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Remembering Christmas Past at the Pabst Mansion

November 29, 2017  by John Eastberg

It is hard to believe, but this is the twenty-fifth Christmas I have experienced at the Pabst Mansion. Indeed, the first time I ever visited the Pabst Mansion was the Christmas of 1992. My memories of that first visit are rather dim, although some details still remain clear. I remember purchasing my ticket in the carriage entrance, when we used to do that for the holiday season. Mrs. Pabst’s parlor was still under restoration and was largely shrouded with heavy plastic sheeting. What did make a huge impression on me was Greg Filardo’s presentation of antique musical instruments in the Master Suite. Greg’s stellar collection of music boxes, orchestrions and player pianos on display were amazing and I still have a set of the cassette tapes he produced and sold for those Christmas’ he participated in.


Pabst Mansion Reception Hall Doors, 1994.

The following Christmas, I was on staff at the Pabst Mansion and the realization of just how much work went into the making of Christmas was fully realized by yours truly. The Pabst Mansion has essentially always been decorated for Christmas, to varying degrees, ever since our organization began our stewardship of the house in 1978. Known in the early years as Sugar Plum Days, Christmas at the Pabst Mansion really came into its own when we concluded our much-lauded and still missed Halloween display, Mystery Mansion in 1992. Throughout the 1990s the special events committee spearheaded by Patrick McGriff, Virginia Horne and Kathleen Brady, worked ceaselessly to create A Victorian Christmas, an annual event that would draw the community to the Pabst each Christmas. Micheal Beeck of The Wreath Factory in Plymouth, Wisconsin, joined the special events committee in transforming the house each year with elaborate arrangements of dried florals. I can still remember the masses of dried flowers being kept in the carriage entrance during setup and Michael and Virginia would dip into that space, gathering flowers, the same way an artist would gather paint for their canvas. My first year also marked the first year of Evergreen Acres Farm selling beeswax ornaments in the Butler’s Pantry. It would not be Christmas at the Pabst without the smell of the Seifert’s beeswax!


Pabst Mansion Grand Stairway, 1994.

A quarter-century later, Christmas at the Pabst Mansion is still growing strong. Jodi Rich-Bartz, the Pabst Mansion’s curator, oversees the Herculean effort to transform three floors of the Pabst Mansion into A Grand Avenue Christmas. Nancy Kruschke, who I like to call “Milwaukee’s Purveyor of Victorian Christmas”, as she also decorates the Streets of Old Milwaukee at the Milwaukee Public Museum, magically transforms the first floor of the Mansion into a Victorian-inspired Christmas fantasy. Nancy is complimented by an army of talented designers, collectors and our own Volunteer Council in decorating the upper floors of the house—a process that takes a very intense two and a half weeks. The result is something that is enjoyed by thousands each year and now generations of families have made a visit to the Pabst part of their holiday tradition. I hope that you join us this holiday season and make the Pabst Mansion part of your memories of Christmas past, present and future!

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