the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s Renwick Gallery in Washington, D.C.
“It was the first time all 19 had been together,” said Bethlehem Heritage Society President Brown.
The one now at the visitors center was found by Brown at The Rocks Estate.
Bruno recently finished a book titled “Cruising New Hampshire History: A Guide to New Hampshire’s Roadside Historical Markers.”
“The work on completing my book was the catalyst to initiate the proposal for the Glessner Lee marker,” he said.
In compiling his narratives, he traveled to all the 255 roadside historical markers in the state. (Four more have since been added throughout the state, bringing the total to 259, said N.H Division of Historical Resources Director Elizabeth Muzzey).
Two markers are in Bethlehem – one, along Route 116 recognizing the Alderbook settlement and the other along Route 302, and the second, on the Twin Mountain side of town, recognizing the Pierce Bridge.
Bruno also has a petition in to recognize the many, now longgone, grand hotels of Bethlehem.
Glessner Lee’s Nutshell Studies, however, are “quite impressive” and deserve their rightful place in Bethlehem history, he said.
“I think she will be the perfect candidate for a sign, “said Bruno. “This one will really acknowledge a person who was very significant in our community.”
About 80 other New Hampshire residents, who signed the petition submitted to the N.H. Division of Historical Resources, also believe Glessner Lee is the perfect candidate (only 20 signatures are required for a petition).
“We are hoping to broaden the stories the marker program tells,” Muzzey said Monday. “We have had a recent push to include more 20th century stories and more about the diversity of the people out there. Certainly, Frances fits both those categories, as well as the topic of crime. We don’t have too many crime topics.”
Muzzey said, “The thing I find compelling about Frances and her accomplishments is she never gave up her dream of pursuing her interest in crime. I find that very inspiring and admirable.”
A marker must contain no more than 12 to 14 lines of no more than 60 characters each, which, in light of her significant accomplishments, made crafting the limited wording on the marker difficult, said Bruno.
Once Glessner Lee became known in the forensic field, she put her fortune to positive use.
“She would host these seminars in Boston and would pay the costs for all of these law enforcement folks to come and learn,” said Bruno. “She was given the honorary title of captain for the New Hampshire State Police because of her work. She was the first female member of the International Association of Chiefs of Police. She was very well-respected in law enforcement.”
Glessner Lee died in 1962 at the age of 83.
Also part of the marker project is the N.H. Department of Transportation, which orders the signs and selects the most appropriate and safest locations for them.
The marker is scheduled to be unveiled by the town at 3 p.m. Tuesday at the entrance to The Rocks Estate.
Another vision for the installing marker in Bethlehem is that it gets people to pull over by The Rocks and check it out and maybe inspire them to visit the estate and the Bethlehem Heritage Society museum in downtown, said Bruno.
What is normally a two-year process to install a historical marker, from application to installation, will occur in less than one year for Glessner Lee.
“I am grateful the state saw the value in her contribution,” said Bruno. “It is exciting when the community can celebrate its history.”