Mudd house gets gussied up for Christmas party

Victorian decor holiday theme highlights history

Wednesday, Dec. 10, 2008

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Staff photos by GARY SMITH
Clockwise from top, at the Dr. Samuel A. Mudd House and Museum's Victorian Christmas in Waldorf Saturday, docent Alice Simmons waits for the next group of visitors between the front parlor and the dining room. Head docent Georgina Brinkman shows off wreaths on the front door inspired in part by those made for historic Williamsburg, Va., buildings. Civil War re-enactor Tom Pruitt walks McCloud past the house.

Click here to enlarge this photo

Click here to enlarge this photo

Even history comes with a holiday twist this time of year.

Last weekend at Dr. Samuel A. Mudd's house in Waldorf, visitors listened intently to stories about Mudd descendants who inhabited the home for hundreds of years, just as they can expect to hear year-round when touring the historic home. But as they learned about a piece of local history, guests were able to enjoy a taste of the Christmas season, Victorian style.

As part of the seventh annual Victorian Christmas celebration, two special visitors — Mr. and Mrs. Claus — entertained guests at the Mudd house museum where Santa showed off his "collector's edition lump of coal" for all those who have been bad this year. Inside the house, visitors enjoyed a year's worth of planning and perfecting details that blended Mudd house history with a distinct Christmas flair were.

For many years before the annual Victorian Christmas celebration began, Louise Mudd Arehart, one of Dr. Mudd's grandchildren and doyenne for the home, fought to keep her family's property in its original state and was hesitant to make changes that would compromise its authenticity. When Arehart died in 2002, it was decided by members of the Dr. Mudd Society that it would be best to "follow the trend" of the other historic houses in the area by creating a Christmas-time event for the public to enjoy, said Jason Chiarizia, who guides tours at the home.

Since it began, the Victorian Christmas celebration has been successful in attracting people to the Mudd home, Chiarizia said. "People like to come out and see the decorations."

Chiarizia, who stood in the children's bedroom and welcomed questions from visitors, was surrounded by Victorian-style dolls and various antique tea sets that represented this year's theme — "Children's Christmas Party." The turkeys and hams that decorated the house last year for the "adult Christmas party" were traded in for cookies and cake this year.

Donna Peterson, who donned her Civil War-era dress and stood in the room where Mudd once fixed John Wilkes Booth's broken leg, said she has been around the home for 12 years and remembers what it was like before the Christmas celebration was created. During Christmas time now, the society that she said has "become like a family" gets together to bring the home "alive for people." People like to see "something different than what they do" for Christmas. They enjoy seeing the decorations and toys and hearing about the traditions in a place that she called a "hotbed of history in Charles County."

"Being here," she said, "it's just fascinating."

To make the "Children's Christmas Party" theme come to life, the house was filled with dolls from the time period, children's trinkets and toys and homemade gingerbread houses and sleighs. Georgina Brinkman, a docent for the home, said volunteers had been working to put the house together for a whole week. It was hard to decorate the entire house in true Victorian fashion, she said, because back in those days people "went all out" when Christmas came around.

Volunteers tried to stick to decorations reminiscent of the time period but Brinkman joked, "I don't think they had poinsettias back in the day."

A cedar tree in the living room, which took an entire day to put up, she said, was "strictly Victorian," featuring crocheted ornaments and peacock feathers among other ornaments.

The house was filled with children's items including a seemingly unending collection of Victorian dolls, a wooden rocking horse and sweet treats — making it seem as if "a child was having a giant tea party," Chiarizia said.

Brinkman and Marykaye Howard spent days in the kitchen baking and decorating the gingerbread houses and sleighs, making chocolate-covered pears decorated like bunnies and putting together gumdrop trees, among other edible creations that covered the table in the home's dining room. Getting the house together is "lots of work, but we enjoy it," Brinkman said. And after all this, she said, giggling, "I have to go home and do my own [decorations]."

Howard, who told stories in the home's kitchen about the "stairway to nowhere" that once lead to the living quarters of the Mudd house cook, described a special sort of information exchange that she experiences at the Christmas celebration each year.

People are at their leisure when they visit, she said, and that environment lends itself to the "sharing of stories back and forth" that make for a "moving experience. … I love Christmas for that reason," she declared.

Before the Victorian Christmas celebration idea was born at the Mudd house, tours ended the last weekend in November, Howard said. This year, a tour group came the last Saturday in November and the place was "torn apart" in preparation for the first weekend in December, when the Christmas event begins.

Regardless of the state of the house, she said, they welcomed them in to enjoy a tour and the group left saying the experience was "like being at home."