Sunday, December 2, 2012

Journey Through Christmas Past 2012

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 today's posting I would show you a few photos that I took of decorated Victorian homes which may help to put you in a Christmas mood. I have made the attempt myself to bring a bit of Christmas past into my own house, 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.
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 their mourning program at the Adams House 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, 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... the parlor with the feather tree.
And the dining room 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 140 year old home. Kim and her helpers do a fine job in bringing the ghosts of Christmas past to life at Crocker House.

Next I'd like to bring you to my favorite place of solace, Greenfield Village. Being an internationally known open-air museum - on par with Colonial Williamsburg - you know the curators 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.

The front porch of the 1860's Susquehanna House

Here is the fireplace mantel in the parlor of the 1860 Susquehanna Plantation, originally located in Maryland. Christmas can't be far away.
What a magnificent spread of food for the Holiday visitors!
Here is a closer look at the extravagance that a wealthy family can share with their family and friends. 

Welcome to the home of Henry Ford

Welcome to Christmas 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.

The Eagle Tavern is a fine place to dine on food 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 wait patiently for her fare.
Our friend, Mrs. Cutcher, studies the menu while deciding what she would like. The Eagle Tavern truly gives one that feeling of being "there" - back in the mid-19th century.

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."

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 she 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're 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.
Look at the dessert table!!

The 1870's boarding house of Sarah Jordan also celebrates Christmas for her customers who are far from home.
Wait - what's that? Why, it's another feather tree!

Over at the Wright Brother's House, the porch is decorated with roping and people!
And on the inside of the Wright Home, the Christmas Tree is beautifully decorated as it was in ca1903

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
Here is the inside of the above window scene
Like many homes in the 19th century, a feather tree - made of real goose feathers - adds the perfect Victorian touch.
Here we are, ready to become the ghosts of Christmas past. Note the roping on the door behind.
The front door of a replica 1840's log cabin. Yes, pioneers did what they could to celebrate the Christmas Holiday, even 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.
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.
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.
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.

Merry Christmas from Independence Hall! No, not really. This is actually a replica of that most important of all historical American buildings standing 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...
The decor is very Colonial Williamsburg in nature on the Independence Hall replica facade, for we know that folks back them would never wast fruit for decorating in this manner. They would have hung fruit on their tree at the most, to be eaten shortly after.
A Christmas greens lot is set up outside the museum front. As you can see, all is very traditional to a Victorian style greenery.
A tree lot would not have been either, but it certainly gives off a beautiful old-tome Christmas-y impression, doesn't it?

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 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!



An Historical Lady said...

Lovely Ken! I would so like to go to the Eagle tavern.
Your own home is just beautiful!

Bama Planter said...

Thanks for inspiring me to get on with the preparations for Christmas. I'm having an open house in three weeks so I've got to make some progress. I needed a push. Marshel

Jimio said...

Best Christmas pic mid 1800s blog I ever saw, Ken! Fantastic. In the imortal words of Tiny Tim "God Bless us, Everyone"

Melanie said...

Thanks so much for your post. I now have some great ideas for next year. Its to later for this year,but I think I will get started for next.

Historical Ken said...

I appreciate all of the kind comments here.
I know it's unusual for guys to be so into Christmas in this way but, well, I am and not shy to show it!
Thank you all!

Richard Cottrell said...

Oh my friend Ken! Thanks so much for this wonderful tour. I only wish I could visit them all one at the time in person. To me these pictures and places say it best. A time when Christmas was really special and not a mad dash to out do the next, have a wonderful Holiday season. Richard from My Old Historic House.

Richard Cottrell said...

Oh my friend Ken, thanks for the wonderful tour of special palaces. I only wish I could go there to each one in person. Have a beautiful Hodiday season. Richard from My Old Historic House.

Historical Ken said...

Here is am e-mail I received that I found to be very interesting helpful:

I write articles for I came across your site, and I thought that your readers might be interested in a new article I wrote. It's called “7 Holiday Traditions to Start with Your Family”, and you can find it here (copy and paste if there if the link does not work): (
If it is something you find interesting and think that your readers would as well, I was wondering if you would possibly consider mentioning it on your site.

Please let me know if you have any questions. Thank you for your time and I hope you enjoy the article.


Sandra McAubre

Unknown said...

Thank you so much for giving us a sampling of Christmas Past. Your home is wonderfully decorated, and I enjoyed the mini-tours of the historic homes as well. I decorate my cabin as the pioneer families would have done - rather sparce, but I do like and appreciate the beauty of a Victorian Christmas as well. Great job!