New exhibits are planned for second floor
By SUE SUCHYTA
DEARBORN – Victorian Christmas cheer permeated the Historical Museum’s Dec. 3 open house at the Commandant’s Quarters, with a tree trimmed with candles and the dining room prepared for a feast.
While the museum staff and volunteers wisely choose not to light the tree’s candles, many wore period costumes to add to the ambience.
Volunteer Michael Ball of Grosse Ile Township, who donned the Santa suit, said it is fun for him to come to the museum and interact with the children, especially when they’ve come for their seasonal Santa photo.
“It’s great to be part of that experience for them,” he said.
Volunteer Aaron Schrader, color bearer for the Sgt. John S. Cosbey Camp 427 Department of Michigan Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, said the first floor of the nicely appointed Commandant’s Quarters is reflective of how it would have looked during the holidays long ago.
“It’s really nice and it’s warm,” he said.
Schrader said the Christmas tree would be decorated with garlands of popcorn strung on a thread in addition to the candles and ornaments.
Museum volunteer Karen Wisniewski said the holiday display at the Commandant’s Quarters allows people to get in touch with the history of their hometown.
She said they try to keep the holiday décor authentic and allow people to see it in person, instead of just on television.
“Families tried to find ways to do events together,” she said. “Like the holiday dinner and having people over that whole week afterward, and if it was good enough weather, a sleigh ride.”
Wisniewski said ice skating on the pond near the Ford Motor Co. offices on Oakwood Boulevard was a popular holiday tradition, as was sledding at Ford Field, which she called “coasting.”
She said the east side of Dearborn had skating ponds where the brickyards had been.
Wisniewski said she enjoys sharing her knowledge of the area’s past with visitors, much of which she learned from studying material in the museum’s archives, such as diaries of early Dearborn residents.
“The archives are everything,” she said. “The early historical society were gods to me because they collected memoirs from people. They went out and interviewed people who were 80 in 1920, saying, ‘Hey, what was your Christmas like, what did you do?’ and they’d say they would get apples and oranges as gifts, or a small doll that someone made.”
Wisniewski said the Historical Museum’s archives house a wealth of valuable information.
“You have reminiscences of all the sleigh rides that Henry Ford would take people on, on his property,” she said. “He had a small cabin there, and he turned that into the Sugar Shack, and he’d have Santa inside.”
Docent Jodie Wilson of Lincoln Park said Victorian Christmas practices appeal to her.
“I mean, the music and the way they decorate the tree and seeing how it was back in the 1800s,” she said.
Wilson said dulcimer musicians were onsite earlier in the open house.
Also talking to attendees was exhibit designer Tyler Wilson of Dearborn, who said the museum staff is transitioning the second floor into being more like a gallery space.
“Each room will cover maybe 20 to 40 years,” he said. “The room will have cases in it – artifacts, dresses, clothing – and you’ll go clockwise through Dearborn history.”
Wilson said they cleared everything out and they are patching the plaster walls and painting, as well as installing new electrical lines and lighting.
“Right now, we are writing all the new exhibit boards, picking out the new objects and we are going to start installing them later this month,” he said.
Wilson said he hopes to open the exhibit in late spring or early summer.
He said the first floor will house a room encompassing the Native Americans through 1840, and the Arsenal room will move to the second floor and will cover the 1850 to 1900 time period. The three remaining rooms will then cover 1900 to 1920, 1920 to 1960 and 1960 to the present.
Wilson said they have an original Henry Ford suit, as well as other artifacts from notable Dearborn residents.
“It’s the whole gambit, from Native American to the present,” he said. “As we’ve been cleaning out the museum, we’ve found tons of really cool Dearborn artifacts, significant to the government or famous families, or the factories and things that were made here. There are all kinds of stuff that we are really excited to get out.”