Welcome Home

Emily Reth, Director

I left my job as one of the Barker Mansion’s Heritage Interpreters in 2016. It was a job that allowed me to plan events, give tours, and research the Mansion’s past. I discovered my love for public history with previous Director, Jessica Rosier. As she encouraged me to seek another degree to propel me to a better future.  My Master’s program took me away to Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio to study the interpretation, preservation, and conservation of history in their Public History program. For two years, I engaged with museums, archives, historical societies, and house museums throughout Ohio. Yet, there was always a pull to share my new knowledge and adventures with the staff here in Michigan City.

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The timing couldn’t have been more perfect- I was fresh out of my graduate program and Jessica was leaving to take a new position at Queen of All Saints. I was fortunate to already be in tune to the mission of the Barkers and the role that the Mansion plays in Michigan City. I have a mentor, staff, and board supporting me to make a smooth transition. The mansion will continue at full speed ahead, engaging with the public throughout our tours, special events, summer camps, and sleep overs.

 

Returning to the Barker Mansion has been a dream. Taking on the position of Director has been a blessing, and I could not be more thankful.

 

There isn’t a doubt- this is home.

 

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Conversations with the Past

By Anthony “TJ” Kalin, Heritage Interpreter

The past is not some static, unchanging bloc that ‘happened’. A large part of the work of the historian is to reconstruct the past, i.e. get the facts straight. But, the historian’s work is also to interpret the past, the connect it with broader themes and ideas. It is in this sense that the past ‘changes’. Interpretation comes in a number of forms. Historians can take the same sources and data and turn out very different interpretations of the same event.

I like to think that when a historian is changing a perception of a past event, they are conversing with the past, making it seem alive and flexible. This is not altering or rewriting history though, the facts of what happened never change, but how we think about history changes. The past tells us things; we just have to listen. In turn, when we interpret the past, we are both speaking to the past as well as those around us.

When I walk through historic buildings or neighborhoods, I work to place myself in conversation with the past sealed in those buildings. The buildings turn into symbols, each with myriad meanings waiting to be unlocked through conversation. The buildings and historic sites around us in Michigan City are not cemeteries, not a dead past. When we walk amid these old structures, we can connect ourselves to the past and see what it has to tell us. As a heritage interpreter, it is my job to formally bring the history contained in these sites in Michigan City to the present, but a number of other people and institutions in Michigan City perform the same role.

The Brewed in History Hike on May 19th brought historic sites back to life in the historian’s sense, but some other conversations with the past were going on. The tour went through the Elston Grove historic district before ending at Zorn Brew Works at 605 E. 9th St. Elston Grove housed a number of Michigan City’s businessmen, politicians, and professionals in the Gilded Age. A large number of historic homes stand throughout Elston Grove. I touched on the Haskell-Boyd house at 701 Spring St. Frederick Haskell brought the freight car industry to Michigan City in 1852, which John Barker Sr. bought into in 1855. Even though they had a home in Elston., Frederick Haskell ran the freight car company from the company’s office in Chicago beginning in the 1860s. The Haskells were prominent in Chicago society, Frederick’s wife Caroline helped to found the University of Chicago in 1894. The Haskells’ move to Chicago marked a broader trend in the late nineteenth century as the industrialist class consolidated in wealthy neighborhoods in large cities and took a more off-hands approach to running their factories.

The original public library at 312 E. 8th St. provided was an opportunity to discuss boosterism in the Gilded Age. Boosterism is a concept that is still around today; it is the promotion of a town or community that improves the quality of life in that town. Boosterism ranges from building parks, opening tourism bureaus, and other institutions. In the Gilded Age, boosterism was a way of solidifying the upper class as leaders of a community. The first public library was built in Elston Grove in 1897, and the founding members of the library all lived in Elston or Silk Stocking row, the wealthy neighborhood where the Barkers lived. Gilded Age boosterism was a cocktail of business sense (it drives up real estate prices), civic philanthropy, and class consolidation.

Buildings like the Haskell house and the library, along with many other buildings in Elston Grove let us see some of the big-picture changes and stories in Michigan City and United States history as we walked to Zorn. These buildings are symbols of the era they were built in, but the meaning still needed to be connected to those symbols.

