Pictured above, the Wylie House Garlands & Greenery Community Open House will feature 19th century seasonal splendor and live music in both the home and adjacent 1860's barn known as the Morton C. Bradley, Jr. Education Center. Photo Credit: David Orr, IU Libraries Graphic Designer, 2022.
This article was written by Guest Journalist Barb Berggoetz and published online by IU Libraries Student Staff, Cristina Cruz.
For IU’s first president and family, December included a primarily quiet religious holiday observation spent in their 1835 home. A few decades later, the family of his cousin, an IU professor, enjoyed a more festive time with gift-giving, a Christmas tree and decorations in that same, now historic, home.
Visitors to the free Garlands & Greenery Traditions Tours at the IU Libraries Wylie House Museum will learn of holiday observances and traditions spanning the 19th century when President Andrew Wylie and wife Margaret resided there, followed by Theophilus Wylie and wife Rebecca and their families. The house, at 307 E. Second Street, is interpreted and operated by IU Libraries as a resource for classes and research. As part of its educational mission, the home will be decorated with fresh greenery, holiday décor and a Christmas tree for a few weeks in December 2023.
“We pulled information from Wylie family diaries and correspondence so that our docents can share how they described their holiday seasons,” said Carey Champion, Wylie House director. “The Wylie writings parallel the changes in American culture during the 19th century. Christmas becomes more celebratory and more about gift-giving during the Victorian era,” she added.
The event is an opportunity to highlight that time period, Champion said, as well as welcome the community to celebrate the holiday season at Wylie House and express gratitude for its support throughout the year.
The free Traditions Tours will be offered from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Dec. 6-9 and Dec. 13-16, on the hour with the last tour starting at 3 p.m. Reservations aren’t needed, but large groups should contact the museum first at firstname.lastname@example.org or 812-855-6224.
Livi Holdread, an IU junior studying history, is among students and volunteers leading tours throughout the two-story home, restored by IU in 1965. “I’m so excited,” she said about the tours. “I do love history and being involved hands-on with it. The Wylies are a very interesting family.”
When she was researching both Wylie families and their Christmas traditions, she found a letter, dated Dec. 24, 1881, from Hermann Boisen, husband of Louisa, the oldest daughter of Theophilus and Rebecca Wylie. In the letter, Boisen described his experiences while he was away teaching at a Boston school – pupils delivering bundles of presents to poor children and decorating a Christmas tree for birds with ears of wheat, rye and corn and bird seed, and then carrying it to a house top.
The tours will retell poignant descriptions from family members, including Theophilus Wylie, who served as IU president pro tempore for two years. In 1890, he wrote in his diary, “Christmas was a merry time with the little ones – innumerable presents engaged their attention. Dolls & candles & books . . . afforded and are still affording amusements to them.”
Garlands & Greenery replaces the Wylie by Candlelight celebrations in previous years and provides access to both the first and second floors.