"In later years Mrs. Gardner used to say that to her the most vivid thing about the opening of the palace was the time she spent that afternoon on her hands and knees pairing rubbers together and trying them on the blind children".
— Cleveland Amory, The Proper Bostonians, 1947
Many thanks to Shana McKenna, Archivist at the Isabella Steward Gardner Museum, for telling us about this wonderful bit of shared history.
From the December, 1947 issue of The Lantern:
Perkins is mentioned in the book in connection with Mrs. Jack Gardner. Mrs. Gardner was preparing to open Fenway Court and was determined that no one would see the inside of the museum until the opening night [New Years Eve, 1903]. Confronted with the necessity of testing the acoustics of the music room, she "got in touch with the Director of the Perkins Institute for the Blind . . and procured a full-size audience of boys and girls for an afternoon concert."
The occasion was marred by an over careful attendant who picked up all the rubbers of the children and arranged them in one place. "In later years Mrs. Gardner used to say that to her the most vivid thing about the opening of the palace was the time she spent that afternoon on her hands and knees pairing rubbers together and trying them on the blind children".
The Boston Sunday Journal covered the story on January 25th, 1903. According to the article 100 students from Perkins attended the concert. Unfortunately there is no mention about the debacle with the shoes, however, the author praises the students for their closed lips: the section titled "Didn't Remember" recounts her inability to pry details from the students after a visit to the school. Full text from the article "Sightless Children Test the Acoustics of Mrs. Gardner's Palace" available below.
BOSTON SUNDAY JOURNAL — JANUARY 25. 1903.
SIGHTLESS CHILDREN TEST THE ACOUSTICS OF MRS. GARDNER'S PALACE
One Hundred Inmates of Perkins Institute Invited to Sing in the Famous Music Room.
In This Way She Discovered It’s Properties Without Having the Decorations Seen by the Singers.
The mystery which has surrounded Mrs. "Jock" Gardner's Venetian palace on the Fenway dwindles alongside her recent display of ingenuity in guarding the exclusiveness of her superb new music room, which society saw for the first time on New Year's night. The facts of this have only now been learned.
Mrs. Gardner wanted to test the acoustic properties of the music room. How to do this was a puzzle. She was to give a musicale. No mortal eye other than that of the few people employed by the musical host had ever crossed the threshold of this portion of "Fenway Court." She could not test the room and its resounding qualities with only these few in it. What could she do? She deliberated. Then an idea! "The blind cannot see." said the perplexed Mrs. "Jack." musingly. "I can fill my room with them and still everyone will be as much at a loss as ever to find out its secrets.
Kept It Secret.
One hundred Inmates of the Perkins Institute for the Blind were invited to Mrs. Gardner's a few days later. She was to give a "musicale" at her house and out of charity the blind inmates of the institute were to be invited. This was the sense of a letter Mrs. Gardner sent to Superintendent Anagnos. At the same time she made it emphatic that the matter was to be kept "perfectly secret." The "distinction" of being the first to "see" the inside of her new music room was to be theirs. They would hear the "sweet strains" of music which for the first time would be sent forth from the beautiful arched stage.
Filled the Room.
The appointed day came. It was a few days before Christmas. Everything was in readiness for the great concert. At 3 o'clock in the afternoon the portals of the mysterious room were opened wide. The blind children were ushered in. With the teachers they well filled the room. They were prepared for the richest thing they had ever heard in the musical line. All was quiet as Mrs. "Jack" entered the small balcony overlooking the room, shortly after 3.
One of the "artists" stepped forward on the stage and vigorously played one of the hostess' favorite selections. There was a sparkle in Mrs. Gardner's eye as the sweet strains were wafted throughout the room. The resonance was perfect. The room was just as she wanted it, perfectly adapted to music.
A violin solo was the next number. It was a Symphony Orchestra player. The tones were clear and distinct. Mrs. Gardner smiled with joy. Leaning over the balcony rail she looked Into the faces of those on the floor beneath her. In less than an hour the concert was over. Mrs. Gardner stood in the balcony and watched the audience pass out. She did not go down stairs.
A few days ago she wrote to Superintendent Anagnos and asked the names of inmates of the Institution who were at the "musicale." The list was prepared and sent to her. The next day each one of the little blind children received a letter. In the letter was a smaller envelope. And in the small envelope was a shining silver ten-cent piece. It was the fare which they had spent to get to the Fenway palace.
At the institution yesterday nobody seemed to remember about their trip to Fenway Court. The blind children are keeping it "perfectly secret," as they were requested. It would be a breach of confidence to say anything about it they say. And they insist that is the only reason why they will not talk about the "musicale."
Mrs. Gardner, meanwhile, found to her delight that the acoustic qualities of her music room were perfect. Society filled the room to overflowing New Year's night, and heard the famous musicale — just such a musicale as the little blind children had expected to hear through the charity of the ingenious "Fenway Queen."