The richest conversation with the past on the hike was at Zorn Brew Works. The team over at Zorn were picking up where history left off. Phillip Zorn, a German immigrant, first began brewing in Michigan City in 1871. His brewery served many of the saloons and bars in Michigan City that were the cornerstone of immigrant life. At one point there were over ninety saloons in Michigan City. Saloons were spaces where Polish, Hungarian, German, Irish, and other immigrants could keep their culture alive. Saloons also united workers in single industries or catered to men from specific neighborhoods. They served as important social spaces outside the home and were a critical part of nineteenth-century culture. Gilded Age elections were usually swung by saloon owners and many of the temperance movements of the nineteenth century were aimed at curbing saloon owners’ influence in local politics. I have found news articles from Michigan City at the turn of the century that talk about this in Michigan City.

Inside the Brewery

The original Zorn brewery supplied the beer that formed the foundation of this central aspect of Gilded Age life. Touring the brewery and hearing Sam talk about the Zorn family’s history in Michigan City mixed the present and past. Connecting the historical context of the brewery with the present context as well as their plans for the future created a vibrant conversation with history. While the context of Michigan City has of course changed since the Zorns ran the brewery, revitalizing the historic use of this site reopens that past. Renewing a historic site’s use makes the past feel much more real but is also makes historical change more apparent.

Recognizing historical changes in our everyday lives is hard. Human life just feels like normal life, but if we look at the world we grew up in, compared to the world we live in today the changes are remarkable. Take John Barker for example. He was born in 1844, in his lifetime John lived through the Civil War, industrialization, urbanization, massive population growth, and other changes that were unfathomable at the beginning of the century. American history in the Gilded Age completely flipped upside down. Americans’ experience of time, work, family, science, community, and faith changed dramatically as people moved into larger cities and new technologies made the world more connected. To me, the history nerd, it is remarkable, for one person to have lived through all of this. But to John Barker, it was just his life. He lived and felt as real as I do. In my lifetime, I have lived through historical changes just as monumental: the rise of the information age. My younger self could never have expected society to become centered around small the glowing squares in people’s hand (smartphones) or the rise of social media and other massive changes. When we run into historical symbols and sites like Zorn, that connect us with the past it reminds us of the changes that take place in our lifetimes. This should make us feel a bit of solidarity with historical figures, a solidarity that gives makes the past seem less static.

Our Pop-Up Tours this summer connect us with more of these symbols. Each tour turns historic sites that are not usually a museum into museums for one-night-only. The first tour was at Trinity Church and Barker Hall on June 2nd, the second is at St. Mary’s the Immaculate Conception Church on July 7th, and the final tour is at the Barker House (the other Barker Mansion in Michigan City) on August 4th.

Trinity Church is one of the oldest Christian congregations in Indiana. The first church was built in the 1830s. John Barker Sr. and Cordelia Collamer were married at that church in 1841. The second Trinity church was built in 1858, and a third church was built in the 1880s. Barker Hall was built connected to the church in 1886. Barker Hall was a school built in memory of John H. and Eugenia Barker’s three children that passed away. In 1901 John Barker built a Bishop’s mansion connected to the school. Part of the mansion is unoccupied today and was the ‘pop-up’ part of the tour. The school was later torn down, and Catherine Barker built a state-of-the-art silent film theatre there in 1928.  Matt Kubik, the building historian, took us all throughout the building noting its history and explaining the architectural styles throughout the complex.

1836 Trinity Church
1889 Trinity Church

Matt shared a number of personal stories the building, some about going to after-prom parties in the Hall when he was high school and Sue Stephenson who was on tour shared some of her memories of after-prom at Barker Hall. Today the church is still in use, and the hall and part of the Bishop’s mansion are available for rentals. They also have a food pantry, Sunday school, music school, and many other excellent programs going on that keep the building alive. Matt’s passion for the building’s history, Sue’s anecdotes, and the work Matt, Sarah Williams, everyone at Trinity are doing today makes for a deep, dynamic conversation with the past. Trinity Church and Barker Hall is a symbol of the Barker Family in Michigan City as well as an essential cultural symbol in Michigan City. Matt’s tour connected us with the rich meaning behind these symbols.

The Brewed in History Hike and the Pop-up Tours were conversations that taught us the meaning of historic sites through the work of historians but also showed how the role historic sites play today stays in conversation with that past. This type of communication isn’t just reserved for history; we encounter it in our own lives too.

