What in the world is on George’s head?

Another week of excitement at Locust Grove, folks! January is almost over, and tomorrow, February 1, Locust Grove will be open for tours for the first time in 2015! The house has been cleaned and polished from top to bottom, and the best guest bedroom is refurnished and open after being closed for repairs over the past few months. In my capacity as Mary Beth’s temporary assistant for special organizational projects, I got to help prepare the room for visitors, which was just as fun as it sounds!

Making an 18th century bed is more complicated than it looks.

Making an 18th century bed is more complicated than it looks.

Mary Beth checks to make sure the tea table is properly set.,

Mary Beth checks to make sure the tea table is properly set.

Because most of the furniture from the best guest bedroom was moved to the other rooms on the second floor, Mary Beth and I had to take inventory of the great parlor, the master bedroom, and the family guest bedroom to make sure we didn’t move the wrong chairs or decanters. Now, you might be wondering, “What exactly does that mean, Hannah?”  Well, it mostly entailed me crawling around the floors looking for accession numbers while Mary Beth matched them against the inventory list. Accession numbers are very carefully written in an inconspicuous spot on the artifact, whether it’s a book, chair, wine glass, dining table, or tablecloth, so they’re sometimes very difficult to find. At one point, the great parlor looked like this so I could more easily access each number:

Are we taking inventory, or did something terrible happen to these chairs?

Are we taking inventory, or did something terrible happen to these chairs?

It’s a little like a scavenger hunt, but on the bright side, I can now tell you the location of the accession numbers on every chair furnishing the second floor!

When not in the house, my time was spent  helping to organize collections storage, which means I’ve been opening files and boxes to make sure what’s supposed to be inside is actually inside. Most of the time, it’s a quilt or some letters about acquisitions, but sometimes Mary Beth and I have moments of “Whoa! This is odd/fascinating/stored incorrectly/worthy of a blog post!” Here are some of our finds!

My favorite weird file find was when we were re-labeling files was a file labeled “Blinds” that I expected to contain receipts regarding the purchase of the reproduction Venetian blinds throughout the house. But lo and behold, there was more! There were pieces of the actual blinds! Why they were saved, I don’t know, but I’m glad they were, because every museum collection needs pieces of reproduction wood just in case!

The blinds file!

The blinds file!

If you think you may have lost your marbles, Locust Grove is here to help.

If anyone is missing their marbles, we have some in collection storage.

If anyone is missing their marbles, we have some in collection storage.

We also took a gander at this beautiful green and brown gown. It’s a little later in period that we represent in the house, but it is in good condition and is just so lovely! I would wear this dress every day if I lived in the mid-nineteenth century.



But by far the absolute best thing Mary Beth and I discovered in Collections this week was the following photograph:


Yes. This picture is exactly what you think it is. According to a staff consensus, it shows a gentleman portraying George Rogers Clark in Clark’s room on the first floor of the house dressed in buckskins. We’re not sure when this picture was taken, and we’d love to know the identity of the interpreter. Mostly, the staff had a lot of fun playing, “Find all the things wrong with this picture!” but really, only the clothing is truly inaccurate. The trundle bed is now on the third floor in the Boys’ room, and the woven carpet is similar to that currently found throughout the house. But the hat is still a problem. If you know anything about this picture, the interpreter playing Clark, what animal the hat might have been originally, or when it was taken, we’d love to know! And while we’re talking about collections, do you have any questions about Locust Grove’s collection or collections management in general? Let me know below!

Thanks for sticking with us during our off days in January! I for one am looking forward to seeing all of you in February!

Cordially yours,


P.S. To receive updates on all the goings-on at Locust Grove, why not join our e-mailing list? Sign-up HERE to receive monthly updates! Or if you foresee numerous visits to Locust Grove in your future, why not become a member? Friends of Locust Grove receive free admission, invitations to members-only events, a 10% discount in the Museum Store, a copy of our quarterly newsletter, The Grove Gazette and much, much more! More information can be found HERE.

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In the Deep of January: Staying Busy in the Cold

Hello! As January ushers in a new year with new beginnings, so too has Locust Grove been trying something new this January. Our doors are closed to visitors, but behind them, staff and volunteers continue to bustle around cleaning, taking inventory, tackling projects that have been piling up, and preparing for the Historical Ball on February 7 and the Spring Used Book Sale in March!

