Indian King Tavern News head
233 Kings Highway East, Haddonfield, NJ, 08033

Decorating the 18th-Century Tavern

See Photo Feature: Inside the Tavern's Music Festival

HADDONFIELD, N.J. (Dec. 9, 2001) --- In a spirit that seemed in keeping with both history and the country's current state of mind, yesterday's Indian King Tavern's "Music of Christmas" festival
Photo: Hoag Levins.
Helping to decorate with simple greens, Jackie Casterino, 11, adds holly to a lighting fixture.

See Decorations of Previous Tavern Christmases:
Christmas 2000
Christmas 1999
Christmas 1998

featured simple decorations and homespun holiday songs.

Now in its seventh year, the annual event is organized by Bradley Mattson, a Haddonfield resident and Drexel University student. But in a further sign of the times, Mattson appeared late and still dressed in camouflage fatigues from a just-ended U.S. Army Reserves drill -- part of the overall readiness efforts related to the war in Afghanistan. Disappearing into a changing room, Mattson quickly returned in the garb and character of a gracious colonial-era host.

A state historic site, the 251-year-old Indian King Tavern building is restored to how it would have appeared and been furnished in 1777, when it was the area's most important public meeting house and eatery. Now a museum focused on the history of lore of colonial-era taverns and life, it does not serve food.

Yesterday, the 18th-century facility looked significantly different from previous years when its Christmas decorations were created by the Haddonfield Garden Club, which also prepares lush Yuletide floral arrangements for the Fairmount Park Mansions Christmas tour program in Philadelphia.

Historical accuracy
In a move that was a nod toward natural simplicy as well as historical accuracy, the Tavern his year was decorated by the Elizabeth Haddon Society of the Children of the American Revolution, an offshoot of the Daughters of the American Revolution. The group has about 30 members from elementary, middle and high schools throughout the region.

"They have researched and documented what the Indian King Tavern would have looked like in the 18th century at Christmas," said Tavern Museum manager Bill Mason. "Overall, the decorations are much more austere
RealPlayer Required


audio bug Bill Mason
'May be shocking.'

audio bug 'What Christmas 1777 was like.'

audio bug Ann Kram
'Bringing in the greens.'

audio bug 'George Washington's gingerbread.'

audio bug Shelly Castorino
'Hessian Christmas trees.'

audio bug 'Tavern mistletoe.'

but more authentic. In fact, they are so austere, it might be a little shocking to some people."

'Not going for fancy'
"We're not going for the fancy finesse of the Garden Club look but rather the for the 'go out in the woods and find greens and hang them up inside' look," said Ann Kram, a regular Tavern docent and member of the Haddonfield Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. "We are decorating the Indian King Tavern for Christmas more in the spirit of what we feel it would have looked like in Colonial times."

Mason pointed out to visitors that during the winter of 1777, the tavern was in the middle of one of the world's most ferocious war zones -- a fact that would have influenced how the public house was decorated for the holidays.

1777 war zone
"If you think about Haddonfield during 1777," said Mason. "There's a war going on and there are more battles, more skirmishes, more lives lost and more property destruction in New Jersey, proportionately, than any of the other colonies."

"Then you had the legislature meeting here at the tavern. They're coming in and out -- they have state troops with them. There's Continental troops here. In October, there's Hessians stationed here. By Christmas, there are British troops occupying Haddonfield," he said.

"So, I serious doubt that the holidays would have been celebrated in the same way in 1777 as they would have perhaps been in 1787, when the war was over and there was a more general
Photo: Hoag Levins.
Ellen Dudek of Medford (left) and Shelly Casterino of Cherry Hill (right) in the midst of decorating.

feeling of euphoria and celebration rather than anxiety. In 1777 local people were asking themselves 'Are we going to lose the war?' 'Are we going to win the war?' 'Who's coming today to take our cattle, our grain and our cheese from us?' So the sort of Christmas you see recreated here today is probably closer to what it would have been like in 1787 than in 1777."

DAR's children
"All the decorations are pines and greens used in that time period, said Shelly Castorino, Senior Society President of the Elizabeth Haddon Society of the Children of the American Revolution. "People back then felt it important to bring the greens indoors to show there was life coming around the cornder after the dead of winter.

Castorino, who lives in Cherry Hill, managed the project and helped the students direct their Christmas-related research efforts. "We wrote to Mt. Vernon and the National Christmas Tree Association to find out how people really decorated during the time of the
Photo: Hoag Levins.
9-year-old Sarah Dudek of the Children of the American Revolution, displays her greens and cones basket arrangement.

Revolution," she said.

"Our main goal was to determine whether or not they had Christmas trees back then. We found out that when George Washington crossed the Delaware that fateful Christmas night, the Hessians on the other side were sitting around a sparsely decorated Christmas tree, eating and drinking and having a good old time which enabled the General to defeat them. It was a pivotal moment. After the war, many of the Hessians stayed and continued their Christmas tree traditions," she said.

Christmas kiss
Behind her, the window panes of the tavern were touched with small flourishes of holly and mistletoe. "Mistletoe was important among the various greens that they used for holiday decorating," Castorino said. "And the tradition was the same as today -- mistletoe enabled one to achieve their Christmas kiss."

All Rights Reserved
© 2001, Hoag Levins


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