On the day of the Brewed in History Hike, I was also saying goodbye to a few people. First, it was my last day working with our director Jessica Rosier. She brought her husband Nick and their dog Rubie along on tour. I also had invited three of my good friends on the tour, for two of them it was their last weekend in the United States before they went home to Japan the next week.

While I am optimistic about the future under our new director Emily Reth, it strange adjusting to the change around the mansion since Jessica left. There are small things to get used to like calling it ‘Emily’s office’ instead of ‘Jessica’s office’ or getting used to opening my work calendar in Excel instead of Microsoft Word (for some reason every time I opened calendars made by Jessica it changed my Word keyboard setting to Portuguese). Jessica isn’t really absent though, her tenure at the Barker Mansion may be over but her presence is all around us in the programs she designed, the ongoing projects she began, the renovations and changes undertaken by her, throughout the mansion there are many symbols of Jessica that having meaning to my fellow staff members and I. Jessica’s time at the mansion exists in the same way that the history of Zorn, Trinity, St. Mary’s or Barker House exists in the present. The past leaves symbols around for us to process and understand their meaning. We can work forward while still recognizing the import and presence of our history.

My friends who came on the history hike are six thousand miles away now, but their presence hasn’t left me. I have first-hand experience of my friends, my memories of them feel so real compared to historical figures. There is a much great distance between the Gilded Age and the present than between my friends, and we can feel the same way about history as I do about my friends. The method of communicating with the past is just different. I can FaceTime my friends and while I wish I could FaceTime John H. Barker (what a great source for my book!) I have to talk more indirectly, looking at the sources and letters he left behind. Looking at these sources lets me interpret his life and bring that static past alive.

As I write this I am eating a bowl of somen, a cold Japanese summer noodle my friends introduced to me. Its kind of like angel hair pasta but it is much, much thinner and is served with ice cubes and a soup base made from soy sauce, rice vinegar, and ground fish. It quickly became my favorite food, and today it stands as just one of many symbols of my time with them. Through this bowl of somen, I can feel the laughter when I spilled a gigantic pot of it in my kitchen one night or when my friends made fun of me for ‘eating more somen than anyone does in Japan’ or their constant offers to ‘take me to the somen factory whenever I visit Japan’. Through their presence at the history hike, a little bit of my history mixes in with the rich history of the Gilded Age in Michigan City. The trick is to make the Gilded Age like that bowl of somen.

 

Tickets for the St. Mary’s and Barker House pop-up tours available at: https://www.eventbrite.com/o/barker-mansion-10817816326 

Further Reading:

Karamanski, Theodore. “History, Memory, and Historic Districts in Chicago” The Public Historian Vol.32, No.4 (Fall 2010) p. 33-41

Rosenzweig, Roy. Eight Hours for What We Will: Work and Leisure in an Industrial City 1870-1920. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983.

When “yes” means goodbye

By Jessica Rosier, Director of the Barker Mansion

***This blog post reflects the view of the author, not Barker Mansion.***

I have a cartoon on my bulletin board. It reads: “The Secret of Time Management. It’s that magic 2-letter word: NO.” I clipped this illustration out a magazine a few years ago as a reminder to myself: don’t become so busy that you don’t have time for things you enjoy, and those which are most meaningful.

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There are many things in life that are worth a yes, though. Many of the best yeses are organic. They start from a sincere interest, desire, or curiosity. Perhaps it’s an invitation from a friend or respected colleague. In whatever case, a sincere yes shouldn’t make a person stressed out or pause for a second-guess. It should feel right.

A year-long string of yeses has taken me on a wonderful journey. It started with an honor. I was asked to be a voting delegate in the Diocese of Gary’s first-ever historic synod, which took place in June 2017. Together with hundreds of other men and women across the region, we met to prayerfully discern and direct the future of the diocese regarding key issues such as social teaching, marriage and family, evangelization and more. The Spirit was truly present that day, and I was inspired to become more involved in parish life. The thought of pursuing a job in ministry crossed my mind, but I pushed it aside as I had a wonderful and stable career at the Barker Mansion – one that I had worked many years to obtain.

Later that month, another yes emerged. I had expressed to Father Kevin Huber at Queen of All Saints in Michigan City that I wanted to be more involved, and he asked me to serve in a volunteer role at the parish. He wanted help in coordinating the post-Mass activities in the new Legacy Center. My role would be called the Weekend Experience Coordinator. This played naturally into my professional skill set, so it was an easy yes.

