The Van Orden mansion has been transformed into a Holiday Inn.
The Sauk County Historical Society’s annual Edwardian Christmas event returns to the Baraboo mansion Friday and Saturday. This year’s theme is “Holiday Inn,” inspired by the classic 1942 film. Nine rooms in the Fourth Avenue historic site have been decorated in the style of holidays from Christmas to St. Patrick’s Day to Independence Day.
“The theme has awakened people’s creativity,” said Historical Society Executive Director Paul Wolter.
This week he was reattaching to the mansion’s front porch a sign reading “Holiday Inn” that had blown down during a wind storm. Despite the intervention of Mother Nature, the mansion was ready for public view, thanks to a sneak preview last weekend that spurred decorators to finish their work early.
“It’s 99 percent there,” Wolter said.
Each December, the Historical Society opens the mansion to the public for a holiday open house featuring snacks, live music and astounding decorations. Organizers selected the “Holiday Inn” theme because it incorporates holidays besides Christmas. The Bing Crosby/Fred Astaire movie is about an inn that’s only open on holidays.
This year, Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve and George Washington’s birthday — today we call it Presidents Day — will get some of the spotlight. Ann Wolter, Paul’s wife, said she has spent more than 100 hours researching Washington’s personal history and filling a room with a display in his honor. A Christmas tree — there is one in every room — features replicas of toys the president brought back for his children from the American Revolution. There’s a display of military flags, a drum and fife, and a whiskey barrel noting Washington’s passion for distilling spirits.
Washington spent eight Christmases away from home during the war. “I thought it was fascinating,” Ann Wolter said. “He was out in the field being cold.”
Each room is sponsored by a local business, decorator or organization. Dave SaLoutos decorated one room based on the theme of “White Christmas,” the hit Irving Berlin song from “Holiday Inn” that spawned the Crosby/Rosemary Clooney Christmas movie 12 years later.
Edwardian Christmas has attracted as many as 900 people. This year, Paul Wolter said, traffic will be divided between last weekend’s preview, Friday evening’s wine and appetizer premiere, and Saturday’s open house. On Saturday, visitors will enjoy not only a look inside the museum, but live music, home-baked treats and carriage rides.
“I don’t think you can get that anywhere else,” Paul Wolter said.