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Published: Monday, 12/5/2011 - Updated: 2 years ago

Metropark mansion alive with sights, sounds of season

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Margaret Hughes, left, admires one of the many Christmas trees at the Manor House with Taylor Hughes, 5, Phillip Hughes, Taylor’s mother, LaToya Ulis, and Israeli Hughes, 8. Margaret Hughes, left, admires one of the many Christmas trees at the Manor House with Taylor Hughes, 5, Phillip Hughes, Taylor’s mother, LaToya Ulis, and Israeli Hughes, 8.
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While the children accompanying her counted the festive aprons festooning the kitchen at the Wildwood Preserve Metropark Manor House during its annual holiday decorations show, a ceramic duck on the counter caught Sheila Schrag’s eye.

“Look at the cookie jar! That’s cool,” the Sylvania resident exclaimed. “I have a Santa one, but that’s cooler!”

Upstairs in the master bathroom, the Christmas tree was the coup de grace for the most unusual decorations of the Holidays at the Manor House: a swine-themed room with pig dolls, pig figurines, even Miss Piggy in a Mrs. Claus outfit.

“Even the tree has pigs on it,” marveled Sheila Baer of Northwood. “It’s just gorgeous. Everything else is kind of what you expect.”

“Everything else” is the 34 rooms of the Georgian colonial mansion, plus two outdoor areas, dressed up for the holidays — mostly Christmas, but with one room dressed up in a Hanukkah theme — by volunteers using materials and items from their own collections.

Dozens of decorated Christmas trees — five in just the solarium, themed by Toledo Museum of Art volunteers as Santa’s Art Studio with reproductions of museum gallery exhibits and a “painting in progress” — highlight the exhibit, but the themes go in many directions. In one room, packages from long-gone Toledo retailers such as Tiedtke’s, LaSalle’s, Lamson’s, and Stein’s; in another, decorations with shoes as their common element.

“I’ve never seen a Christmas tree with shoes all over it,” said Phyllis Adams, a first-time volunteer at the event whose cheerful sweater, with a holly wreath motif, added to that room’s festive air.

“We’re trying to get back to similar things to what would have been here in the ‘40s and ‘50s,” event organizer Bettie Finch explained, while conceding that no, the Stranahan family, the Toledo industrialists who built the estate during the Great Depression and lived there for 30 years thereafter, probably would not have had a pig-themed Christmas tree in their bathroom.

But the Stranahans might well have had a Lionel train set like the one volunteers from the Swanton Railroad and Model Club operated in the basement, she said. Three trains — a freight, a passenger, and one carrying candy canes — circled a festive miniature village.

“People look for it every year,” said Joe Repka, a railroad club member. “A lot of them come specifically to see it. We try to change it every year, make it a little bit different.”

And that, Ms. Finch said, is the essence of Holidays in the Manor House: It’s never the same twice. “It’s all about making memories, and reliving memories,” she said.

Audrey Penrod, left, and Olivia Penrod of Michigan spot the famous ‘Manor House Mouse’ hidden in a tree at the Wildwood Preserve Manor House. Dozens of decorated trees filled the 34-room mansion. Audrey Penrod, left, and Olivia Penrod of Michigan spot the famous ‘Manor House Mouse’ hidden in a tree at the Wildwood Preserve Manor House. Dozens of decorated trees filled the 34-room mansion.
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“I’ve been coming for 20, 25 years,” said Ms. Baer, who in past years has been on a decorating team. “You always get new [decorating] ideas to take home.”

Ms. Schrag, meanwhile, said she had been to the Manor House event just once before, many years ago.

Her group, she admitted, had set out Sunday to go to Lucas County’s Christmas Wonderland, only to discover that event doesn’t start until Friday. So they took the kids to Holidays at the Manor House, with its simultaneous arts-and-crafts show at the Metroparks Hall, as a backup plan.

As they went from room to room, the children looked for answers to six “teaser” questions on slips of paper handed out at the door, including the number of aprons in the Manor House kitchen and the design on a Lite Brite toy in the master bathroom.

Chris Poling of Perrysburg was a first-time visitor. His 4-year-old son, Nathan, became instantly fascinated with the trains upon their arrival in the basement.

“The residence is quite remarkable, and the decorations are pretty good,” Mr. Poling said, while Nathan nodded vigorously when asked if he liked the trains, before reaching out a hand in a parentally restrained attempt to touch one.

Not only do volunteers set up the exhibit, Holidays in the Manor House also requires scores of volunteers to greet and guide visitors, direct traffic through doorways and hallways, and otherwise supervise the event.

“I love it. It gets me out, and I get to hear all the Christmas music,” said Jean Meredith, a 20-year volunteer from Toledo whose main task was making sure nobody stumbled on two steps leading down from a hallway into the living room. Like Mrs. Adams, she wore her holiday sweater — a purple one with a snowman theme.

Nearby, Natalie Kowalka, 9, played Christmas carols on the Manor House piano while her mother, Pam, and family friend Scott Bowen, all of West Toledo, proudly watched.

“It’s great, I think it’s awesome,” Mr. Bowen said of the show, while adding that Natalie “loves playing the piano — she likes performing.”

By the end of the holiday show’s eight-day run, Metroparks officials expect between 10,000 and 15,000 people will have visited the Manor House.

Pianist Martha Ross basks in the applause as she turns the page of her Christmas music book. Volunteers were enlisted to greet visitors and make beautiful music. Pianist Martha Ross basks in the applause as she turns the page of her Christmas music book. Volunteers were enlisted to greet visitors and make beautiful music.
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The show ends two weeks before Christmas, parks district spokesman Scott Carpenter explained, so its volunteers can get back to planning their own holiday celebrations.

“Hundreds of volunteers are involved. We just can’t sustain it that long,” he said. “And in some cases, the decorations are their own, and they take them back and put them up in their own houses.”

Angela Metcalf, a historical interpreter on the Manor House staff, said the free-admission event is a lot of work for Metroparks employees too.

“The more people that show up, you think it was all worth it,” she said. “Especially when kids smile.”

Contact David Patch at: dpatch@theblade.com or 419-724-6094.



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