Near the end of summer, Father asked me to serve on the Pastoral Council. I had been curious to know about the inner-workings of the church, so this was another easy yes.

I found myself spending more and more time at Queen of All Saints, and the Legacy Center really started to feel like home. My husband really grew to enjoy spending time there too, and became involved in various ministries on his own. Seeing parishioners and new guests socializing in the gathering space after Mass, enjoying coffee and donuts, writing cards to those in nursing homes, viewing an inspirational film, or creating a craft was really fulfilling. All through the year, that thought of pursing a job in ministry kept creeping into my mind. Each time, I would push it aside telling myself that I could easily balance work at the mansion with volunteer duties.

Also during this time, I felt a pull to deepen my own knowledge of Scripture. Through conversations with friends in South Bend, I came to know about the University of Notre Dame’s STEP (Satellite Theological Education Program). I dipped my toe into this program by saying yes to one class in January 2018. One class led to another, and so on. I was able to attend a powerful conference at Notre Dame in March 2018, Cultures of Formation. It was during this time that I knew I couldn’t keep pushing that ministry job thought aside. It was time for a big yes.

Back at Queen of All Saints, Father Kevin got to me first. He pulled me aside and asked about the possibility of me coming to work there. This moment was truly cultivated by the Spirit. There is no other explanation for the yeses throughout the last year, how organically things grew, and how right it felt. Early this summer, I will start as the first-ever Campus Experience Coordinator at Queen of All Saints. I will schedule usage of the church buildings and rooms, complete marketing, and continue to plan the Weekend Experience activities. This yes, however, means goodbye to the mansion.

I certainly never imagined leaving the mansion after only three years of work. I’ve played a role in transforming the mansion into a viable tourist attraction with diverse programming. Some favorite accomplishments would be redoing the lower level to include usable exhibit space, building a viable volunteer program and hiring dynamic staff, working to create a website and establishing an online presence, revamping our Christmas interpretation to be historically accurate, offering scout sleepovers, and more. I am so grateful for the supportive board, my interaction with the other City departments and Mayor Meer, and my ties to the Barker family during this time. It’s hard to swallow giving up a job in which the community is so supportive, and where we have such a great staff and volunteers. This has really been the best job I’ve ever had in that sense. I never want to seem ungrateful for that.

It’s really a bit difficult to articulate why I want to work in ministry. Father recently asked me why I feel called to this job, and I felt a bit tongue tied. It just feels right. It’s a good yes. A yes that grew organically.

Saying yes to this new job allows me to use the event planning, facility management, and interpretation experience I’ve gained in parks and museums and use them for another cause. This yes that allows me to use my strengths to help bring others closer to Jesus.

This yes brings another change. Being a part-time position, I will be able to visit my home state much more frequently to help care for my grandmother and spend time with family.

This yes, though, means goodbye.

Thank you to everyone who’s supported me through my three years at the mansion, especially our amazing board members. Please be assured that I will be active in the search for a new Director, and will assist in the training-in period.

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Religion Amid Silk Stockings

Bailey Roberts, Heritage Interpreter 

(Originally Published in the January 25, 2018 edition of The Beacher)

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The Gilded Age.

A period in American history between the 1870s and early 1900s. It was a time of great material progression. Industry was becoming a powerful force in society, dominating towns and cities across civilized America, even right here in Michigan City with the Haskell & Barker Freight Car Co., as well as Chicago’s Pullman company.

But while the material world was rapidly progressing, social life was amid great upheaval. Large waves of immigrants came to the great United States in search of work, many arriving in Michigan City for factory jobs. Women, aware of their social standings, began the fight for suffrage. Even children were at the center of this upheaval as child labor became a contentious matter. That is why this period was coined “the Gilded Age,” for it was a book by Mark Twain, The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today, that this period took its name. Specifically, it was because America’s corrupt system was masked by the gilded beauty of industry and material progress.

Michigan City was not devoid of such tensions. Along Washington Street, large ornate homes such as Barker Mansion dominated the landscape in front of the billowing smokestacks of Haskell & Barker. This area became known as the Silk Stocking District — the street on which Michigan City’s wealthy landowners thrived.

But it was here, among these wealthy landowners, that the fate of Michigan City’s population was decided. They were the ones who hired and brought in the many immigrants from across the globe. Traveling with these ambitious young laborers were their many gods and stories, eager to take root in a new city. Mr. Barker’s own factory indirectly contributed to the melting pot of religious and spiritual life in Michigan City.

