Grouseland was overflowing with Christmas cheer Friday night as over 600 visitors strolled its festive halls during the annual holiday open house.
“I know we had over 600 but that’s not counting our 30 volunteers,” said Grouseland Foundation executive director Lisa Ice-Jones. “I was only counting at the front door, so that’s probably a conservative number. We had lots and lots of people.
“The weather couldn’t have hurt,” she said. “We’ve had snow, we’ve had fog, but this year the temperature was great and we had a beautiful moon.”
The open house drew so many visitors, in fact, that there was a line stretching all the way from the mansion's front doors to the Robert E. Greene Activities Center.
The event was set to wrap up at 9:30 p.m., Ice-Jones added, but there were still people lined up for carriage rides so it went a bit later than usual.
“We tried to take care of everyone as best we could,” she said.
And it wasn’t just adults who turned out for the holiday soiree — a lot of kids joined in on the fun this year, too.
Seeing how the youngsters reacted to the Christmas at Grouseland experience, Ice-Jones said, never gets old.
“They come in wide-eyed wonder and that’s just so fun to see,” Ice-Jones said. “We hope they’ll have happy memories of visiting so they’ll come back when they grow up. We hoping to create a legacy.”
Grouseland's supporters and staff have been organizing Christmas open houses and candlelit tours through the years, but the holiday celebration wasn't formally part of the annual lineup until it was added to the programming schedule in 2012.
Since then, Ice-Jones noted, the celebration has continued to grow. Organizers always incorporate all the beloved traditions that attendees enjoy — including traditional decorations, live music and carriage rides — but what’s also key to the event’s continued success is that guests are introduced to something new each year.
“For the house to be adorned with traditional Christmas decorations and live music and for the interpreters to be both educational and fun, it’s just a whole experience,” Ice-Jones said. “But we vary things so people will come back. We want for people to feel like it’s not Christmas without going to Grouseland.”
Each Christmas at Grouseland open house focuses on a specific year in the history of the mansion and Indiana Territory.
Several years ago the focus was 1811, when a major earthquake shook up the area. Last year, staff decided to focus on 1804, the point when construction at Grouseland was completed after a two-year building period and the William Henry Harrison family finally moved in just in time for Christmas.
This time around, Ice-Jones decided on 1809. Re-enactors stationed throughout Grouseland on Friday filled visitors in on all the historic happenings of the year, speaking in first-person to ensure it was an authentic experience.
“It really is a feeling of being back in time. It’s really sort of magical,” Ice-Jones said. “The interpreters are just full of Christmas cheer and it is so contagious.
“I think that’s also why the open house has grown.”
Ice-Jones noted that the open house wouldn’t be possible without all the people, including volunteer re-enactors, who come together and work hard to ensure it’s a memorable evening.
Vincennes University sponsored the carriage rides this year, Ice-Jones said, and members of the Francis Vigo chapter of the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution opened up their meeting house nearby to serve refreshments to Grouseland guests.
“That helped us with the crowd so we could keep it moving,” Ice-Jones said. “It takes a lot of people to put on something like this and it’s wonderful that so many help out.
“I’m just really grateful that people love Christmas and love Grouseland. It really is an amazing house.”