November 26, 2022

DULUTH — On Tuesday night, a freighter on Lake Superior displayed running lights as if to join the party. The boat was on view from the Glensheen grounds, where members and media were invited to get a first look at this year’s glowing holiday decorations under simulated candlelight.

The Congdon family, who built Glensheen and lived there for seven decades, “were really big Christmas people,” said Mike Mayou, Glensheen’s marketing manager. “They had an entire storage closet set aside for Christmas stuff upstairs.”

Mike Mayou, Glensheen Marketing Manager

Mike Mayou is Marketing Director at Glensheen in Duluth.

Dan Williamson/Duluth News Tribune

Mayou admitted he wasn’t sure the family “has gone as far as decorating every single room” like Glensheen staff are now doing.

It took a team of about two dozen people eight full days to decorate the mansion, he said. That includes “everything from making sure the tree skirts on the trees are perfect, to making sure every single ornament is straight and in place, to making sure every single light outside is powered and fix everything.”

While the Christmas tours began on Friday November 18th, the first opportunity for candlelight tours this year is on Friday November 25th. With the dining table set for entertainment, candlelight tours offer a chance to experience the mansion as guests of the Congdons may have found it upon arriving for dinner parties in December.

Woman looks at a pink Christmas tree in Glensheen

Kathy Roby, from Duluth, looks at the pink-decorated Christmas tree on display in Helen’s room in Glensheen on Tuesday.

Dan Williamson/Duluth News Tribune

“We left some of the traditional room setups as they were. The main tree at the front entrance and, for example, the Congdons’ Christmas tree in the library,” said Mayou, who also represents District 2 in the Duluth City council.

“Every other room is redesigned with different themes and their trees.”
Ash Howard, the mansion’s education manager, “led the effort” to design this year’s holiday decorations, with an eye to “emphasizing the elements in each room that will draw people into the mansion’s history.”

Big Christmas tree in Glensheen

The view from the second story of Glensheen.

Dan Williamson/Duluth News Tribune

“The Congdons were specifically Methodists, so they celebrated Christmas,” Howard said. “A lot of these more commercial, familiar Christmas trends that a lot of Protestants use were brought to the villa to put us in that culture.”

A nativity scene in Glensheen

A nativity scene is displayed on a vanity dresser in the Glensheen master bedroom.

Dan Williamson/Duluth News Tribune

As an example, Howard pointed to the master bedroom, which contains a handful of cribs. “A lot of the decorations were brought in to help build what we already had of the original artifacts,” Howard said. “We have some Congdon cribs.”

While not all trees are blue (like the one in Marjorie’s Room) or pink (like the one in Helen’s Room, a room full of feathers and flowers), none of the Glensheen trees are the kind that Charlie Brown would be drawn to. They are all majestically adorned with dense decorations ranging from angels to pine cones to gnomes.

A decorated Christmas tree in Glensheen

A Christmas tree is on display in Glensheen’s breakfast room.

Dan Williamson/Duluth News Tribune

25 elves, for little eyes to spy on, are once again scattered throughout the mansion. They’re not all on Santa’s nice list. “We also have the cheeky elves,” Mayou said. “They do different things on lights and in different places that you wouldn’t expect them to.”

The billiard room’s Vaseline glass pops in the candlelight, as does the brightly pulsing tree in the pleasure room. The conservatory, an event space, is decorated with garlands and its own tree with a ribbon crown. Upstairs in Edward’s Room, a Full Mansion Tours stop, candy canes dominate the exhibits.

In the grounds of the mansion, bonfires invite visitors to linger and enjoy decorations including the fabled exhibits by Marcia Hales. Among the whimsical displays that have long adorned the front of her Canal Park home is a castle outline. Green dots dance through his door like fireflies on Tischer Creek.

Woman looks at decorated gingerbread displays

Superior’s Mary Zastrow looks at a gingerbread house and gingerbread carousel in Glensheen’s kitchen during a tour on Tuesday.

Dan Williamson/Duluth News Tribune

This will be the last year that the Hales displays, who moved to Glensheen in 2019, will be on the mansion grounds. “Obviously, because they’re on the shores of Lake Superior, they’ve taken a beating with the weather,” Mayou said. “We’re really grateful for the years we’ve had with (the Hales decorations) and excited for what’s next.”

As members streamed Tuesday night, they posed for photos at a lakeside shelter adorned with snowshoes and another tree. They climbed the mansion stairs, past a Dickensian vacation village with pottery shops. (The office of Scrooge and Marley is not omitted.)

A set table in Glensheen

A table is laid in the formal dining room at Glensheen in Duluth on Tuesday.

Dan Williamson/Duluth News Tribune

At the top of the stairs, an employee asked a family if they needed help finding anything. “Oh no,” said one person in the group, calling for photos. “We have been here many times.”

The mansion offers ticketed tours daily through December 31, as well as guided candlelight tours on Fridays and Saturdays. The mansion is closed on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Visit glensheen.org for details and tickets.

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