Holiday songs inspire Stan Hywet decorations

By Rich Heldenfels
Beacon Journal popular culture writer

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The main dining room is decorated with inspiration from familiar carols at the Manor House at Stan Hywet for the annual Deck the Hall: Sounds of the Season through Dec. 30. (Paul Tople/Akron Beacon Journal)

Stan Hywet Hall was built about a century ago, and it reeks of old-fashioned style and luxury. So why are there little fuzzy hippos in the linen room, and a tree festooned with blue LED lights in another?

It’s Christmas. Songs are in the air.

The hall and gardens offer a special Deck the Hall event each holiday season, with a different theme every year. In 2011, it highlighted Joys of Christmas Past, including decorations from the old O’Neil’s and Polsky’s department stores. This year, it’s Sounds of the Season, with 15 rooms representing different Christmas songs.

So the blue tree — placed in the hall’s blue room — marks a Blue Christmas. The linen room is decked out for I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas.

In the master bedroom, a poodle skirt and saddle shoes are near a tree adorned with 45-rpm records painted silver and gold, and a Brenda Lee album — all to commemorate Lee’s hit Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree.

The solarium (Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer) includes small wooden reindeer. The Great Hall (Winter Wonderland) is full of trees covered with artificial snow. Virginia’s room — that of F.A. and Gertrude Seiberling’s daughter Gertrude, known as Virginia — echoes Frosty the Snowman with dozens of snow-people, including one feminine one in a chair pulled up to the room’s vanity.

In each room — including others set up for Home for the Holidays, Little Drummer Boy, The Twelve Days of Christmas and Baby, It’s Cold Outside — multiple versions of the theme song play, and a placard offers a brief history of the showcased song.

And it’s often about the details. Eric Wheeler, director of marketing and guest programs for Stan Hywet, pointed out the luggage and the tossed-off coat and hat with Home for the Holidays. The Christmas Song display includes chestnuts by the fire.

While daytime visitors can see the themed rooms, the official Deck the Hall time is from 5 to 8 p.m., when the holiday lights in the hall and garden are on — the courtyard Christmas tree is lit at 5:30 — and holiday perennial Mr. Jingeling has taken a seat in the Corbin Conservatory.

It takes about a year to work out all the details of the holiday displays. The decorations draw partly on the hall’s considerable stash stored in the trunk room — ribbons, fabric, lights, even “a big thing of birds,” said communications manager Donna Spiegler.

“And the staff and volunteers will often bring things from their homes. And we’ll go to shops,” said Wheeler. Finding a company selling stuffed animals, Wheeler said, “We bought every hippopotamus they had.”

Deck the Hall is a big draw for Stan Hywet; Spiegler estimated that the 2011 presentation drew 24,000 people over 25 days in late November and December. (Sounds of the Season continues Dec. 13-23 and 26-30.) That’s almost double the 14,000 in 2010, and a busy night had more than 1,200 visitors. The hall closes off the guest wing, with a narrow hallway, because “last year it got really crowded. It just got too congested,” Spiegler said.

It’s not just the themed rooms that draw the crowds. Some come to see the lights, others for the gingerbread cookies. But the effort still involves a lot of planning, The hall staff is considering ideas for Deck the Hall as much as five years from now, and work on the 2013 exhibit will begin shortly after 2012 is done.

Rich Heldenfels writes about popular culture for the Beacon Journal and Ohio.com, including the HeldenFiles Online blog, www.ohio.com/blogs/heldenfiles. He is also on Facebook and Twitter. You can contact him at 330-996-3582 or rheldenfels@thebeaconjournal.com.


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