After living in Duluth for almost 10 years, I had assumed we had done it all at Christmas time – Bentleyville, Christmas City Express, the Christmas City of the North Parade, all of the countless markets – I could go on and on. We’ve driven around to the best-lit neighborhoods and we have all of our traditions mapped out by the time October hits. We know this Christmas city like the back of our hand. But imagine my surprise when we happened upon a new tradition to add to the list: Candlelight Christmas Tour at Glensheen Mansion.
On the weekends, Duluth’s most famous residence turns down the lights and lets the Christmas trees do the talking. A true step back in time, the tour is designed to highlight the history of the holiday season in the mansion. My family and I had the pleasure of joining the evening tour on a chilly Saturday night. The sky was clear and the stars were shining as we arrived, and the lights lining the path to the residence built anticipation of what we were in for.
This is no ordinary museum tour. If you’ve visited Glensheen before, you know that there is an abundance of original pieces in each and every room and the pristine condition makes it easy to imagine what life was like in the early twentieth century. The candlelight tour takes this one step further by bringing in the magic and wonder of the Christmas season by illuminating the residence primarily by the light of Christmas trees and decorations. There were, of course, a few things that stuck out to us as we embarked on one of our new favorite holiday traditions.
The shopping. We arrived early so we could take in the grounds and spend some time in the carriage house before embarking on our tour. At night, the carriage house takes on new life as a cozy refuge from the cold. And at Christmas, it is transformed into a winter wonderland. Even the horse stalls include the names of Santa’s reindeer. Once you get all the way inside, a large majestic tree sets the stage for the tour ahead. But what also grabbed our attention was the abundance of local wares for sale. The gift shop highlighted the best that Duluth has to offer, from jams and jellies to fun dishtowels and aprons, and even the ugly Christmas sweatshirts that the tour guides adorned. It was a great place to grab a few perfect gifts for some of my favorite people.
The trees. There is something about a Christmas tree illuminating an entire room. At Glensheen, there are 25 trees highlighting the tour, and with most of the lights out in the residence, the trees take on a whole new life. They seemed to glow from the inside out. Each tree in each room had its own personality, and no detail is overlooked. I’m still in awe of how perfectly each tree was adorned. The lights, the ornaments, and the attention to detail made my jaw drop at every turn. The library even included a tree decorated with original ornaments from the Congdon family, which made for an authentic experience throughout the tour.
The history. There is something different on the candlelight tour at Glensheen. For as many self-guided and guided tours I’ve been on, I could almost give the tour myself. Or so I thought. For some reason, the tour guides brought to my attention some of the details that I had overlooked in the past. The darkness of the night combined with the flashlights leading the way really helped me to focus in on some extra details within the residence. The architecture of Chester and Clara’s bedroom, the contents of the library (including the original Panama Canal commission report – who knew!?), and the unfiltered bubbler that tapped into Chester Creek were among the new discoveries I found fascinating.
I am so glad that we have the candlelight tour as our newfound family tradition. I am excited to see the magic of Christmas evolve through the eyes of my children in their interpretation of Glensheen during the holiday season year after year. It certainly has shown me a new side of Christmas.