Please, Pardon our Progress

Written by Heritage Interpreter, Bailey Roberts

December, as usual, was the busiest time for the Barker Mansion. Decorated with trees in every room, smiles of visitors, the Mansion never feels more alive than during the holidays.  January has always been the month of recovery, starting the new year by polishing the wood and silver, which the mansion has no shortage of, to keep us busy and ready for the summer months. But this year, we are telling a much different story. From January 20th all the way to March 1st, the Barker Mansion will be closed. Unfortunately, you did hear me right, closed.

While this may not seem ideal for our many guests and visitors, this break is much needed. If you have visited us recently, you’ll notice the amount of work that is being done currently. Many rooms and whole portions of the house have been under construction as restoration of the mansion’s plaster is reaching its peak.

This is something that has been long overdue. Ever since Jessica Rosier took over the mansion as Director a couple of years ago, the Mansion has experienced more and more people coming through the door. The increased foot traffic means more body heat and increased vibrations on the second and third doors which affect the ceilings below them. Plaster has cracked over time but stayed in place (thankfully). When Emily Reth took the mantle of directorship from Jessica, she came in with a vision. Last year we still had a wonderful increase in tourism, but the weather hasn’t been kind to the Mansion’s structure. We had a record amount of water seepage, ice dams and the like which has led us to take dramatic action. Which brings us here to this moment where history is being preserved for the first time a long time.

So, what are we going to be doing during this upcoming month, you may ask? Well, let me share some projects that we will be taking on. Currently, the Master bedroom and the Morning room are being updated. The ceilings have been stripped so we can reinforce the ceilings with newer plaster using more modern methods. The rooms look like a very respectful tornado came through, moving things around to new places. Plastic hangs from ceilings and walls, plaster dust coats the floors and paper walkways trail through the halls. At first, when Emily took me on a walk-through of the progress, my heart was racing faster than I thought it could. I was stressed, anxious, and internally freaking out at seeing how everything looked. But as I continue to walk through, I can’t help but feel relieved. I am excited to see what’s going to happen, what is going to come of the new restorations. I am proud to be here seeing this progress be made. This is a new chapter in our history, and I am anxious for its outcome.

 

The next big step after the second floor will be the Foyer and the drawing room, hence the need to close the mansion. The intricate, beautiful ceilings which have captivated many people upon their first entry will be getting a major facelift. If everything goes right, all that will need to be done is apply adhesive to the cracking sections of plaster, lift them up and reapply some plaster to make them stick together again. But if this proves to be too difficult, and the plaster is too heavy, then a big step will need to be taken. The entire ceiling will need to be replaced. When Emily told me that the entire ceiling might have to be stripped with new molds crafted, I about panicked. These ceilings were our pride, lasting 110 years to still be here today. That is still a point of anxiety, but I know that the product if it comes to that, will be done right. My co-worker TJ and I went to the University of Illinois two years ago because they have all the mansion blueprints in their archives. We were fortunate enough to recover blueprints of the plaster ceilings in those rooms. We will be able to create an exact reproduction of the ceiling if it has to come to that.

While the reproduction is taking place, the staff here at the mansion will have the meticulous duty of cleaning and creating new environments for the artifacts to be preserved in. For the first time, the artifacts will be getting a gritty cleaning, going over every little detail as much as possible. The giant candelabras that flank the main fireplace in the foyer are also going to get a deep cleaning, meaning we get to take Q-tips to clean every nook in the silver. While many people would see this as boring and pain-staking I see it as a new adventure. It’s a privilege to be able to handle these artifacts for the Barker Mansion and make them accessible to the public’s view. History should be accessible as possible for everybody to learn from. Being involved in that process is an honor. And because of that, while we clean the artifacts, I will be taking a photograph of every single artifact we go through and writing a synopsis of each one. In the end, I will place our findings in a binder to be a new, updated inventory for the staff and public to use. We get a lot of questions about some of our artifact, and a lot of them can be quite unique and esoteric, often leaving us stumbling and needed to learn more.  By doing this, the staff will be better equipped to provide more answers and let the public be able to learn even more about our history through the lens of the objects stored within our walls.

 

This month will prove to be difficult and quite the learning experience for all of us. History is a fragile subject which can open doors to vibrant growth. The mansion is a local history which offers worldly goods. No history is too small nor too big. Coming up on my second year as a Heritage Interpreter the mansion has become a home. And like any home, it needs to be taken care of. It will be a lot of work, but it will be the best time I’ve had. This hands-on approach to history is why I want to do history. My favorite thing, at the end of all this, will not be the work being out in, but the outcome of it and letting everyone see what we’ve done. My favorite part of history is seeing how people react to it. I look forward to seeing you all in a month.

