By Bailey Roberts, Barker Mansion Heritage Interpreter
The Gilded Age of America, a time of great wealth, prosperity and industry was also the Golden Age of Christmas. Twas the Night Before Christmas was published as was Gift of the Magi, both beloved Christmas stories in the height of Gilded Age America. But while these may serve as echoes into the world of this period of American History, it lacks in giving people the opportunity to experience Christmas during this time. Jumping forward from 1905 to 2017, the Barker Mansion still gets decorated every year to celebrate the holidays and give guests a sneak peak into the world of Christmas in the Gilded Age.
What truly makes Christmas at the mansion so special is the work that is put into setting it all up. The Christmas trees and room decorations are all set up by volunteers in various community organizations. The spirit of giving is thus constantly overflowing in the halls and rooms of the mansion, a testimony to the philanthropy of Mr. Barker. It’s a way of giving back to the man behind Michigan City, it’s a way of keeping the spirit of their family’s celebrations alive, 112 years later.
With the mansion being decorated, it feels so lived in. It’s always felt comfortable and inviting, but Christmas time makes it seem like the Barkers could walk through the door at any second. That notion is comforting, for we try our best to recreate the life and times of the Barker family when they made this home the center of their daily life and lifestyle. For example, dominating the Foyer is a Christmas Tree decorated from base to angel in Red and White, complimenting the red rugs, plaster ceiling and limestone fireplace.
This is my first Christmas at the mansion. I began as an intern in the summer but became a staff member after taking a semester off college to transfer to Valparaiso University. It’s exciting, being able to see the Mansion come to life in the spirit of the holidays. Each room slowly being decked in various colors and decorations from silver and gold, Nativity Scenes, and a large model train; a testimony to the religious and industrial life of the Barker Family.
We’ve been finding a lot of newspaper clippings, as well, talking about various Christmas Parties that the Barkers were throwing around this time of year. December is one of out busiest months this year. We have so much going on at the mansion from meetings to field trips and parties. Mr. and Mrs. Barker would be pleased to see the house being used for social events as they would have 112 years ago.
So, my thoughts on Christmas at the mansion? Working in this Gilded Age home, surrounded by the impressive decorum of Christmas makes me a truly happy historian. This house is so unique, so lucky that the family is still working with the mansion to keep it in its historic image, to keep its history thriving and attention grabbing in this quickly modernizing world. Christmas at the mansion is taking a break from reality and being able to settle down in the quiet comfort of Christmas music, Christmas trees, and historical interpretation of the lives once lived.