Here’s an inside look at some of our housekeeping!

The carpet has been reinstalled in the best guest room after the ceiling leak this fall! This room will be back on tour in February.

The carpet has been reinstalled in the best guest room after the ceiling leak this fall! This room will be back on tour in February.


Lots of cleaning inside the house means ladders for the high, hard-to-reach places like fixtures.

Lots of cleaning inside the house means ladders for the high, hard-to-reach places like fixtures. This is some exciting stuff, everyone.

Mary Beth, our Curator of Collections and Education, is working on preparing a list of items for appraisal.

Mary Beth, our Curator of Collections and Education, is working on preparing a list of items for appraisal.


The museum store has a new, computerized register!

The museum store has a new, computerized register! I will not miss you, old register.

I found a bunny during inventory in the hearth kitchen! Make your best guess for what this might be!

I found a bunny during inventory in the hearth kitchen! Make your best guess for what this might be!


All of these January projects are keeping us warm, but what would the Croghan family have been doing in January? How would they have kept warm? Inside the house, the thermostat reads a cool 55-60 degrees, as we now have the benefit of central heating,  but when the Croghans were in residence, it likely would have been much cooler as you moved throughout the rooms. Heating  was a challenge, but the house was built to help with the process. Each of the inner doors has a mechanism that causes the doors to close automatically if not propped open. All of the first and second floor rooms have a fireplace, so as the house remembered to close the doors for the occupants, the heat from the fire would remain. William Croghan built Locust Grove  to be a very smart house! Despite these features, it would still be relatively chilly inside. The main hallways would probably have been very  dark, and cold because they would not benefit from the light and heat of the fireplaces behind closed doors. The individual rooms would be slightly warmer, as chimneys  allowed cold air to enter the room as they drew smoke out, occupants would have resorted to other ways of staying warm by using bed and foot warmers. A foot warmer was a box of wood, brass, or tin that could hold hot coals and would serve as a toasty foot rest.  At night, a bed warmer made of brass and filled with hot coals would be placed under the blankets to keep you cozy at night. During the day, the Croghans would have worn layers of wool clothing.  So really, besides the presence central heating, we of the 21st century with our sweaters and space heaters have a very similar winter experience to the Croghans!

Despite the cold, winter was still a busy time of year. Wood would still need to be chopped to keep all of the fires going, and the ladies of the house would have  wool and flax to card and spin for weaving and sewing clothes for the family. The family would have eaten fruits dried after they were harvested, root vegetables stored in the cellar and the smoked meats prepared in the fall. Travel might have been difficult and dangerous due to snow, ice, or winter floods, so the Croghans likely would have spent a lot of their time at home, playing games, tending to repairs around the house and farm, making clothing and preparing for the spring, much like today’s Locust Grove’s staff.  You can learn more about winter practices here, as well as in this wonderful article from one of my favorite historic sites, Colonial Williamsburg. One day, I hope my blog posts can be this thorough!

However, one year was remembered as colder than all the rest–and not just in the winter! 1816 is often recorded as “The Year without a Summer”. In September of 1816, in a letter to his mother, Abigail, John Quincy Adams wrote from England of “chilling frigidity, of a cold, ungenial, unprolific and churlish summer […] We have had lately a few barely comfortable days, but not one evening and scarcely a day in 1816, when a fire would have been superflous.” The Farmer’s Almanac recorded a high of 46 degrees in Savannah, Georgia on July 4th, and the record, year-round low temperatures hurt crop production around the United States. The 1815 eruption of the Indonesian volcano, Mt. Tambora, was blamed for this freakishly cold year, as the cloud of ash from the volcano shielded the Northern Hemisphere from the sun’s light for an unusually long period of time. While New England was one of the hardest-hit areas in the United States by this development, Kentucky experienced freezing temperatures in June, July, and into August, usually some of the hottest months! This fascinating phenomenon is discussed at length by Sean Munger here, and in the book The Year Without A Summer by William and Nicholas Klingaman, if you’d like to learn more. I’m hoping, however, that we have an unseasonably warm winter this year in Kentucky!

