Christmas is going nautical at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum in West Branch this year.
Seventeen holiday trees are decorated with watery themes for the “Tales of the Sea Christmas” exhibit, on display now through Jan. 7.
“We’ve been doing the Christmas tree exhibit since the early ’90s. Over the years it has evolved, and now we try to tie it to Hoover at least every other year,” said assistant curator and exhibit specialist Melanie Wier. “Herbert Hoover had a big love for the sea; the Hoovers went on a lot of travels across the sea.”
Evidence of those travels is part of the exhibit; certificates and video footage document the Hoover family’s participation in a ceremony in honor of King Neptune.
“For anyone that was crossing the equator for the first time, there was a kind of ritual hazing activity that went on in this King Neptune ceremony,” Wier said. “All the sailors would dress up — King Neptune and his court would be there, along with Davy Jones and other sea folklore people as the dignitaries. They would smear people with axel grease and dump water on them. It’s very comical.”
Footage of a King Neptune ceremony during the Hoover’s pre-presidential good will tour to South American in 1928 is playing as part of the exhibit.
“We took that as a starting point and developed it into our Christmas trees,” Wier said.
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The trees are decorated with the following oceanic themes: The Sea, Men of the Sea, Myths & Legends, Lighthouses, Maritime Force, Shipwrecks, Jaws, Sea Songs, America’s Cup Race, King Neptune, Pirates, Sea Monsters, Mermaids, Biblical Stories, Places of the Sea, Vessels and the Titanic.
Museum staff pulled ornaments and decorations from their stores and also made original decorations, such as papier-mâché octopus arms and seaweed hanging from the ceiling, festoon the trees. They also selected at least one new ornament for each tree that is for sale in the museum gift shop. Activities for children at the back of the hall include games, coloring pages and a photo booth.
Wier said families come to the exhibit year after year to see the new trees; some take photos each year for their family Christmas cards.
“For a lot of people it has become a tradition,” she said. “We’re always trying to come up with different ideas to make the environment more interactive and enjoyable for visitors.”
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