William Whitley House offering 'A Journey Through Christmas Past'

November 18, 2004|JENNIFER BRUMMETT

STANFORD - Jack C. Bailey II knows a thing or two about Christmas decorations. It doesn't really matter from what era they come - he just knows things.

That knowledge has come in handy for the William Whitley House State Historic Site park manager as he's planned its holiday event, this year titled "A Journey Through Christmas Past."

Bailey says the event showcases visual examples that illustrate the evolution of some aspects of the Christmas season.

"This year's event is different," Bailey explains. "In past years, we had a pioneer Christmas theme. This year, we're using the 18th-century house as a backdrop for 18th-, 19th- and 20th-century holiday decorations and traditions."

On Saturday evening, period dances of the late 18th and early 19th centuries will be performed and taught. Friday evening, a dulcimer player will perform in the house's parlor.


A number of Christmas ornaments come from the private collection of Rick Sparks, office manager, historian and tour guide at the historic site. One item is a Christmas book that belonged to his great-great-grandparents. The copyright dates to 1911.

In the display case with that book is a piece from Bailey's collection, a Santa Claus with reindeer.

It belonged to his grandmother, Nellie Cox Bailey, and dates to the 1920s or '30s. She is shown in a black and white picture that was taken at the William Whitley House in the 1960s, Bailey notes.

Also in the display case are several intricate candy boxes, a 1930s-period teddy bear, a circa-1940s music box, a circa-1890 Santa Claus candy box that comes apart, and a series of Santas that date from the late 1800s through the 1920s and '30s on up to the 1940s and '50s.

There is a German goose feather tree in the display case, as well as one in the dining room.

"It was the earliest form of Christmas tree," Bailey says. "It's made out of feather quills and twisted around wire."

Candles decorate the goose feather tree in the dining room.

"Candles were the earliest form of lighting," he notes, adding they were burned only on Christmas morning for a short period of time.

Putz scenes

"Vignettes" or "putz scenes" are set up around that tree and refer to animal or paper house scenes.

Another putz scene is on the mantel and features woolly sheep made by German artisans. Bailey says in the 1920s and '30s, the F.W. Woolworth Co. brought to the United States handmade German ornaments. They were ordered as a trial the first year, and quickly sold out, so more were added the following year.

"Woolworth imported wonderful German ornaments and Christmas ornaments," Bailey says. "It was fine craftsmanship. The Germans made high quality (items) of good materials.

"They're the most sought after ... by Christmas collectors as well as collectors of antique and vintage ornaments. Many today are demanding very high prices."

Bailey knows this because he is a member of the Golden Glow of Christmas Past organization, a national, non-profit club for collectors of antique Christmas items, from ornaments and Santas to lighting, tinsel, snowmen, feather trees, snow babies and postcards.

The club places an emphasis on items dating before 1966.

In the parlor are handblown ornaments and bead chains, representative of the 1880s and '90s, Bailey says.

"In the mid-1800s, ornaments were homemade," he adds.

Die-cut scraps were glued onto cotton batting to create "ephemera" in the Victorian period, Bailey notes. Spun cotton's earliest form tended to be fruit shapes, he adds.

A wreath is hanging in the house that is comprised of dried berries, herbs and fruits, all symbols of celebrations of the 18th-century period of the William Whitley House, Bailey says. "They celebrated occasions with food."

The landing features tinsel - which used to be pure silver twisted on cotton cords, but isn't so pure now - strings of handblown, colored glass beads in a variety of forms.

Bailey says such an event fulfills his mission as a caretaker of history.

"It helps showcase the evolution of where we were and where we've gotten to," he explains. "That's always very important."

He says he realizes there are a lot of holiday events in the state of Kentucky, and he hopes local folks will take the time to check out nearby events such as "A Journey Through Christmas Past."

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