What started out as punch and cookies near the front desk of the Wilcox Mansion at Christmastime in 1974 has evolved into more than a week of Victorianesque festivities.
There’s a competition of garden-club decorations and handmade holiday gifts for sale. There are luncheons with tea served in old-fashioned bone china cups. And there will be a new evening “mixer” aimed at the younger set.
“The house is more alive than it is at any other time of the year,” said Janice Kuzan, assistant director at the Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site mansion, where the 26th president took the oath of office after President William McKinley’s 1901 assassination.
“It’s beautiful. It’s bright. It’s full of people that are having a marvelous time,” she said. “You can tell I’m a junkie.”
The weeklong series of parties and occasions now under way includes $25 luncheons, from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., with tickets still available for Tuesday and Wednesday. There also will be a $30-a-person party including beer, appetizers and DJ music at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday and a $20 brunch at 10 a.m. Friday with a talk by Sandy Sarks about the women of Forest Lawn.
What has become the biggest annual fundraiser for the cultural institution ends Saturday with a sold-out vintage fashion show. The holiday fetes raise about $40,000 toward the cost of running the Delaware Avenue mansion, which was once owned by Mary Grace and Ansley Wilcox, a lawyer friend of Roosevelt.
The mansion is now owned by the federal government. Classified as a national park site, it is operated by a foundation charged with raising half its annual $600,000 operating budget.
The holiday fetes also reveal what the season was like more than a century ago when millionaires still lived in the grand Delaware Avenue homes that have since been converted into schools and offices.
The Victorian era was known for lavish, over-the-top decor, said Kuzan. Research found bountiful flower arrangements and a profusion of trimmings that, she said, could make a room feel like it had a canopy.
Now the mansion’s rooms are outfitted with pine boughs, poinsettias, ornaments and Christmas trees for all of December. In the days ahead, visitors are being asked to vote for their favorite display: More than a dozen local garden clubs compete for the honor of best decorations.
“There’s no plastic or artificial greens,” Kuzan said. “Here it’s all the real thing.”
About 125 volunteers contribute to the events, which include the $25 luncheons on Tuesday and Wednesday that had yet to be sold out when Kuzan offered details by phone Friday evening, when the festivities began. For more information, check trsite.org or call 884-0095.
Food throughout the week will be prepared by students from several local culinary programs: Trocaire College, Niagara County Community College, the Auburn Watson Culinary Arts Center and the Emerson School of Hospitality of the Buffalo Public Schools.
“The neatest thing is, the president of our foundation was in the kitchen with an apron making a homemade cranberry sauce,” said Kuzan. “It’s such a team effort.”