The Civil War, of course, was a tumultuous time in American history, yet it also saw the origins of a rapidly growing Jewish community. Mostly from Germany and eastern Europe, these new settlers established themselves and worshipping in rented warehouses before finally becoming a large, flourishing congregation in 1907. The Jewish community would continue to grow, and the Sinai Temple we know today on Franklin Street would not be dedicated until 1953.

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Theatrical Production of an unknown date at Sinai Temple.

 

   For the Christian community, the story begins in 1849 in an old warehouse-turned chapel called St. Ambrose — the first Catholic church in Michigan City. It opened to accommodate the large influx of Irish-Catholic immigrants. Mass would be celebrated by a priest who traveled all the way from South Bend. Nine years later, in 1858, a second church was constructed to accommodate the large German population and was named St. Mary’s Church.

The Gilded Age saw a continuation of this large wave of immigration. While the Irish and German communities grew larger in Michigan City, both churches could not support their growing parishes. Thus, under the same priestly leadership, two churches became one with the opening of St. Mary’s of the Immaculate Conception in 1867. The land used for this new church was once an old Catholic cemetery. The bodies were exhumed and moved to Calvary Cemetery, which was attached to Greenwood Cemetery. And that same first building was incorporated into this new one. The large, ornate stained-glass windows were added at this time.
St. Mary’s had grown so extensively, it became the center of Catholic life in Michigan City. But what about the other religious communities?
A prime example would be Michigan City’s famous family, the Barkers. John Barker Sr. came to Michigan City from Massachusetts in 1836 with nothing but his name and some money. Being the youngest of 11 children and of five sons meant he needed to make a living for himself. He settled here in Michigan City, which was your average frontier town. Barker Sr. descended from a long line of English Puritans, so he was bringing his faith here as well. When he had a son, another John Barker we will refer to as Mr. Barker, he had to share the faith. Mr. Barker eventually took over the factory, becoming president of his father’s empire. But with his wealth, Mr. Barker contributed much to Michigan City’s spiritual community.

   Kitty corner from Barker Mansion along Seventh and Franklin streets (the Silk Stocking District), Mr. Barker helped build Michigan City’s first YMCA, which was a powerful tool in spreading the gospel. It acted as a place where interfaith dialogue between many different denominations could take place. It also provided activities, shelter and an overall safe harbor for Michigan City youth. His money also went to building Trinity Episcopal Church, which was strategically placed in the city’s geographical center. He even had a room in his own mansion that was used to house the Episcopal bishop when on important duties within the area.

Later, Mrs. Barker funded the Bishop’s Mansion attached to the church. It also was his factory, a symbol of what great spiritual leaders saw as a threat to religion, that brought in the faiths of Michigan City. Just as the German and Irish Catholics worshipped at St. Mary’s, the Polish immigrants established themselves at St. Stan’s, and even immigrants from the Ottoman Empire established the first Islamic Center in Michigan City. Mr. Barker used his material empire to create a melting pot of faiths in Michigan City. Even the Barker household was a melting pot of faiths. Mr. Barker was an Episcopalian, but his wife, Katherine Fitzgerald Barker, was an Irish Catholic.

Katherine Fitzgerald came to Michigan City after answering an advertisement for teachers for hire. Mr. Barker had just built a school called Barker Hall, attached to Trinity Episcopal, after his wife and three children died. Katherine Fitzgerald, born in New Hampshire of Irish immigrant parents, fell in love with Mr. Barker. They got married within two years, an Episcopalian and Catholic making a home and family together.

 

During her marriage, Mrs. Barker was not very active in the Catholic church, based on mansion archival records. It is theorized she kept her beliefs private and in the home. During this time, Catholics were not well-liked within the community. Irish Catholics were the most targeted and hated. So, Mrs. Barker’s faith, married to a wealthy Episcopal man, would be seen as incompatible with her husband. She seemed more involved with the Episcopal community for this reason. For instance, in 1908, Mr. and Mrs. Barker went to London with the Episcopal Bishop of the Indiana Diocese.

But with the birth of a daughter, Catherine, the Catholic faith was picked up again. In 1907, Catherine was baptized at 11 in St. Anne’s parish in New Hampshire. A year later in 1908, Catherine held her first communion in St. Mary’s of the Immaculate Conception, right at the end of the magnificent Silk Stocking District.

