Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A Christmas Eve Pictorial Through Christmas Past (Revisited)

Tired of Christmas yet? 
Not me! 
This week's article and photos are taken mostly from a posting from 2012. I added a few new photos and took some away, I added new commentary to the pictures, and, generally, updated it to 2013.
As this is being posted on December 24, I wish you all the Merriest of Christmases.

As you know, I try to replicate the days of old through my reenacting of the Civil War era as often as time will allow. I've been lucky that it's been quite frequently. I also visit historic homes every chance I get, whether in a town setting such as Greenfield Village or a single free standing structure owned by the local historical society.
However, it's at Christmas time that these homes really shine. Especially when the curator has done their research and knows how to decorate authentically.
I thought for this Christmas week's posting I would show you a few photos that I took of decorated Victorian homes which may help to give you a bit of Christmas spirit. I have made the attempt myself to bring Christmas past into my own home, and a few of those pictures are here as well.
I'm not going to go into too much depth here into the history of each decoration, but I would like to present a snippet of Christmas past to whet the appetite of those who enjoy celebrating this special day and season.
Also included are other Victorian pictures that, to me, evoke the spirit of Christmases long, long ago - a show and tell of sorts. I hope you enjoy it.

Let's begin with the Crocker House Museum in Mt. Clemens, Michigan, run by Kim Parr. Ms. Parr is well-known locally (and not so locally) for her social history knowledge of the mid-to-late Victorian era. A number of years ago she was the 'house lead' at Greenfield Village's Firestone Farm and also began the mourning program at the Adams House there as well, which still runs annually over Memorial Weekend. Kim is now in charge of the Crocker House Museum, an Italianate home built in 1869, where she continuously keeps the house's history at the community forefront by holding historical teas, having guest speakers, and, of course, her infamous cemetery walks where she shows the house as it would have looked 'dressed' in mourning. Christmas, however, brightens the place like no other season. In fact, Kim has each room showing a different Christmas scene:

The 1869 Crocker House in Mt. Clemens, Michigan
From the sitting room with the large tree...
 ...to the parlor with the feather tree...

Decorating the feather tree in preparation for Christmas Day.

...and then to the dining room where the table is set for a feast!
Okay, I don't care for the mannequins either, but try to look beyond that bit of kitsch and notice the beauty of the holiday season in this nearly 150 year old home. Kim and her helpers do a fine job in bringing the ghosts of Christmas past to life at Crocker House. Plus, well, there's one photo with some real live Victorian-type ladies as well!

Next I'd like to bring you to my favorite place of solace, Greenfield Village, where, back in the early to mid-20th century auto-magnet Henry Ford collected homes from the 18th & 19th centuries like some people collect stamps! He had them transferred to land he owned in Dearborn, Michigan and made a historical Village like no one's ever seen before.  Being an internationally known open-air museum - on par with Colonial Williamsburg - you know the curators of Greenfield Village have done their research, and it shows.
This is the doorway to the 1822 home of Noah Webster and his wife Rebecca

The tasteful light Christmas greenery shows how Rebecca Webster may have decorated her home. Being of a religious nature, the Websters would not have gone to too much an extreme at Christmas time. Of course, during their time, most folks did not go to any great extreme for Christmas. Yes, that's her husband, Noah, in the painting above the mantel.

Next let's travel to the 1860's Susquehanna Plantation. I just love the front porch of this home, which was originally located in Maryland.

Here is the fireplace mantel in the parlor of the Susquehanna House. Christmas can't be far away.
What a magnificent spread of food in the dining room for the Holiday visitors!
Here is a closer look at the extravagance that a wealthy family can share with their family and friends. 

From Maryland we'll travel to Dearborn to the birth home of Henry Ford.

The garland encircling the door is a welcoming sight.

A patriotic Christmas in that centennial year of 1876.
Look at all of these wonderful desserts!
The Ford sitting room fireplace mantel is probably my favorite decorative mantel in all of Greenfield Village.

From Dearborn we head west on the old Chicago Road to a tiny village named Clinton, where we find a stage coach stop that was built in 1831.

The Eagle Tavern is a fine place to dine on historical food such as what one would have eaten had they lived in Michigan in 1850. Each dish is prepared according to the season of the year. Notice the snow flurries - helping to give us that Christmas-y feeling!
My daughter waits patiently for her fare.

The Eagle Tavern truly gives one that feeling of being "there" - back in the mid-19th century.

Yes, for Christmas I brought out my fine quality top hat.

The Eagle Tavern near the church: Christmas Eve...

Traveling farther west on the old Chicago Road, we come across the birthplace of newspaper columnist George Matthew Adams, which is decked out in the style of the 1870's.
Take a good look at the photos of this home, because Greenfield Village, for the first time since this house was brought here in the late 1930's and restored to the time of George Adam's youth in the 1870's, is going to bring the house back to its original look of around 1840. I'm personally excited about this because, aside from the Eagle Tavern, the pre-Civil War Victorian era is sorely overlooked in the Village.

