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November 15th, 2009
Fairmount Park Houses Re-Create Historical Moments in Early American Wedding Scenes

For early Philadelphians, December was the high point of the social season. With crops harvested and days short, the well-to-do turned their attention to feasting, holiday celebrations, and weddings. Through the month of December, the historic Fairmount Park Houses Cedar Grove and Mount Pleasant will re-create the scene, featuring displays that reveal the appetite of the times for traditional food, spirits, fashionable attire, and other hallmarks of festive occasion.

“The holiday tours offer a wonderful opportunity to feast your eyes on these enchanting Fairmount Park masterpieces,” Justina Barrett, Museum Educator for American Art said. “All the displayed accoutrements of merry-making present not only an historically accurate view of an earlier time, but also highlight the enduring value of the houses as spectacular architectural gems.”

Holiday tours at Mount Pleasant and Cedar Grove will take place from 10 a.m. - 4 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. Tours depart every 30 minutes; last tour begins at 3:30 p.m.

MOUNT PLEASANT: (3800 Mount Pleasant Dr., 19121)
Built in1765 for the colorful Scottish-born privateer and American patriot Captain John Macpherson, Mount Pleasant will be decorated to evoke a full-scale colonial Christmas ball. Private balls—complete with tables full of food and a generous flow of alcohol, luxury attire, dancing and live music—marked the 12 eventful nights between Christmas and January 6. Visitors will experience a circa 1773 Christmas party, the year when Macpherson at Mount Pleasant proudly introduced his new Scottish bride MaryAnn to fashionable Philadelphia.

Holiday weddings were marked by avid feasting (lavish decorations came later during the Victorian era). In keeping with the taste of the true moment, Mount Pleasant will not be decorated with traditional trees, balls, or lights, but will display the makings of a grand dessert, set out on ornamental plates, and accompanied by representations of the punch, porters, ales, port, and wines that would have added a jolt of jollity to the pre-Revolutionary meal. The accompanying entertainment will also be represented with musical instruments set up in the hallway, decks of cards on tables, and foam board cutouts of such Colonial elites who would have indulged in the celebration.

CEDAR GROVE (1 Cedar Grove Dr, Phila., 19131)
Visitors to this cozy Quaker home in West Fairmount will witness all the elements of a traditional 1809 Quaker wedding. On view will be reproductions of the actual dress, food and accessories for the wedding reception for Lydia Poultney and James Thompson, including an authentic card table and sofa and chairs in the parlor, not to mention the extensive grocery receipt for the “weding expenses.” Replications of the food on the grocery receipt are on display, as well as paper receipts documenting Lydia’s purchase of new furniture to prepare for her much-anticipated life with James, all of which seemed notably stylish for these members of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), traditionally known for their plainness.

While the beige dress of precious Chinese silk that the comely young Lydia wore is well-preserved in the Museum’s collection, a replica of the original has been created for the installation, designed from a pattern taken from the original by Kristina Haugland, Associate Curator of Costumes and Textiles, and stitched by seamstress and volunteer guide Gwen Smith of Medford, New Jersey. The dress was a fashionable, classically inspired design with a high waist, short puffed sleeves and a low neck. The sewing room at Cedar Grove will have scraps from the dress-making and other sewing notions.

The actual marriage ceremony for Lydia and James did not take place at Cedar Grove but an example of a wedding certificate will be on display. According to the Religious Society of Friends, a hierarchy of clergy does not exist; all congregants act as witnesses at a wedding, and sign the marriage certificate to create a legally binding self-uniting marriage certificate. An 18th-century Quaker certificate loaned by a Museum guide is on view. Visitors to Cedar Grove are invited to sign a reproduction of the certificate of Lydia and James, and become facsimile witnesses to the couple’s big day.

This festive holiday vision has been created by the holiday tour committee of the Fairmount Park House Guides in concert with staff at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Visitors may arrive via car for guided tours to the houses Tuesday through Sunday. Admission is $5 per visitor for each house and $3 for senior citizens, and $2 for children 6-12. Tours are free for children under 6. Tickets may be purchased at each house. Member discounts do not apply. More information at

Laurel Hill, Lemon Hill, Sweetbriar, and Woodford are also open for holiday tours through December 13. Visitors may explore the houses on two-hour trolley tours that depart from the Fairmount Water Works (640 Water Works Dr) at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, December 4-6 and 11-13. A fee of $25 per person includes trolley ride plus guided tours of three of the Fairmount Park historic houses. Reservations can be made by calling 215-389-8687. More information at

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For additional information, contact the Communications Department of the Philadelphia Museum of Art phone at 215-684-7860, by fax at 215-235-0050, or by e-mail at The Philadelphia Museum of Art is located on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway at 26th Street. For general information, call (215) 763-8100.

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