The Christmas holiday was a happy time for the Harrison family, especially during their first years in the White House. Benjamin and Caroline shared Christmas in the White House with their children, grandchildren, Dr. Scott, Mary Dimmick, Lieutenant and Mrs. Parker, the household staff, and the nation. A newspaper clipping describes the events:
“The tooting of a horn in a series of more or less musical notes was the signal for the commencement of the Christmas celebration at the White House this morning shortly after 10 o’clock. When Mrs. Dimmick blew this juvenile instrument, faces came smiling from every door all around her in the corridor upstairs, and soon all the members of the presidential family had assembled in a laughing procession.”
“Mary’s (Lodge McKee) gifts had a full set of baby doll furniture, with baby doll, lady dolls and boy dolls, a piano, a kitchen outfit and a quantity of other feminine necessities in the world of babydom, while Benjamin (Baby McKee) had a steam engine, a couple of train cars, a full suit of armor, books, pictures, and all manner of things to tickle a boyish fancy.“
Benjamin Harrison was the first President to have a decorated Christmas tree in the White House, and his home in Indianapolis reflects his fondness for celebrating the holiday. During the holiday season, the house represents a gala Victorian Christmas at its finest. Outside, the house is festooned with garlands of greenery and bows on the wrap-around porch. Upon entering the house, guests will feel drawn back in time to a 19th century Christmas.
The front parlor features a large tree similar to the one Benjamin Harrison decorated for his grandchildren in 1889 in the White House. Authentic decorations such as wooden soldiers, cotton batting ornaments, hand-blown glass figures, and candles adorn this tree. Victorian toys, many of them Harrison originals, will be displayed under the tree as the children might have found them on Christmas morning.
The seven fireplace mantels throughout the house are lavishly decorated with greenery, dried flowers, pine cones, seed pods, fresh flowers, ribbons and bows. Many of the designs were taken directly from period publications. This same treatment is used on mirrors, furniture, chandeliers, and doorways while garlands and ribbons cascade gracefully down the three-floor banister.
The traditional evergreen was not the only holiday tree used by the Victorians. Feather trees, made from dyed goose feathers, were also popular. These trees originated in Germany as part of the early conservation movement. A feather tree decorated with hand-blown glass ornaments is displayed. A snow tree—made from last year’s real tree with needles removed and swathed in cotton batting—is traditionally covered with edible treats such as cookies and candies.
You will find an “Old Father Christmas,” inspired from an 1868 Ladies Godey’s Magazine. He is made from pine cones, moss, sheep’s wool and real fur. Other historic decorations include pomanders, a kissing ball, wreaths, a greenery covered lyre, tussie mussies and cornucopias.
In light of new public health announcements made by the CDC—as well as by the Mayor of Indianapolis—we are closing the museum for all public events and tours through at least May 1. Until we re-open, please explore our website, which contains an extraordinary array of history & civics e-learning opportunities, including primary resources, original photographs, and 3D scans you can even print! Our staff remain available to serve you (remotely) and we welcome your continued support.
Thank you for being an important part of the Presidential Site and sharing a legacy in action!