Step into Christmas past at Lincoln Family Home

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MANCHESTER — This December, a visit to The Lincoln Family Home might feel like stepping into the past; specifically 1912, when presidential son Robert Todd Lincoln is known to have spent the holidays at the Manchester home he shared with his wife, Mary.

Typically, the house is "set at" 1905, with original decor and furnishings from Lincoln's time. As the holidays approach, the home takes on an additional charm.

"Between the smells of the real greenery and the sound of the organ, stepping inside really feels like a step back in time," said Stephanie Moffett-Hynds, programming manager for Hildene, The Lincoln Family Home. "It's as if you're enveloped in the past."

According to Moffett-Hynds, documents show that Mary and Robert Todd Lincoln spent the Christmas of 1912 at their Manchester home. To recreate that moment in history for visitors, the non-profit Friends of Hildene — which purchased the estate in 1978 — utilizes decorations and materials that would have been commonplace at that time.

"We went back and researched what the decor was like in 1912," said Moffett-Hynds, noting that even the tree is authentic and untrimmed. "We considered the fact that they had spent some time in England, and we also thought about the fact that ornaments are often passed down through generations. As they were older when they moved into the house, we guess that a lot of ornaments would have been from before, and up to, 1912."

It's not just the decor that brings the home back to Christmas 1912, however. Each weekend from Dec. 2 to Dec. 31, visitors will be serenaded by volunteer musicians playing the family's authentic Aeolian pipe organ and Steinway piano.

"The music that is played on the organ or piano are all arrangements from 1912 or before," said Moffett-Hynds. "It's not a set, this is Mary's piano that Robert bought her; this is their organ. That's pretty cool."

"Hildene to me is a hidden gem," added volunteer Sherrie Rice, who typically leads the decorating effort alongside Moffett-Hynds. "Because 95 percent of this is original, you really do feel like Robert and Mary just stepped out for a moment."

Converting the home to its cheeriest iteration is no small task explains Rice, noting that over 30 volunteers come together in a massive decorating effort.

"Many of the people who come are 'flower ladies' who volunteer throughout the summer to decorate the home, but others are just people I know with flower arranging backgrounds," she said. "What's neat is that there are people from all over, not just Manchester but from Londonderry, Arlington, Bondville, and so on."

"When Sherrie puts the word out everybody who is able comes back," said Moffett-Hynds. "There's new people every year too though, and we're starting to have more men help us out, which we love."

Despite the frenzied tone of the morning, the effort is calculated and organized according to House Lead Erik Barnum, with planning typically beginning in August.

"You come down here in the morning and there's all of these volunteers armed with pine boughs and Christmas decorations — it's total chaos for about five hours," he said. "It's like a military operation. We have a multi-page schedule that we go by, and everything is mapped out."

"They come in, know their task, and get right to business," added Rice. "It's a really successful effort."

For Rice, the community collaboration sets a warm tone for the holidays ahead.

"The camaraderie is a great way to start the season," she explained. "It's the community that's behind this; it has been through the years, and it continues to be."

"It's an amazing showing of community support that we have so many volunteers who are willing to come in and decorate," Barnum added. "The community has supported us ever since we took possession of the house to an amazing degree. This house is really a testament to the community."

For more information on the holidays at Hildene, visit www.hildene.org.

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