To keep things fresh, historic house museums must be creative with annual events. Too often historic homes struggle with the mentality that visitors have "been there, done that."
How can you get them to come back if your exhibits never change?
The answer is exciting programming!
The holidays are a great time to experiment with fun ideas to attract new audiences and reinvigorate your traditional supporters.
Here are some great ideas from some innovative historic house museums.
Lyndhurst in Tarrytown, New York, hosts an event called “Fairy Tale Holidays.” A New York City designer creates a 19th century fairy tale in each period room in the home. The decorations are “over the top,” reminiscent of a department store holiday display. The event is based on a collection of fairy tales kept by the home’s second owner, George Merritt.
At “Christmas Dinners at Spiegel Grove,” guests attend a lavish dinner party in the home of President Rutherford B. Hayes in Fremont, Ohio. Guests ride in a horse-drawn carriage to the front door of the home before enjoying a menu from an actual State Dinner. The lavish and costly six-course dinner is limited to 24 guests per sitting to preserve the intimate feeling of the event.
At Rough Point, the Newport, Rhode Island home of heiress Doris Duke, the staff coordinates an event called “Undecked Halls.” They re-create a closed up mansion during the winter months by removing all the small artifacts and draping dust covers over most of the furniture. The event includes a slide show of Duke’s Hawaiian holiday and refreshments in the staff dining room, a space that is not usually open to the public.
Schuyler Mansion in Albany, New York re-creates an 18th century Twelfth Night fete at “Salutations of the Season.” This annual event takes place in early January, after the traditional holiday season is over. A special tour of the house takes place after a raucous party, complete with overturned chairs and knocked over glasses! What an unexpected twist to your traditional house tour.