Museum to feature carolers, characters

Erin Bolton Smucker, an employee with the Vermilion County Museum, checks the lights on a Christmas tree, with a 1930s Danville street scene in the background. Santa will be sitting in front of the tree in the Museum Center during the museum's open house Sunday. The Fithian House also will be open.

DANVILLE — Enjoy carolers, meet historical characters and absorb the holiday spirit at the Vermilion County Museum Society’s Holiday Open House.

Both the Museum Center and Fithian Home at 116 N. Gilbert will be open free of charge from 1:30-4 p.m. Sunday.

During this family event, Santa Claus will greet visitors of all ages on the 1930s-era street scene in the Museum Center, where photos may be taken by participants with their own cameras. Children will have a chance to make a wooden ornament and decorate their own cookies, and there will be games, such as bag toss, and prizes.

Guests may partake of punch and cookies.

“It’s going to be super fun,” staff member Wendy Wilder said.

In the Fithian Home, visitors will be greeted by historical, costumed characters portrayed by Marilyn Blanton (a maid), Jamey Coutant (Mrs. Fithian), Jennifer Dixson (Mrs. Holloway, wife of George Holloway, a captain in the Civil War and prominent Georgetown resident), Nancy Henderson (Cynthia Barkley) and Leslie Van Camp (Amelia Feldkamp, second owner of the Fithian Home).

In addition, Danville Light Opera carolers (Tom Harrigan, Bryan Schroeder, Ann Soderstrom and Kathleen Swiersz) will sing in the parlor.

Nancy Henderson has learned a lot about local history while helping with special museum events and school tours.

At the open house, she will portray the mother of Stella Barkley, who died at 19 during the scarlet fever epidemic of 1876.

Stella was betrothed to Harry Cooper, but was in love with Ben Bowman; her parents forbade the relationship. She said she’d rather die than marry Cooper, and refused food and medicine, dying on Valentine’s Day.

Her parents were devastated when their only child died, and they sealed her room, which wasn’t opened until her mother died in 1915, Henderson said.

Henderson, as the mother, will be stationed in an upstairs bedroom, and will talk to visitors about the tragedy. A death mask was made of Stella’s face, and that can be seen on the angel on top of Stella’s tomb at Spring Hill Cemetery.

“People can come in and ask us questions,” she said of the historical actors. She added that she tries to stay in character from that time period.

“People need to know there’s a lot of interesting history in Vermilion County,” Henderson said. “A lot of people find out they have connections (with an historical figure).”

The Fithian Home will be dressed in its holiday finery with floral arrangements by the Petal Pushers Study Group of the Danville Garden Club and lampposts decorated by Berry’s Garden Center.

Although it’s not holiday-related, people also may view the Illinois Freedom Project, a traveling exhibit on the second floor of the Museum Center. The display presents the stories of freedom through the lens of the people, places and events covering 200 years of Illinois history.

It will be on display through Dec. 3, and then move on to the next site in Illinois.

The open house is sponsored by First Farmers Bank & Trust Oakwood/Danville/Hoopeston, ONI Risk Partners and Charlotte’s, with media sponsorship by The Commercial-News.

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