Despite all of the activities keeping us busy this month,  we miss our visitors! Be sure to come and see us when we reopen for 2015 on February 1! But until then, what would you like to know from your friendly blogger? Use the contact form below to stay in touch! I hope to hear from you soon.

Your esteemed friend,


Twelfth Night Means Cake: The Twelfth Day of Christmas in Colonial America

Happy New Year, everyone! And if you’ve been singing along, today is the day the 12 pipers piping show up in the song “The Twelve Days of Christmas”. That’s right, today is January 6, sometimes known as Twelfth Night or Epiphany. In the 21st century, this day is mostly ignored as a holiday in America, as by now, Christmas sales are over, trees and decorations are coming down, and everyone is getting back to their regularly scheduled school and work hours. Through the 18th and early 19th centuries, however, Twelfth Night was a much bigger deal. Shakespeare even wrote a play about it! So, let’s imagine that it’s 1816 (just like during Christmastide!) and talk about how the Croghan family might have celebrated this holiday.

Like many of our modern holidays, Twelfth Night is descended from the Roman holiday Saturnalia, which fell during the darkest, coldest time of year, just like the Christmas season today. The word “Yuletide” is descended from a Norse word that meant a heathen winter feast. Originally referring to a winder celebration of almost two months, after the widespread adoption of Christianity around the 4th century, the meaning of “Yuletide” began to specifically refer to the time between Christmas Day (December 25) and Twelfth Night (January 6). While wishing someone “Good Yuletide!” has fallen out of use, when we wish someone a “Holly Jolly Christmas!” we’re not far off–“yule” and “jolly” have the same root word!

But enough with the etymology–let’s talk about the party! George Washington married his wife Martha on Twelfth Night in 1759, and he usually had a low-key December 25, but made up for it with a very festive January 6. The day was marked with visits from friends and family and a sumptuous meal, centered around Martha’s Great Cake.The recipe called for three pounds of butter, seven pounds of currants, a peck of flour, three-quarters of a pound of sugar, mace, carraway seeds, nutmeg and cloves, among other things. (I hereby request that our hearth cook Melissa make this for Christmastide next year!)

George and Martha on their wedding day, January 6, 1759. They certainly knew how to party. (Image: Junius Brutus Stears, 1849.)

The idea of a cake is common in many Twelfth Night celebrations. Sometimes called a King Cake, a special cake would be baked with a bean inside. Whoever found the bean was crowned “King of the Bean” for Twelfth Night. The “King of the Bean” then rules over the revels of the day and is responsible for providing the King Cake on the next Twelfth Night. This tradition is still used in many parts of the world that celebrate Carnivale or Mardi Gras in the weeks preceding Lent. The rest of the day would feature games like snapdragon or bobbing for apples, horse races, hunts, strolling through the streets in costumes as “mummers”, plays, and balls. Jane Austen described her Twelfth Night in 1806 in a letter, stating, “On Twelfth Day we were all agreeably surprised with a sort of masquerade, on being dressed into character, and then we were conducted into the library, which was all lighted up and at one end a throne, surrounded by a grove of Orange Trees and other shrubs, and all this was totally unknown to us all!” I don’t know about you, but I want to celebrate with the Austen and Washington families alike! Cake and a masquerade sounds so much fun! Twelfth Night was also the last night the Yule Log would be lit, signifying the end of the Christmas season. The next day, Christmas wreaths were taken down from doors, and life returned to normal. Similar to today, children would not return to school until after the Twelve Days of Christmas were over.

Sadly, Queen Victoria banned Twelfth Night celebrations as rowdy and “unchristian” in the 1870s, so the holiday fell out of use in English-speaking countries. But I think it’s time to revive it! So go make a big, scrumptious cake, brew some wassail, light a fire, and invite your friends over for a masked ball. It’s what George Washington (and surely William Croghan!) would do.

With much jollity,


P.S. Locust Grove is closed in January but I’ll still be blogging! What would you like to read about? Let me know below!

Sources and further reading:

Online Etymology Dictionary

Martha Washington’s Great Cake. 

Williamsburg’s Long Christmas. 

Jane Austen’s Twelfth Night.

Twelfth Night during the Regency. 

Understanding Twelfth Night. 

Christmas Cake