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Glensheen unveils 2022 holiday decorations

The historic mansion has been adorned inside and out for the holiday season, in the spirit of its founding family.

A lit Christmas tree brightens up the dark at Glensheen
A decorated Christmas tree illuminates Marjorie's Room inside Glensheen in Duluth on Tuesday.
Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune
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DULUTH — On Tuesday night, a freighter on Lake Superior displayed running lights as if it wanted to join the party. The boat could be seen from the grounds of Glensheen, where members and media were invited to take 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 a whole storage closet upstairs that was dedicated to Christmas stuff."

Mike Mayou, Glensheen Marketing Manager
Mike Mayou is the marketing manager at Glensheen in Duluth.
Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune

Mayou admitted he wasn't sure the family "went quite as full scale with decorating every single room" as Glensheen staff do now.

It takes a team of about two dozen people eight full days to decorate the mansion, he said. That involves "everything from making sure the tree skirts on the trees are perfect to every ornament being straight and in place, to every single light outside, making sure it's got power and troubleshooting everything."

While Christmas Tours began Friday, Nov. 18, this year's first opportunity for candlelight tours is Friday, Nov. 25. With the dining room table set for entertaining, candlelight tours provide an opportunity to experience the mansion as the Congdons' guests might have found it when arriving for December dinner parties.

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Woman looks at a pink Christmas tree at Glensheen
Kathy Roby, of Duluth, looks at the pink decorated Christmas tree displayed in Helen's Room inside Glensheen on Tuesday.
Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune

"We kept a couple of the traditional room setups the way they were. The main tree in the front entrance, and, for example, the Congdons' Christmas tree in the library," said Mayou, who also represents District 2 on the Duluth City Council.

"Every other room is reimagined with different themes and their trees."
Ash Howard, the mansion's education manager, "spearheaded the effort" of designing this year's holiday decorations, with an eye to "drawing out those elements in each room that are going to engage folks in the history of the mansion."

Large Christmas tree at Glensheen
The view from the second story of Glensheen.
Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune

"The Congdons were Methodists specifically, so they celebrated Christmas," said Howard. "A lot of those more commercial, familiar Christmas trends a lot of Protestants use were brought into the mansion to help place us inside of that culture."

A Nativity scene at Glensheen
A Nativity scene is displayed on a vanity dresser in the master bedroom inside Glensheen.
Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune

By way of example, Howard pointed to the master bedroom, which features a handful of Nativity scenes. "A lot of the decorations were brought in to help build what we already had of the original artifacts," Howard said. "We do have some of the Congdons' Nativity scenes."

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

A decorated Christmas tree at Glensheen
A Christmas tree is displayed in the Breakfast Room inside Glensheen.
Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune

Twenty-five elves, for small eyes to spy, are once again distributed throughout the mansion. They're not all on Santa's nice list. "We also have the naughty elves," said Mayou. "They're doing different things on light fixtures and in different places where you wouldn't expect them to be."

The billiards room's Vaseline glass really pops under candlelight, as does the brightly pulsing tree in the Amusement Room. The Winter Garden, an event rental space, is decked out with garlands and its own ribbon-topped tree. Upstairs in Edward's Room, a stop on Full Mansion Tours, candy canes dominate the displays.

On the mansion's grounds, bonfires beckon visitors to linger and enjoy decorations including the storied displays of Marcia Hales. Longtime adornments outside her Canal Park house, the whimsical displays include a castle outline. Through its door, green dots dance like fireflies on Tischer Creek.

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Woman looks at decorated gingerbread displays
Mary Zastrow, of Superior, looks at a gingerbread house and gingerbread carousel inside the kitchen at Glensheen during a tour Tuesday.
Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune

This will be the last year the Hales displays, which moved to Glensheen in 2019, will be featured on the mansion grounds. "They obviously, being on the shores of Lake Superior, have taken a beating with some of the weather," said Mayou. "We're really grateful for the years we've had with (the Hales decorations) and excited to see what comes next."

As members streamed in Tuesday evening, they posed for photos in a lakeside shelter decorated with snowshoes and yet another tree. They climbed the mansion staircase, past a Dickens holiday village of ceramic shops. (The Scrooge and Marley counting-house is not omitted.)

A decorated table at Glensheen
A table is set inside the formal dining room of Glensheen in Duluth on Tuesday.
Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune

At the top of the stairs, a staffer asked one family if they needed help finding anything. "Oh, no," said a person in the group, phone out for photos. "We've been here many times before."

The mansion is offering daily ticketed tours, and ticketed candlelight tours Fridays and Saturdays through Dec. 31. During candlelight tour hours, the Spirit of the Lights display on Glensheen's grounds is free and open to the public. The mansion will be closed Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. For details and tickets, see glensheen.org.

The Zenith City's Christmas season kicks off this weekend with a parade and a lights display. Grab your calendar and peruse our guide to what's coming up.

Arts and entertainment reporter Jay Gabler joined the Duluth News Tribune in February 2022. His previous experience includes eight years as a digital producer at The Current (Minnesota Public Radio), four years as theater critic at Minneapolis alt-weekly City Pages, and six years as arts editor at the Twin Cities Daily Planet. He's a co-founder of pop culture and creative writing blog The Tangential; and a member of the National Book Critics Circle. You can reach him at jgabler@duluthnews.com or 218-279-5536.
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