A Manistee Christmas in the Victorian Era

In 1890 Manistee was no longer a crude frontier community but was a cultured city. It had been 20 years since the Great Fire and the city had developed numerous streets of elegant buildings, many built of brick. There were churches, opera halls, and the finest shopping to be found in northern Michigan.

Josephine Muenscher while a student at Manistee High.

Josephine Muenscher while a student at Manistee High.

The school system had included a high school for over a decade, and although few people could afford to attend, those who did received a fine education. They also developed a strong feeling of kinship with their fellow students. The Class of 1890 boasted 22 students, the largest class in the school’s history at the time.

Among the graduates was Josephine Louise Muenscher, the daughter of civil engineer, Emory. W. Muenscher. Following her graduation, Miss Muenscher waited a year before attending college and during the time kept a detailed diary of her activities. This diary eventually made its was to the Manistee County Historical Museum. Her account of Christmas, 1890, provides an intimate look at Victorian life in Manistee a hundred years ago and details her gifts and social activities with former classmates on the special day:

“A Merry Christmas Day. I arose and dressed by lamp light, dressing, my hair and all, and when I got down stairs (it was) not yet 5 o’clock. What time was it when I left my downy nest? Without any ado, we plunged into our stockings and boxes. My presents were quite numerous and very satisfactory. From Bess, a linen cambric hankerchief with a Honilon edge; from Josie, a painting of her own on wood (a scene in North Tuscany); from Maude, a Japanese bottle of attar of roses; from Lottie, a silver glove boutonniere in the shape of a riding whip with coiled lash; from Blanche, a silver bough bracelet of twisted wire; from Will, a fancy booklet ‘Mizpah’ by Frances Ridley Havengal, also a pen and ink sketch of Nahotah chapel done by himself I suppose; from Ev, a white surrah and lace, Love cushion and three cornered sachet; from Della, an elegant pink main and bolting cloth pin cushion; from Carrie, a pink main and chamois case for unanswered letters to match the pin cushion; from Lulah, silk lining and cord for the brown shopping bag she gave me last Christmas; from Papa and Mama, all the scrumptious things Mama brought me from her shopping expeditions, also a pair of Castor gloves, Rhine stone necklace made in the latest style, amber hairpin, silver bracelet of fifteen boughs, six linen handkerchiefs with fancy borders, imitation leather case of cash, address and notebooks, Henry II ruff of white surah, white leather fan with gold sticks, each feather hand painted, and a box of French creams.

“At seven went to morning communion. There were no terrors of noisy choir boys there, so everything was still and solemn. After dinner Maude came up bringing the bottle of attar of roses. I worked on Mama’s bag. It was a ‘neat’ job to make everything come right.

“After tea a crowd of us went skating. There were Earl Gardner and myself, Louie Peache and Albert Mauzy, Effie Peache and Frank, Dimple and Herb Harley, Minnie Coates and Irma, Grace, and Fred Secor, Flora and Al Braddock, Curry Russel, and Louie Tibbits.

“It was an elegant night, no wind and not very cold; Moon light and no clouds. We skated on Twin Lakes and were very well sheltered by the hills, besides having a roaring fire. It was intoxicating. We could not have dreamed of a better night. I had dandy skates with Earl, Curry, Frank, Herb and Albert. Round and round and round. After a long evening we wandered regretfully homeward.”

This year’s display at the Manistee County Historical Museum titled, “A Victorian Christmas” is a display of what we think of as something Victorian and what it actually was. Also on display are items that people would’ve received for Christmas in the Victorian era, as well as example of Victorian era dress, social norms and architecture. The museum will be open the month of December, Tuesday through Saturday from 10 am to 5 pm and will be open this Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

 

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