A Christmas Tree Story
December 8, 2012 § 2 Comments
Holiday decorations fill the house, and they are spectacular this year. As it was in Susan’s day, the floor-to-ceiling tree in the gallery is the star attraction.
Susan started the tree tradition the first Christmas season that she was in her new home. I describe the celebration in Chapter 7 of Susan Lawrence: The Enigma in the Wright House:
Nine days of gala events introduced the Lawrence House to the Springfield community at the end of December, 1904. The centerpiece of all the parties was the towering Christmas tree with 150 incandescent lights in the gallery.
The December 20, 1904, issue of The Springfield News revealed a riddle that Susan posed for her guests to enhance the drama.
[The tree’s] height and size and the completeness of its decorations are a matter of wonderment to all, so much so, that a gift is offered to anyone who will guess correctly how it was gotten into the house and set up.
Decision makers decided that the floor-to-ceiling tree tradition would continue when the State of Illinois opened the house for tours. Employees of the State dragged a live tree through the porch, up steps, and around corners into the gallery for the first years of state ownership. Then they dragged it out by the same route. As a result, we found needles embedded in the carpet in July.
One day an elderly lady on a tour said to the interpreter, “There’s the Christmas tree window.” When she was questioned, the woman explained that she lived in the neighborhood as a child. Each year before Christmas, neighborhood children flocked to watch as a very large tree was passed through a casement hinged window at the end of the private sidewalk on the south side of the house. From the window, the tree was lifted over the east balcony of the gallery and placed in the center of the room. Susan’s riddle was solved.
After that, State employees saved energy and the carpet by using the “Christmas tree” window until the Dana-Thomas House Foundation bought an artificial tree. Even artificial trees wear out, and the floor-to-ceiling tree standing in the center of the gallery this year is newly purchased by the Foundation. As the 1904 reporter said, “Its height and size and the completeness of its decorations [continue to be] a matter of wonderment to all.”