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Brucemore mansion reopens just in time for holiday festivities

See the halls decked in grandeur this season as favorite activities return for the first time since 2019

Brucemore mansion reopens just in time for holiday festivities
Brucemore mansion reopens just in time for holiday festivities
Brucemore mansion reopens just in time for holiday festivities
Brucemore mansion reopens just in time for holiday festivities
Brucemore mansion reopens just in time for holiday festivities
Brucemore mansion reopens just in time for holiday festivities
Brucemore mansion reopens just in time for holiday festivities
Brucemore mansion reopens just in time for holiday festivities
Brucemore mansion reopens just in time for holiday festivities
Brucemore mansion reopens just in time for holiday festivities
Brucemore mansion reopens just in time for holiday festivities
Kate Benedix hangs Christmas lights at the Brucemore mansion on Nov. 10 in Cedar Rapids. Staff and volunteers set up decorations at the manion, closed since May for HVAC work, for the return of holiday events. (Nick Rohlman/The Gazette)
Kate Benedix points out details on a reference photo of Christmas decorations Nov. 10 at the Brucemore mansion in Cedar Rapids.(Nick Rohlman/The Gazette)
Katie Benedix hands Wayne Kreutner a ball of Christmas lights as they decorate a tree at the Brucemore mansion in Cedar Rapids Nov. 10. Staff and volunteers set up decorations in preparation for the return of several events for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began. (Nick Rohlman/The Gazette)
Jeanne and Mark Bornemann decorate a tree at the Brucemore mansion in Cedar Rapids Nov. 10. (Nick Rohlman/The Gazette)
Ashley Courtney (left) and Mark Bornemann decorate a tree Nov. 10 at the Brucemore mansion in Cedar Rapids. (Nick Rohlman/The Gazette)
A variety of forks are set out on the Christmas table at Brucemore. Starting from the outside left, they are for salad, dessert, meat and fish. While dessert forks weren't as commonly used, they are part of the Brucemore silverware collection. (The Gazette)
Ruby red glassware that belonged to the Douglas family is part of the Christmas dining table at Brucemore mansion. (The Gazette)
A Christmas tree stands in the corner of the boardroom, formerly the master bedroom, at Brucemore mansion in Cedar Rapids. (The Gazette)
A table is set for beverage service near a Christmas tree in the foyer at Brucemore in Cedar Rapids. (The Gazette)
Lit garland decorates the staircase during a holiday event at Brucemore mansion in Cedar Rapids. (The Gazette)
Sabrina Alexandrescu, 5, of Cedar Rapids, makes a beaded wreath ornament during a holiday event at Brucemore mansion in 2019. Children’s activities return this year for the first time since the pandemic started nearly three years ago. (The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — After several months of closure, the Brucemore mansion is reopening just in time for holiday festivities, including the return of several favorite activities for the first time since the pandemic began.

Seamlessly melding the heritage of past traditions with modern decor that reflects the estate’s opulence, Brucemore’s holiday season will bring warmth back into halls that have been closed since May, when the mansion underwent installation of a geothermic HVAC system that forced staff to temporarily disassemble most rooms.

With the return of evening tours, children’s programming and the Modern Salon program, the spirit of hospitality from Cedar Rapids’ wealthiest founding families over the 19th and 20th century will once again be embodied on historic grounds.

“This is a celebration to return to normalcy in several ways. This is our big welcome back — we’re excited to see you,” said Megan Clevenger, Brucemore program and outreach manager. “We’ve been preparing for that by bringing back these really popular programs we’ve had in the past. You see the mansion in ways you don’t see in the summer — it’s quite beautiful.”

If you go

Holiday activities abound throughout the holiday season and into the following winter season at Brucemore mansion in Cedar Rapids.

Where: 2160 Linden Dr. SE, Cedar Rapids

When: The mansion’s holiday season starts Nov. 25. Self-guided Christmas tours are available select evenings from Dec. 1 to 22.

Details: To learn more about holiday activities that are returning, visit the “Holiday activities return” section below. For more information or to purchase advance tickets, visit brucemore.org.

Holiday activities return

This year, children and adults alike will once again be able to not just visit the mansion, but celebrate the holidays in it through activities back from hiatus.

