Patrons of the Washington County Historical Society’s annual candlelight tours held Saturday at the LeMoyne House had the pleasure of hearing about Christmas in 1869 from those who lived it.
Dr. Francis Julius LeMoyne welcomed guests into his historic home, which was festively decorated for the holidays. Also mingling among those in attendance were Madeline, the youngest LeMoyne daughter, and her sister, Nannie.
Of course, since these notable figures died long ago, they were brought to life by re-enactors donning 19th century attire who chatted about bygone holiday traditions and issues of the day like women’s rights.
“When you go to the parlor, you’re going to talk to Francis LeMoyne as he was in 1869,” explained Clay Kilgore, executive director of the Washington County Historical Society. “In his mind, you’re just guests to his Christmas party.”
Kilgore said the historical society decided to celebrate the Christmas of 1869 because it was a banner year for the city. President Ulysses S. Grant traveled to Washington that year to lay the cornerstone containing a time capsule for a town hall being built at the site where the courthouse now stands.
“Washington was not a sleepy little town anymore, it was really starting to grow,” Kilgore said.
To complement the 1869 theme, the time capsule and its contents were put on display in the apothecary in the LeMoyne House.
Forgotten until 1992 when workers discovered it while demolishing the old town hall to make way for the modern-day jail, the time capsule holds a motley collection of items from the everyday – coins and belt buckles – to the bizarre – a lock of hair belonging to American Revolutionary War General “Mad Anthony” Wayne, the namesake of Waynesburg, and a set of false teeth made with vulcanized rubber. The lead capsule also contained a bottle of rye whiskey that, much to the chagrin of Kilgore, evaporated after the cork dried up.
Despite the bottle being empty, Saturday’s guests hoping to wet their whistles didn’t walk away thirsty. Just up the street, the candlelight tours coinciding at the Bradford House featuring samples of old-fashioned concoctions at the Signs of the Seven Stars tavern.
As for the holiday party’s host, Dave Budinger, chairman of the Washington County Historical Society, who portrayed the influential philanthropist, abolitionist and physician, said it was tough to stay in character because people wanted to know about objects in the house brought in after Francis LeMoyne’s death. Certainly, no easy task for someone stepping into the shoes of a ghost of Christmas past.
Tours will be held from 2 to 6 p.m. today. Admission is $5 for adults and $4 for students. A dual package to tour both houses is available at a discounted rate.