28 December 2008

"On the Fourth Day of Christmas..."

...we took a holiday tour!

It was a bleak, grey, warmish but chillish (if that makes any sense), damp day. We had a leisurely breakfast while I finished washing clothes. In early afternoon we drove out to Roswell and toured Bulloch Hall. This antebellum structure was the home of Martha "Mittie" Bulloch, who became the mother of President Theodore Roosevelt (although she did not survive to see her son become president; she and Roosevelt's first wife died on the same day).

Teddy Roosevelt is my favorite president and I have always wanted to tour Bulloch Hall. Since the Hall was decorated for Christmas, it seemed an opportune time to go.

The house is done in the Georgian style, the typical "pillared" front, in white. The front door opens onto a large hall. To the left side is the parlor, then the dining room, where Theodore Roosevelt Sr and Mittie Bulloch were married on Christmas Eve of 1853, and then the small "warming room." To the right is the library, the master bedroom, and the morning room. Upstairs are four bedrooms and a room without a fireplace (the only room in the house without one) they believe was used as a sewing room. Downstairs in the basement is a brick-floored kitchen and a stair that descends into what was a pantry below the earth where it was cool; also there is another storeroom on the opposite side of the stair that is used for an exhibit for children of what children wore, how they lived, and how they behaved. None of the furniture is original, but it is all from that era. One of the bedrooms is "the museum room," with photos and paintings and narrative on the history of house and family, with exhibits of family china and other original objects from the house. There is also a reproduction of the original "Teddy" bear, a flag that flew over the house when Teddy Roosevelt visited, and a section of rail from the line that Roosevelt's train used.

In 1923, an Atlanta reporter interviewed the last surviving bridesmaid of Mittie's wedding about the event. Her byline was "Peggy Mitchell"—later famous as Margaret Mitchell.

Outside there is a reproduction of one of the two slave cabins, a dog trot cabin, one side set up as people would have lived in it, the other set up with some fragments excavated from the original cabins and the stories of the slaves, including excerpts from WPA interviews from the 1930s of people who were still living who had been born into slavery. (Amazing to think my parents grew up in a time where there were still ex-slaves.) Very sad reading most of it; there seemed to be kind masters, but even more brutal ones, or at least brutal overseers. It is hard to think that for most of history there has been slavery; one people conquered another and made them slaves. I wonder if someday it will be totally eradicated.

Anyway, we enjoyed walking around the house, but thought the Christmas decorations were a bit...unorthodox. It was called "Christmas Across the USA" and each room was decorated as a different city or (in the case of Hawaii) location. In some cases the effect was interesting or unique. For instance, the kitchen was done in Santa Fe style, and the combination of Mexican textiles and decor went well with the brick floor and simple table, benches, and cupboards, and the primitive look of the fireplace and bake oven. The warming room was done in a simple Moravian style with a star in the center, old toys in the cupboard, paper stars on a small tree, cakes and cookies for the traditional "Lovefeast," and a nativity scene, which was quite lovely. The morning room had simple decorations from Charleston, South Carolina. The library was done in Williamsburg style, with garlands and fruits and tea set out and hunting boots and riding regalia for Boxing Day on the morrow. And even if it seemed a bit odd, the dining room done in Nome, Alaska, motif, with arctic decorations and ornaments of Eskimos and huskies, and displays about the serum run in 1925, worked.

On the other hand, the Las Vegas room was pretty tacky. This was in the Wing Room, which was occupied by the last owner of the house before the historical society took it over. Her beautiful furniture and chair collection were overrun and overwhelmed with gambling trimmings and "Rat Pack" and Elvis junk. I think she was probably turning over in her grave. The hall has Florida decorations, and the master bedroom had Hawaiian ones, which looked a bit incongruous. The Santa Claus display in the brother's bedroom and the Memphis/Elvis/jazz/blues theme in Mittie's room was a bit less overpowering (and I did think it clever how they turned Mittie's bed into a steamboat).