Santa, Snacks, and Stories!

For families, “Santa, Snacks, and Stories!” will invite a visit from Kriss Kringle on Nov. 28 and 29. There, children can give their wish list to Santa, take photos with him, listen to stories and do crafts and activities throughout the mansion.

Tickets must be purchased online in advance at brucemore.org. Children 12 and under are admitted for $10; adults for $5. Entries are scheduled in 30-minute increments from 5 to 6:30 p.m.

Holiday Nights

Holiday Nights: A Brucemore Christmas Experience offers self-guided tours Thursday, Sunday and select Wednesday evenings from Dec. 1 to 22. Adult tickets, $15 each, are available in advance online only with timed entries from 5 to 7 p.m.

During self-guided tours, staff will be available throughout the mansion to answer questions and tell stories of those who lived there.

MODERN Salon

Starting Jan. 13, Brucemore will bring back its Modern Salon program — an evening variety show reminiscent of turn of the 20th century Parisian life — for the first time since 2020. For $45, guests can experience an evening of wine tasting, hors d’oeuvres and desserts in the Great Hall “as if they were friends of the Douglas family who called the estate home.”

In partnership with SPT Theatre, this year’s show theme is “reunion.”

What you’ll see

The way the Brucemore mansion decorates for the holidays isn’t completely reflective of what it would have looked like 100 years ago during the Douglas Family era. A tree in every room wasn’t the historical norm for holiday decorating at a time when artificial trees were not available and lit candles on live trees were more prevalent than light bulbs.

But even without the pomp and circumstance wealth of today might command around the holidays, key artifacts around the house convey the grandeur of the time all the same. Items like silver tea service sets, ruby glasses, period costume collections, a handmade Charles Dickens holiday-themed jigsaw puzzle and more detail the authenticity of the era in every room.

“We put out things people don’t normally get to see throughout the year,” said Jessica Peel-Austin, curator of museum collections for Brucemore. “With all the holiday decorations and music and the kind of ambience of the holiday season, you get a feel of welcoming and that sort of grand home feel you just don’t get in a lot of other places.”

Holiday celebrations for most of the house’s historic period would have typically included one tree and a few simple decorations. Today, visitors can revel in 13 trees throughout the mansion, each with a different interpretive theme that matches the aesthetic of its room.

The tree in the study is decorated with flowers instead of ornaments, matching the ornate wallpaper. The one in the servants’ dining room features humble handmade ornaments. Altogether, the volume of trees is a marker of the home’s magnitude seen only in November and December.

What you’ll feel

“It really puts the house on show and demonstrates how the house would’ve been a warm and welcoming place for family and friends,” said Peel-Austin, the home’s collection curator. “It’s a beautiful time to visit, especially for holiday evening tours when you get to come after dark. It gives you that feeling of Christmas.”

With fewer decorations in that era, owners like the Douglas family were forced to focus on the meaning of the holidays rather than its aesthetics. Diary entries discuss flower and food basket deliveries for friends, family and those not as well off in Cedar Rapids.

“For the Douglases and Halls, the season was about philanthropy and giving,” Peel-Austin said. “That spirit of giving was equally as important to families as decorating.”

Margaret Douglas regularly brought musicians in to play for family and friends during the holiday season, which coincided with several family birthdays.

On regular tours during the year, visitors can hear short clips of the player organ the family installed in the home. But this season, visitors can get a full audible sense of the celebrations through the 1929 Skinner pipe organ, which will play Christmas carols during evening tours.

“That’s a cool feature you don’t get to see any place else,” Peel-Austin said. “So you can really enjoy the music. You get the feel of the mansion as it was made to be enjoyed.”

What you’ll learn

In addition to seeing artifacts and hearing the music of the Douglas family’s holiday celebrations, guests can learn about the food and meal culture of the time.

Regular visitors may see a few minor tweaks to the home since it was reassembled, but for the most part, the tradition of the home remains intact nearly everywhere the eye lands.

“It’s been a complicated year for me in particular, as curator of museum collections,” Peel-Austin said. “It’s a really good feeling to get everything back to normal.”

Comments: (319) 398-8340; elijah.decious@thegazette.com