After Dark, historic house museums, historic interiors, interpretation, Providence, Rhode Island
Yes, I like to burn my candle at both ends: let’s get that out of the way up front, as I admit that yes, I am recovering from strep throat contracted a mere week before the evening program, and that immediately after said program, I hopped on the night train to Virginia for a quick vacation.
I walked to the train station, and was struck by the contrast between the closeness of the house lit only by [LED] candlelight and the openness of a city incandescently bright. I’ve walked Providence streets at night for decades, and never appreciated street lights so well until I knew the city didn’t have oil street lights until 1820.*
The LED candles aren’t as bright as real candles, but they’re safer and come remote-equipped.** In the end, I ordered a total four dozen, forgot I’d ordered four dozen, and requested only six dozen AA batteries (each candle takes two), so spent the late afternoon scrounging power sources. With this many candles, we were able to put eight in the Waterford crystal chandelier in the formal parlor, and watch the light play upon the ceiling, even if the room wasn’t fully illuminated.
We kept the hallways and central stair lit for safety, and gave guests or groups of guests battery-powered candles to carry as they made their way through the house. (All sixty-plus spots on the two tour slots were fully booked.) Downstairs, each of the three docents from our study group interpreted a room: Mrs JF in the dining room, talking about dining and entertaining; Mrs MF in the formal parlor talking about sin, crime, and control; and Mrs AB in the informal parlor talking about novels, music, and family gatherings.
Upstairs, the Director of Education, Ms T, took over one bedroom where she talked about sex and I took another to talk about bedtime, bedding, bedbugs, vermin, chamber pots, and hygiene. Of all sixty-plus visitors, only one, a young man, asked about menstruation. Perhaps the rest were too overcome by the thought of Hannah Glasse’s bug bomb (ignite a pound of brimstone and a Indian pepper in a tightly closed room, exit quickly, and leave it for five to six hours) to ask more intimate questions.
It was a popular program, and I can imagine doing it again. It does make me wonder about a What Cheer Night, and what that could be like; how far can we push the ways we use a historic house and its contents, when it’s only one day a year?
*It took until 1822 to get a sidewalk committee to concern itself with smoothing the rough patches and straightening the paths; we could use a reconstitution of that committee, thank you.
**Yes, I believe the site manager feels like Dumbledore every time she uses the remote, though she is not yet saying “Nox” as she wields it.