Welcome to the home of the Adams Family (no! Not THAT Adams family!), built in Saline, Michigan in 1833
The ladies of the Adams House prepare for the family coming to celebrate Christmas
What a fine Christmas Tree the Adams set up. During the mid-19th century, decorating the Christmas Tree was also called "Dressing the Tree."

Now we'll jump from Saline, Michigan to Columbiana, Ohio, to the birthplace and family home of Harvey Firestone.
It's unfortunate that this house is no longer part of the Christmas festivities of Greenfield Village. We have high hopes that one day Christmas will return once again to Firestone Farm. In the meantime, I have plenty of photos from when this most joyous of Holidays was celebrated here.

Here we are at Firestone Farm, originally built in 1828 and updated in 1882, all decked out for Christmas!

The stockings were hung by the chimney with care...On a cold December's day, sitting near the hearth of the fireplace is the only place to be!

The Firestone parlor: Can you hear the strains of "Silent Night" coming from the pump organ? It was what the young lady was playing when I took this picture. It sounded beautiful. By the way, using the American flag in this manner was not only acceptable but encouraged, for it showed that you were a patriotic citizen of the United States.

A finer Christmas dinner you shan't find elsewhere.
And the dining room table is bedecked with the delectable delights of homemade desserts!

Now we'll head over to Canada to the hone of the grandparents of Thomas Edison, though rather than being decked for the Holidays of the 1830's when it was built, it's been decided to show Christmas in the earlier part of the 20th century, more specifically, 1915.

Here I am with my friend Heidi at the home of the grandparents of Thomas Edison, built in sections beginning in 1833. For Christmas they show the year 1915.
Holiday greenery criss-crosses the sitting room ceiling.
A festive atmosphere reigns in the Edison home. Note the feather tree on the table, still popular after the turn of the 20th century.

Just look at that dessert table!

Off to New Jersey - just a quick jaunt from Thomas Edison's invention factory - we'll visit the Sarah Jordan Boarding House from the 1870's.
The 1870's boarding house of Sarah Jordan also has a Christmas celebration for her boarding customers who are far from home.
Wait - what's that? Why, it's another feather tree!

Heading back to Ohio - this time Dayton - we come across the home of Wilbur and Orville Wright, all ready for the big day!.

I wish I had a porch to decorate like this!

Though the house was built in 1871, the inside of the Wright Home tells us the year presented is 1903, the same year the brothers made the world's first true airplane flight.

Yep - I want a staircase, too, if, for no other reason than to decorate like this! Orville and Wilbur built this staircase.


Shopping on Main Street

Let's head to a more rural part of Michigan, out near Jackson in a little area known as Waterloo, where Christmas is held at an 1880's farming complex once owned by the Realy family.

Every year a few of us that do living history will "take over" the farmhouse and bring the past to life for the visitors that tour the home. We'll practice a combination of 1st and 3rd person as the folks walk through and that seems to draw them into our time-travel experience.

Welcome to the 1880 Realy Farm House in Waterloo, Michigan
A peak in the front window shows the Realy's are preparing for Christmas from the outside looking in...

...and from the inside looking out! They did a wonderful job here, don't you think?

Like many homes in the 19th century, as you've seen in many of the photos previous, a feather tree - made of real goose feathers - adds the perfect Victorian touch.

The same feather tree from a different year "dressed" in a slightly different style.
Here we are, ready to become the ghosts of Christmas past. Note the roping on the door behind.
Near the farmhouse is a replica 1840's log cabin. The front door of this cabin is decked as best as a pioneer could for what means they may have had.  Yes, pioneers did what they could to celebrate the Christmas Holiday, even with a little greenery on the door.
Inside the cabin, a grand Christmas Tree, no doubt cut from the forest behind, stands ready to greet Santa Claus. It is decorated with whatever ornaments they could make with what little they had. Even dried fruit was used to add color. And the fruit could be eaten come Christmas Day!
Christmas in a log cabin gives as cozy a Christmas look as one could have!

I have always loved the look and feel of the Victorian Christmas and envied not only the historical home curators that were given the opportunity to decorate in such a way, but our ancestors who actually lived 'back then." So I studied their manner and style and tried to replicate it in my own 1944 bungalow. Crazy, huh? Well, I believe I made it work. But, at first it was a more subtle version of higher-end mall decor. Then I began to pay closer attention to what I saw in these historic homes rather than what the stores told me was Victorian.
So I began to find and purchase more period-correct decorations - some replicas and a few originals.
It just takes a little at a time and patience, you know?
So here are a few Christmas photos in my own home:
Here is a close up of our fireplace mantel.

Fruit was a welcome gift at Christmas, and apples, oranges, pears, even pineapples were a big treat for our Victorian ancestors.

Notice the little guy sitting near the bottom right of the hearth. Yep, it's our Cricket on the Hearth, taken from the lesser known Charles Dickens Christmas tale that was written in 1845. Finding a cricket on the hearth is supposed to bring good luck and fortune to all who dwell in the house.

