When the staff at the Glensheen Mansion invited my family to come take a weekday tour, I immediately asked, “Are you sure you want me to bring my kids?” The simple answer I got was an inclusive and cheerful, “Of course!”
Still, I was doubtful.
I have two amazing daughters, but they are two and five and I have previously been to the pristine Glensheen for self-guided tours and events; visions of my littlest escaping my grasp, touching something she shouldn’t, and starting a domino effect of disaster culminating with the complete destruction of the historical and priceless mansion flashed through my mind.
Nevertheless, on a sunless and windy Tuesday afternoon, my husband and I packed up the girls and headed down to Duluth’s most iconic mansion on the the shores of a restless Lake Superior. The Glensheen is currently offering a Tuesday deal through the end of April: book a classic tour for $5 a ticket instead of the usual $15.
We stopped into the ticket house to pick up our tickets and to wait for our tour guide. Early spring is the Glensheen’s slower season before the summer tourists start to clamor into town for tours, so when we met our guide, Katie, we were thrilled to find we had her all to ourselves. Walking up the winding hill to the Glensheen’s front door, Katie chatted warmly about the grounds, and stopped intermittently to listen to my five year old ask questions or prattle on about something completely unrelated.
Katie effortlessly juggled her slow walk, vault of knowledge about the Congdon family, and our many, many interruptions of her (we stopped to put our toddler into a carrier, tie shoes, adjust our winter gear, ask about bathrooms… all the basics of family outings). It was clear that she is an experienced guide. She came up with games for my oldest to play, fascinated us with the tiniest of details–who know fireplace marble could be so interesting?!–and kept us trotting along at a comfortable but steady pace that kept us and the girls engaged.
Because I had been on the grounds–and even inside the home–a handful of times (and, if I’m honest, because I’ve seen every episode of Downton Abbey at least twice), I foolishly thought I knew a great deal about the turn of the century era and the home’s vibrant history. But as we listened to our guide share intimate details about life at the Glensheen, I was reminded that the Congdons and their legacy is a unique and invaluable part of Duluth’s rich history. There is a wealth of interesting facts to be gleaned from each successive trip to the Glensheen.
Even in the greying light of a late winter afternoon, the mansion itself shone in its beauty. Far from a sterile, museum-like building, the Glensheen radiates a warmth and richness of life, drawing on the energy of both its past inhabitants and of its current family: the staff and employees who are dedicated to preserving its legend and splendor. On our tour we bumped into other staff members as they worked on creative projects for social media, and we chatted with a representative from The Current Duluth about the Glensheen Unplugged series, which is held in the Amusement Room every Wednesday in March (hello, date night plans!). I could hear the fondness and pride in everyone’s voices when they talked to us about the Glensheen.
By the end our tour, my five-year-old daughter was ready to move in and save up her modest allowance money to hire a butler. That is, until we pointed out that there was no television or iPad in the Glensheen to entertain her. She acquiesced and turned her attention to more important matters: inspecting the small hot chocolate station by the back door that lead out to the mansion’s gardens.
Because the wind was gusting at epic speeds, we skipped a visit of the still frozen grounds. They’re stunning, even in the winter, as we had discovered in December when we spent a day at the Duluth Winter Village. That day the snow fell–soft and silent–and turned the Glensheen estate into a living snow globe. Unfortunately, the weather was not on our side during our classic tour and we headed for the car while trying stay upright against the push of the relentless air currents.
We left, richer in knowledge and culture, and our youngest fell asleep in her carseat as we drive out of the parking lot, which, as all moms know, is the very best indicator of an afternoon well spent. Thank you, Glensheen!