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Return to 'The Gilded Age': Portland's Victoria Mansion is ready for its holiday close-up

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Return to 'The Gilded Age': Portland's Victoria Mansion is ready for its holiday close-up

PORTLAND — Visitors at Victoria Mansion this month may think they're seeing ghosts of Christmas past.

The historic house and museum is decked with holiday garlands, bows, lights, ornaments and even bird cages in a style reminiscent of the late 1800s. It's all part of the mansion's 29th annual holiday celebration, "The Gilded Age."

The mansion, at 109 Danforth St., was built in 1860 and is a National Historic Landmark. A private home until the 1920s, it was later nearly demolished to make way for a gas station. In 1941, benefactor William Holmes purchased it and converted it into a museum.

Fifteen designers donated their time and supplies to decorate the mansion this year, and each of its nine public rooms has a slightly different holiday theme.

Danny Hatt has been decorating the mansion's reception room for the past 10 years. This time, he outfitted it with a 15-foot Christmas tree, wreaths, peonies and – playing off the celebration's theme – gilded bird cages. Recorded bird calls twitter in the background.

"It takes an enormous amount of work and product to do it right," said Hatt, who owns Emerald City Gift Shop on Congress Street. The supplies for decorating the room are worth more than $5,000, he estimated.

Creating each room is a year-round effort. Designers meet with mansion staff in January and then plan and refine their decorative schemes over the next 10 months.

Visitors turn out in droves to see the masterpieces starting soon after Thanksgiving. Last December, admissions to the mansion soared to more than 5,700, more than 10 times typical monthly levels, according to event coordinator Greg Sundik.

What visitors may not realize is that the house, used as a vacation residence for tycoon Ruggles Sylvester Morse, originally was never decorated for the holidays in the late 1800s.

"It was a summer house," Hatt said. Even the amount of decorations is a bit out of keeping for a home of that time.

"It never would have been done to this scale ... this is over the top," Hatt said.

Still, he said, the mansion evokes a bygone era: "The gilded age reminds you of a time when things were very, very opulent."

"The Gilded Age" continues at the mansion through Jan. 6, 2013, and is open each day from 11 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Admission is $15.

William Hall can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or whall@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @hallwilliam4.