By William T. Clew
“Home for the Holidays” is the Christmas theme in the Salisbury Mansion at 40 Highland St., and students from two Catholic schools have helped make the home festive.
There are 24 fully decorated Christmas trees on display throughout the mansion, which the Worcester Historical Museum identifies as Worcester’s only historic home museum open to the public.
The Salisbury museum is open to the public from 1 to 4 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays through Dec. 31. The museum is open from 4:30 to 7:30 tonight for candlelight tours of all its rooms and decorated trees.
Harry Albert, special projects manager for the Worcester Historical Museum/Salisbury Mansion, put together the concept for the “Home for the Holidays” theme and asked two Worcester Catholic schools, St. Stephen Elementary and St. Peter Central Catholic Elementary, to take part.
He said that in the past, the mansion had floral displays for the holidays. He wanted this year to be different. He wanted to involve the community and present trees with themes that reflected the history of the city, the state and the nation.
According to Laurie Murphy, principal at St. Stephen’s, Mr. Albert asked at the start of the school year if they would take part in preparing the mansion for the holiday display.
Ms. Murphy said that Patty Foley-Donovan, the school’s art teacher, thought it was a great idea. During art classes, each student in the school, and there are 190 of them in pre-K through Grade 8, made a tree ornament.
Some are traditional Christmas tree decorations, but others are part of the Presidential Tree. These decorations, made by the students, contain portraits or pictures of United States presidents. St. Stephen students made ornaments containing the portraits of each of the first 22 presidents. St. Peter Central Catholic students made the ornaments containing the portraits or pictures of the rest.
Another tree reflects the history of the United States. It is called the Immigrant Tree and its ornaments carry the pictures of the parents, grandparents, great-grandparents or perhaps even some of the students who represent the various countries from which they came to the United States. Both St. Stephen’s and St. Peter’s students contributed to the Immigrant Tree.
Meg Kursonis, headmaster of St. Peter’s, said she first talked to Mr. Henry when he called to tell her how impressed he was with one of the school’s seventh-graders, Rachel Dela–para, whom he met when she toured the mansion. He told Mrs. Kursonis that Rachel was very well informed. Soon after that, he called Mrs. Kursonis again, explained his plans for “Home for the Holidays” and asked whether the school would take part.
A couple hundred students were involved in the project, Mrs. Kursonis said, under the direction of Lisa Shugrue, art teacher, and Alice Riordan, third-grade teacher.
The third-graders worked on the Immigrant Tree. There are 17 different nationalities represented by the 22 students, she said. Some of their families came to the United States generations ago; others arrived as recent as two years ago.
The teachers at both schools also got involved. They decorated the galvanized buckets in which the trees stand.
Students from each school also presented a musical program there. Fourth-graders from St. Stephen’s, under the direction of John Russo, presented two, 20-minute programs at the mansion on Dec. 3. The chorus from St. Peter Central Catholic sang Dec. 10. Mrs. Kursonis said 90 to 100 families attended that concert.
Mr. Albert, who came to the Worcester Historical museum about 14 months ago, came up with the Christmas tree theme for “Home for the Holidays” and began putting it together in October. The exhibit opened Nov. 27.
It has taken up most of his time and some of his money. He said he has spent about $5,000 on the project.
Under a couple trees in the mansion’s smoking room are oyster shells that he collected from restaurants on Cape Cod last summer when he was on vacation. He said he gathered about 65 gallons of them, five gallons at a time, over a couple of weeks. He boiled the shells for several hours to get them clean. Before boiling those shells brought unwelcome visitors.
“My car was full of flies,” he said.
The shells represent the fact that oysters were often eaten in the smoking room, he said.
Mr. Albert, who lives in Worcester and is a member of Our Lady of Loreto Parish, said that next year he wants the display to be “bigger and better.” He said he has spoken to people a St. Mary’s Elementary School and wants to include them next year.
Including Catholic schools in the “Home for the Holidays” exhibit makes them more visible to the community. This is a community event, he said. One way he has illustrated that is by writing the names of everyone who contributed to it, including the first names of all the school children who have taken part, in a large white bowl in the entryway.