(Updated: November 2, 2021, original feature from 2019.)
Believed to be the Midwest’s largest indoor annual Christmas tree display, the collection of 170 unusual and historic holiday trees returns to the Lecompton Territorial Capital Museum from mid-October through December.
The display tradition began some 25 years ago with a showcase live tree decorated for the holidays. Since then, it has grown as people have donated unusual trees and decorations. For example, 10 years ago the museum received and began showing a collection of Victorian-era feather trees and ornaments.
“Feather trees are made of goose feathers, most of which are dyed green,” says Paul Bahnmaier, president of the Lecompton Historical Society. Created in Germany in the late 19th century, these are believed to be the first artificial Christmas trees. Bahnmaier says they have aged well. “The branches are so tightly wound,” he says, “you don’t think of them as being feathers.”
That large donation sparked other contributions, resulting in the massive display that provides a historical perspective of the evolution of both Christmas trees and holiday ornaments. Lacking a fresh evergreen, a pioneer may have fashioned a two-foot-tall tree of barbed wire with a horseshoe base. Other trees and materials represent different eras, such as the 1950s tree made of Visca, a synthetic plastic material not commonly used anymore.
The ornaments on the trees are just as diverse and unusual, including 1940s-era decorative birds whose heads open to reveal candy inside, ornamental glow-in-the-dark animals, handmade cornhusk ornaments and more.
“It’s just unbelievable the different ornaments here on display,” Bahnmaier says. “It’s an opportunity for someone to come back and relive their childhood.”
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