As Catherine grew older, the more she became involved in the Catholic church and their causes. She gave large donations to the Catholic church and donated furniture to St. Mary’s, such as the Bishop’s chair we see today. In 1927, she donated the Katherine Barker Memorial Altar. The lime- stone altar was dedicated to her mother, where it stands proudly in a parish Mrs. Barker would have loved to attend.

Church interior 1967
1960’s image of the Katherine Barker Memorial Altar in St. Mary’s

The Gilded Age of America was marked by a turbulent period of material progression and corruption, but most of all, the importance of faith in the community. The lives of Michigan City’s factory workers and wealthy elite were sculpted from the blending of immigrant communities, marriages and social outlets.

Religion from all corners of the globe thrived in the Silk Stocking District.

Thanks go to our friends at The Beacher for originally publishing this work.

 

Lampshades of the Barker Mansion

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By Jackie Perkins, Heritage Interpreter at Barker Mansion

 

As visitors walk through the Barker Mansion during tours, they view many things such as marble fireplaces, beautifully carved woodwork, hand woven tapestries on the walls, and stunning light fixtures scattered throughout the rooms. However one thing visitors may notice missing are the lampshades that were commonly seen on light fixtures and lamps of Victorian and Gilded Age mansions. The lampshades that hung in the Barker Mansion were typically made of silk and other delicate fabrics with elaborate stitching or beading to enhance the elegance of the room they were in.

Currently on display in the foyer are eight of the original Barker lampshades. These lampshades were taken from the rooms they hung in and moved to the archives a number of years ago. They will only be on display for a short time to prevent the silk from becoming damaged.

Among the lampshades within the case, are two with a rather interesting history. The first is the small red lampshade that sits in the back left corner that has the stamp “Cricklite” on the inner rim. Also in the case is an almost identical pink lampshade that has only three differences: the color, the size, and the absence of the “Cricklite” stamp. These two lampshades, as well as several others in the case, are covers for fairy lamps. They were candle burning lamps that peaked in popularity during the Victorian Era. The most well known in the business of fairy lamps was Samuel Clarke, who was a candle maker who patented the holder for his candles. He outsourced the production of the candle holders and lamps to other companies and was a genius in advertising. Clarke protected his patents fiercely, but that did not stop other companies from copying as much of his design as possible. The red lampshade that has the “Cricklite” stamp is one of Clarke’s design. The pink lampshade is a well made copy from one of his competitors. The Barker Mansion Archives also currently hold three more red “Cricklites” and four yellow “Cricklites”. The yellow shades hung in the foyer through the years but are unfortunately not able to be displayed due to their poor condition.

The lampshades on display represent only a small number of the total that exist in our archives. The ones chosen for this case were chosen not only for their excellent condition, but also to show our guests the variety in lampshades that were utilized during the Barker’s time. Make sure to check out this temporary exhibit during your next visit to the Barker Mansion!

Decking the Halls of Barker Mansion

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.

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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.

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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.

 

Barker Mansion volunteers honored

Barker Mansion Top 5 Volunteers 2017. Bruce and Pat Frankinburger, Anthony Holt, Sandy Komasinski, Carolyn Pahs
Volunteers Bruce and Pat Frankinburger, Anthony Holt, Sandy Komasinski, and Carolyn Pahs are pictured above. All were top hour earners in 2017.

Michigan City’s Barker Mansion held an evening in appreciation of its volunteers on Friday, November 17, 2017. During the event, which was held in the ornate Drawing Room, volunteers were recognized for their dedication to the historic site and their creativity in planning programs.

“We absolutely could not operate in this capacity without our volunteers,” said Director Jessica Rosier. “Volunteers are essential to everything we do, from leading school groups and tours to marketing to research.”

The top five volunteers in 2017, in terms of hours, are as follows: Carolyn Pahs of Michigan City (92.5 hours), Pat Frankinburger of LaPorte (89 hours), Bruce Frankinburger of LaPorte (60 hours), Sandy Komasinski of Beverly Shores (40.5 hours), and Anthony Holt of Michigan City (32 hours). Rosier stressed that any time commitment, whether it’s once per week or once per year, is needed and appreciated.

In addition to providing recognition to volunteers, the casual event included dinner and games. Those interested in volunteering at the mansion can email jrosier@emichigancity.com.