Stealing ideas from numerous historical homes is how I came up with our mid-to-late Victorian Christmas decor. Understand, the fire you see in the fireplace is not real. I did a little trickery on this photo and "stole" the fire and firebox from the Firestone Farm fireplace by way of Paint Shop Pro. The fireplace in my house is only an electric heater with no flame and is not the real deal - but it has a fine look to it and keeps our room toasty! Everything else in my photos are as you see them - mostly authentic antiques.
For some reason, candles and oil lamps seem to present the perfect Christmas lighting, adding greatly to the whole ambiance of the room. A feather tree tops off the period look.

I know that many people think I'm a bit off my rocker for what I do. Most guys are not into this sort of thing. I don't care - ever since I was a child I wanted to have a Christmas like I do today. It's my dream come true.

Here you go! Candle and oil lamp lit!

Speaking of candles...yes, this is our 2012 Christmas Tree and, yes, it is candle lit. We have been lighting the candles on our tree every year for 27 years. Believe me when I say we take all precautions to squelch any danger. Great care is taken that there should be a clear space above each wick, that nothing might catch fire.

The following photos are from our 2013 Christmas Tree - -

A candle lit tree is as beautiful as the old descriptions state.

In the old days, our ancestors did not light the candles and then allowed them to burn for hours and left the tree unattended as our Hollywood historians would have us believe; our candles are only lit for 5 to 10 minutes - the same as in the days of old - and are never left unattended.

All of that glorious candle lit beauty was contained in only a few minutes time, usually on Christmas night. Not at all like our modern day where we put up our tree the day after Thanksgiving and keep the electric lights lit daily from then til January 6th. On the night I took this picture, I had a number of friends over who had never seen a candle lit tree in person. They were awed.

Off to Philadelphia - - - - really?

Merry Christmas from Independence Hall! No, not really. This is actually a replica of that most important of all historical American buildings - this one stands in Dearborn, Michigan. You are looking at the main entrance way into the Henry Ford Museum, which is adjacent to Greenfield Village. Henry Ford built it to exact original specs. Pretty amazing, huh? And, yes, it is decorated for Christmas...

You may think this decor is very colonial in nature on the replica Independence Hall facade, but the colonials did not decorate in this nature. According to one of my favorite sites (History Myths Debunked), this form of decorating was a myth.

"The idea of decorating the doors with rare fresh fruit where it would hang until it rotted or was eaten by squirrels would have horrified everyone in colonial America, no matter how wealthy they were. Fresh fruit was rare to nonexistent during the winter and if one were fortunate enough to have some imported oranges from the Caribbean or late apples from New England, one ate them."

Again, from the History MythsDebunked:

“This myth originated with the DellaRobbia-style decorating that began in Williamsburg in the 1930s (when the town was being restored with Rockefeller money) as a compromise with its residents. As far as we can tell, colonists did not decorate the outside of their houses at all, but Americans in the 1930s most certainly did, and Williamsburg residents were not happy to be told that authenticity demanded they forego all Christmas decorations. Nor did the Colonial Williamsburg executives relish the thought of blinking colored lights and reindeer glowing from the rooftops of the restored town. It was decided to encourage natural decoration with materials that would have been available to the colonists, such as greenery, dried seed pods, fruit, pinecones, gourds, oyster shells, and so forth. But no matter how often Foundation executives stressed that this was NOT a colonial decorating method but a modern-day compromise, the erroneous impression spread.”

A Christmas greens lot is set up outside the museum front. As you can see, all is very traditional to Victorian style greenery, giving those walking past some Christmas 'dash' as they enter Greenfield Village. Though the fruit on the building may not be accurate, it still has that pseudo-colonial feel.

Now, if you've read my other 2013 Christmas postings, you may think you've already seen the following pictures.
Not so.
Although they may be similar, they have not been posted here before.

This picture was taken at what has become my very favorite Christmas presentation, Christmas at the Fort. Here we see Andrea decorating the porch of "our" home with greenery.

During our immersion experience we had the distinct opportunity and pleasure to continue life in 1863 while we ate our Christmas meal. The feeling one gets while eating a Christmas dinner in a period dining room lit only by oil lamps is, well, unexplainable. We were there...in 1863. That, too, is unexplainable.

Off to Mill Race Village and into the general store where we find very rural country-style Christmas shopping awaiting us.

Across the road from the general store is the 1831 Cady in from Northville, Michigan. The snowstorm we were in the midst of gave us that very Christmas feeling.

Speaking of the old-time Christmas feeling, that's exactly what I had as I made my way through the snow-covered roads of Mill Race Village.

Brrrr! After all of this, I believe it's time for us to throw another log on the fire and sit as close to the hearth as we can to warm our nose and toes.

And this is where we'll end, right here with an original Christmas print by Winslow Homer from the December 24, 1859 edition of Harper's Weekly:

I hope you enjoyed this little journey through Christmas Past. I have been very bless'd to have a wife who shares my historical passions and allows me to not only visit the past (and, at times, joins me while doing so!), but to bring it to our own home.
And if I gave you any ideas on decorating your home in a period style, well, then my little plan worked!
Merry Christmas.


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