Monday, November 10, 2008

Ghosts Of Christmas Past In The Present

Stan Hywet Hall, an old Christmas by any other name just wouldn't be the same. Stan Hywet Hall and Gardens has officially been decked out for the holidays and if you are one who enjoys the sights, scenes, colors and sounds of the season this is the one place to experience it. And I'm not just talking about Christmas, I'm talking about OLD Christmas. The 65 room Tudor Revival Mansion is the former home of F.A. Seiberling, the founder of Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company, and his family.

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I, for one, am nostalgic and nothing is more special than reliving the holiday seasons of the past. Was it more simple then? Maybe, but getting to enjoy what a holiday season would have been like 100 years ago in a mansion from the American Country Estate boom is a history buff's dream come true. Sure, the Seiberlings were wealthy and they lived better than the vast majority of people during that time. But trying to understand what life would have been like in the early portion of 1900's is something we don't get to do very often. Lucky for us we have, in Akron, a home where time stands still. The antiques, the photos, the feel and the smells allow us to revisit this era.

As we speak Stan Hywet Hall has been transformed into a Christmas (and history) lover's fantasy.The historic structure allows your imagination to run rampant. The ghosts of holiday seasons past guide you through The Great Hall where it seems as though the trimmed Christmas tree is just as tall as the ceiling, three stories high. Lighted messages over doorways, such as "Good Will Toward Men", are surrounded by bright red bows. Greenery is strung through out the home as if it were one long strand that has some how slithered its way into each and every perfect location. A statue of a horse pulling a yule log on a small, old time sleigh into the room from outside stands before you. Sounds weird, right? But that's how it took place. A black & white photo of that very same scene, in that very spot, is right nearby.

The entire home, upstairs and down, is dressed in a festive fashion. Not too much, but yet, not too little. On Friday evening we had additional help in imagining Christmas' of long ago. On video (transferred from old reel-to-reel film) is the 1923 Christmas Day Wedding of Irene Seiberling to Milton Harrison. It shows the home decorated for the holidays (in black & white and silent, of course) as well as the wedding's procession through the home to the vehicle that would take them away on their brand new journey together as snow lightly falls. (FYI, they left from this point to a honeymoon in Jamaica) Also, on video was the 1932 Christmas reel labeled "So Many Grandchildren".

The Seiberlings had seven children and it seems as if there are a thousand grandchildren. The kids take part in Christmas activities and horse around like, well, children...go figure. The videos give you another perspective of the family photos seen on the walls, the people all look the same and come to life before your very eyes. As if the videos weren't enough the family had a tradition of performing before one another and recording it. We were treated to a recording of Santa Claus arriving and entertaining the Children. This includes the scratchy sound of the original record recording in the background. Listening to the recording and strolling through the decked out home you can almost see the Seiberling family & friends enjoying a holiday season.

The large dining hall table is set with the best holiday china. You can only dream of the Christmas feasts that must have been devoured by the many guests who once visited the home. Some of them famous (several presidents, Thomas Edison, Helen Keller, etc.), so of them not so famous.It is not just the fact the Seiberling family lived there that makes one wish they could have experienced life at Stan Hywet Hall. They just happened to live there. Rather, it is the history and life from 80 to 100 years ago that we will no longer be able to experience and can only read about. In Stan Hywet Hall that is preserved for all those who have an imagination, a love of history and that part of them that just doesn't want the past to be IN the past.

If you get the chance to visit the hall at night, you should do it. It just adds to the mystic of a what a Christmas Eve might have been like. Yeah, I'm a softy to when it comes to history and old Chistmas. I grew up with it. My family has a long history in southern Ohio (near Chillicothe) from the pre-civil war era (former U.S President and General Ulysses Simpson Grant is a distant relative) and on. Thus, my childhood was spent in homes that were literally walking history books.Stan Hywet Hall is no different.Adding to the holiday fun the hall is presenting the exhibit, Art Of The Nativity, featuring over 40 creches (French for "manger") from around the world.

The nativity scenes on display come from may different countries and cultures. The art work is provided by the Marian Library at the University of Dayton which houses a collection of more than 1,300 nativity scenes, or creches. The scenes are set up through each room of the house and adds that perfect touch to a holiday tour.Okay, I'm in the mood now. So don't hate me if you don't want to hear it, but....Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays. From our house to yours, we wish you the very best.

Now, where's the eggnog and fruitcake?!

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