James and I agreed later that we would have preferred to have seen the house decorated in a traditional ante- or even post-bellum style. (Or, in some rooms, just something a bit closer to the 19th century theme of the house: Victorian Santa Claus room, Wild West room, Pennsylvania Dutch...anything but Las Vegas!!!)

There's a photo in the Museum Room of Teddy Roosevelt standing at the front of the house with all the servants and other occupants of the house when he visited in 1905. I found it thrilling to have stepped where he did. It's a miracle the house survived at all. It was occupied by Union troops during the Civil War, but they spared Roswell. It is thought they spared Bulloch Hall because of the Masonic symbols once on the home.

James bought a couple of cookbooks and some sauce at the gift shop, then we went home via Trader Joe's to get supper for tonight (the usual salad/turkey we've been having lately) and Publix, both to recycle our plastic bags and to check out the two-fers. Several were useful for our party on Saturday!

We ate supper to What's My Line? and To Tell the Truth (one of the guests on the latter was Pappy Boyington!), and then started watching an assortment of Christmas specials I DVR'd last week. Dazzling Christmas Lights—in glorious HD on HD Theatre—was a collection of features on families or neighborhoods that erect big light displays for Christmas. This was less frantic and silly than the one HGTV puts on every year. There was a neighborhood of row houses in Baltimore, a Texas housing development, a 15-year-old boy who adds to the yard decorations every year, the Bronx Zoo, and more.

The Super-Heroes Guide to New York City didn't really have anything to do with Christmas, but it was kinda fun. It was about how New York City became an actual, real character in the Marvel Comics starting with Spiderman.

The prettiest special was from HD Theatre again and was called Christmas Lights. Like Sunrise Earth and their "flyover" specials, it was just footage shot in different places, no narration, no "gags," just some background music. They started at the skating rink at Rockefeller Center, moved to a writer's cabin in Alaska being decorated with lights and ornaments with a bonfire held outside afterwards, went to Washington DC for the display around the National Christmas tree and showing some other public buildings, then traveled to the coast of Maine where children and adults decorated a tree with lights and goodies like apples, popcorn, corn, seed-covered peanut butter pinecones, and even herring for the local wild animals, and finally ended with the streets and decorations and then the Grand Illumination in Colonial Williamsburg. It was dreamy, lyrical and simply beautiful.

Sunk on Christmas Eve was a Mysteries of the Deep special on National Geographic about the expedition to find a ship that was sunk on Christmas Eve 1944 in the English Channel. Some history of the event was given and then we saw divers trying to reach the wreck.

Next was a special called The Greatest Tree on Earth. This was a really fascinating special from Great Britain about the history and the traditions of the Christmas tree, following a Tokyo family, a Lappish family, and a Brooklyn family with their Christmas preparations, and intercut with historical insights and the workings of a Christmas tree farm. They talked about the 1914 Christmas Truce and the benefit to the environment of Christmas tree farming; all three families visited big Christmas tree shops to buy ornaments made in Germany (the Finns and the Japanese went to Germany itself). The most bizarre segment showed German propaganda films from World War II, made to convince the population that everything was fine. There was a huge tree hung with Hitler ornaments and glass acorns with swastikas on them, topped with a star, under a big swastika. Talk about an unsettling sight!

The final special I watched was Christmas and the Civil War. This was quite enjoyable. Using re-enactments, it showed how Christmas went from a small religious holiday to a national celebration, following the lives of Thomas Nast, Louisa May Alcott, a plantation owner's wife, and a slave who was originally a Christmas gift to his master's wife. The only thing I found amusing was that in the scenes with Thomas Nast, a birdcage was shown in the background of his home. In those days the small bird kept as a pet certainly would have been a canary, as they were extremely popular back then. Instead shown is a small yellow budgie! Budgies were exported to Europe in 1840; not sure when they arrived in the US. It seems anachronistic. But I could be wrong.

Anyway, I plan [cross fingers] to keep these last two specials and the Christmas Lights one. Excellent watching!

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