 

 

 

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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.

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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.

Are we haunted?

The following article was submitted to the National Association for Interpretation’s Great Lakes Region newsletter by TJ Kalin, Heritage Interpreter at Barker Mansion (Michigan City, IN). While the content was aimed toward museum professionals, we wanted to share.

Do guests ask if your site is haunted?

There is a difficult balancing act between telling guests what they want to know about ghost stories and scaring visitors away. You certainly do not want your museum known for being haunted! Working in a Gilded Age house museum I get asked about ghosts quite often. Our solution to guests’ inquiries and the interpretive difficulties incurred was to hold our Barker Blackout Tours. On a few nights in October we walked guests through the mansion in total darkness with only tea-lights guiding the way. Along the way we told spooky experiences staff have had in the mansion but also we interpreted what it is like to work at the mansion, the history of some local legends and the history of Gilded Age and where the stereotype of the haunted Victorian mansion began. Overall, it was a fun way to interpret our ghost stories without scaring guests, all while sticking to our interpretive goals.Barker Mansion, date unknown

A La Porte County Life in the Spotlight: Jessica Rosier

 Jessica Rosier, the Director of the Barker Mansion, has not always been a Hoosier. She was born and raised in northern Minnesota, which is where she first fell in love with nature. Rosier’s passion for nature compelled her into earning her master’s degree in geography with a concentration in tourism planning and development from St. Cloud State University.

Rosier recently gained her Hoosier status when she and her husband moved here not too long ago.

“About six years ago, my husband got transferred for work in Northwest Indiana, which is when I became a Hoosier,” she said.

Rosier and her husband initially resided in Valparaiso where she worked at the Dunes State Park, but then she was promoted and transferred to Indianapolis with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.

“We really missed life in Northwest Indiana and in the Dunes. The Barker Mansion Director job opened up about two years ago, and we knew we wanted to live in Michigan City, so I applied, got it, and here we are today.”

As the Director of the Barker Mansion, Rosier is the secret face behind the scenes.

“I am kind of the support behind the scenes person. The Barker Mansion leads tours and plans special events, which I lead at times, but my interpreters are the ones usually leading the tours,” she said. “My job is to make sure that we have money to do these things, the marketing is going out, the websites are up to date, staff schedules are in place, and I also help to manage repairs on the building, so I work with contractors quite a bit too.”

Her favorite part about working as the Director for the Barker Mansion is being able to work with a historic building that has lots of history behind it and a lot of potential for the future.

“My favorite part about working here is that the mansion is a work in progress, with a lot of potential. When I got here two years ago, I like to say that the mansion was sleeping and it had been sleeping for a few decades and it’s my job to gently wake it up,” Rosier stated.

Rosier and her staff work to try and get people back to the mansion who have not visited in a while, as well as introduce it to those who have never been.

“We’ve been trying out a lot of different programs to get in a lot of people in their 20s and 30s to revisit this place and realize that it is a value to the community. Then, they can start bringing their kids to get the next generation invested in this place,” she said. “It is also a big goal to get people coming back again and again instead of just coming once in elementary school. We are starting to see that, so it is really exciting when we start recognizing our guests and remembering their names.”

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Rosier dressed as the Barker’s Dining Room maid, Alice Smith, at a birthday party last fall.

When on a tour of the Barker Mansion, the tour guides will claim and share that the mansion is haunted. Rosier has been working as the Barker Mansion’s Director for a couple of years now, but has yet to encounter any haunted scenarios.

“I have not encountered anything suspicious, but many of my staff members have. Many of them have stories about seeing, hearing, and even feeling things when in the mansion. I do trust my team and I do believe it, but I just have not experienced it myself,” she said.

Outside of working as the Director of the Barker Mansion, Rosier enjoys being outside and supporting local businesses.

“I love being outside, even in the winter, and I think that comes from growing up in northern Minnesota. I try to go to the beach every day and walk or run with my dog. My husband and I love to go hiking, especially at the Dunes… we love the Dunes,” she said. “We also love trying new local restaurants in town. We really enjoy supporting local businesses. I love going to thrift stores and I like to quilt when I have time.”

Right now, during the mansion’s winter hours, tours are open to the public Tuesday through Saturday at 1 p.m. There are also special events that the mansion puts on that can be found on the website.

If you would like to learn more about the Barker Mansion, or see what special events are going on in the near future, click here.