Photos, story by Cassie Hepler
French hens, mocking birds, turtle doves… all sorts of birds are included in “The Twelve Days of Christmas” and are also the theme this year for the 44th annual “Christmas in Fairmount Park” celebration at the Fairmount Park Historic Houses.
This 2015 Philadelphia holiday tradition will feature six of the park’s treasured Historic Houses – Cedar Grove, Laurel Hill Mansion, Lemon Hill Mansion, Mount Pleasant, Strawberry Mansion, and Woodford – each decked out in the season’s finest, inspired by the whimsical Christmas carol, “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” The public is welcome to drop in and take delight in each house’s festive decorations between 10 am – 4 pm, Thursday – Sunday until Dec. 20, 2015.
Some lucky citizens of Philadelphia actually get to live inside these houses as “housekeepers”. They fill out forms, apply and are scrutinized much like an FBI agent and finally deemed worthy to occupy a house. One of our tour guides at Lemon Hill actually used to live there for many years and obviously has much love for the house and its well-being. Most are couples and are trained what to do in case of an emergency, fire and more. Such training has saved a house or two.
We went on a trolley tour to visit 3 of the historic houses for a speedy holiday tour and enjoyed capturing the beauty of the architecture. Other special events and tours are listed below the photos and can be found online at www.parkcharms.com. The Historic Houses of Fairmount Park Holiday Events are presented by the Fairmount Park Conservancy and Philadelphia Parks and Recreation.
All aboard the Philadelphia Trolly Works outside of Love Park for our mini speedy historic houses tour. For a writer with a bad back, this was ideal actually. Our enthusiastic tour guide used to also live at one of the houses. He also recommends telling guests who want to DIY their own house tour to drive up Kelly Drive to get there because… well, North Philly = not so scenic (great for crackheads/people watching though).
First stop, Strawberry Mansion where you can purchase…
Strawberry jam (or preserves), same diff.
Outside (still green in December!) shrubbery. We don’t mind a California winter at all (thanks, Global warming!)
Inside, we are eager to get to that pink, glowing room, which is fitting for many glasses of rose champagne.
It actually turns out to be more of a salmon color, which was a designer’s dream at one point.
A piano and harp are available for merriment as this is clearly the entertaining room.
And you thought a pear tree looked different? This one has a bird (and sparkles!) on it. Other rooms were cheerfully decorated but this is where we want to live.
But the sparkles on this banister caught our eye on the way out. Besides, it’s on the next historical house, Woodford Mansion, which the tour guide stated “is not haunted like some of the others.” Oh, do tell!
First we ate our way through this striking resemblance through of the Woodford Mansion to get inside the kitchen.
Just kidding, no Alice in Wonderland potion in our flask. But mad gingerbread skills from the baker!
The kitchen and hearth although this was all for show, naturally.
We may have began a curved banister fetish we never knew existed. The smell of these pines and wood brought the outside in.
On the drinking (?) desk there were also clay pipes for tobacco smoking. Then you would smash the end off so the next person does not inhale your spit. Cheap and effective!
The place to entertain guests, this family built additions on to it for even more grandeur. This is one of the original sides.
This lady knew how to dress – and to party. Word was she was well versed in entertaining.
The sitting room with the Christmas tree also had Scottish bagpipes on the couch, probably a no-no then (and now as well).
Ballerina slippers hang from the mantle, a very feminine touch in an otherwise masculine room. A few more quick shots and we were wisked away to the place with snacks and a bit more time to roam.
Welcome to Lemon Hill Mansion, where the Ghost Hunters have begged to come explore.
With so much grass and land around, it is hard to remember you’re still in Philadelphia.
A grand gated entrance secures unwanted visitors and animals out.
And a grand entrance keeps people inside.
Our nutcracker friends are watching us from the right.
Straight ahead sits a Christmas tree in the oval room with oval fireplace, windows and doors.
Glowing birds, marble mantles and a gorgeous glow attract the eyes like magnets.
Up the stairs we go for a quick tour of the second floor. Past the statue and near the rooftop deck, we pass through a less ornate oval room and into a sitting room and a very Bettlejuice moment with vintage gowns laid out as if they might fill at any moment.
It’s just like it used to be, hay filled bed and all (sounds comfy, eh?)
Our friends on the second floor give a nice scale for size on this epic stairwell.
Back on the main floor (technically the second as we went up a flight to get there originally from the trolley), we spot some more birds hiding in a wreath. Back on board the trolley and we were done, but shipped off a little more merry and a lot more bright! Catch a tour to get some nerdy, educational cheer. Read on…
A Fairmount Christmas Carol Trolley Tour
December 16 & 18, 5:30 – 8 pm
Trolleys run every 30 minutes beginning at 5:30 pm
Join characters from A Christmas Carol as they guide visitors through Mount Pleasant, Cedar Grove, and Lemon Hill in this playful version of the classic Christmas story. Sponsored by the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Price is $44, Philadelphia Museum of Art Members, $35. Ticket price includes transportation and admission to the sites.
Available December 3-13 (Limited availability after December 13)
Admission: $8 per person per house
Reservations required: 215-684-7863 or www.philamuseum.org/groupvisits
Groups of 15 or more who would like to provide their own bus transportation can reserve Philadelphia Museum of Art trained step-on guides. Cedar Grove, Mount Pleasant, and Woodford will be open to groups through December 29.
PHLASH Holiday Houses Loop – NEW FOR 2015
Visitors and locals can now use PHLASH to visit the Historic Houses of Fairmount Park this holiday season departing from Center City. Simply board a comfortable and heated PHLASH at the west entrance of the Art Museum and enjoy five houses in East Fairmount Park. Shuttle available 10 am – 4 pm, Sunday – Thursday, December 3-20. Shuttles depart every 30 minutes. Last shuttle departs 3 pm. Price $5 for all day pass. Visit phillyphlash.com for more information.