Spouses bring holiday traditions back to historic LeRay Mansion
December 20, 2012
FORT DRUM, N.Y. -- As community members began decorating their homes for the holiday season, a group of spouses spent their extra time ensuring that Fort Drum's oldest home also was properly adorned.
Members of the Mountain Leader Spouses Group, which decorates LeRay Mansion every year, took on the challenge to do something different this year, according to Amy Macdonald, wife of Col. Thomas D. Macdonald, 10th Mountain Division (LI) chief of staff.
Carol Rosenberg, wife of Col. Gary A. Rosenberg, Fort Drum garrison commander, came up with the idea while taking her dog on a walk around the mansion grounds. During her walk, workers were restoring the reflecting pond, and she began thinking about the history of the area.
Rosenberg brought the idea of decorating LeRay Mansion with items that would have been used while the original owner of the property, James LeRay de Chaumont, a wealthy Frenchman, resided there in the early 1800s.
"Everybody thought that was a fabulous idea," Macdonald said. "It was really exciting for us that this was the first year that we had done the traditional Christmas tree."
The spouses consulted Dr. Laurie Rush, who manages the Directorate of Public Works' Cultural Resources Branch, to help them find out what period-appropriate decorations they needed to find or make.
"Dr. Rush had given us an idea of what would have been on a traditional Christmas tree during this time," Macdonald explained.
Some of the items used during the period were handmade roses and "angel hair."
"It was such a great collaboration," Macdonald added. "When Dr. Rush told us that they used angel hair, (which is) more what we would consider tinsel, we looked for something like that in the Christmas section (of different stores) and couldn't find anything. (Rush) came up with the gold and silver thread, and it was beautiful -- exactly what you would think of angel hair because it's so delicate. We were thrilled."
"To have a historian on the garrison staff, she actually came up with the pictures and the ideas of what (the decorations) might have looked like," she said.
As the spouses began to come up with ideas, they realized that some things, like the roses, would have to be adapted slightly, Rosenberg explained. The paper used to make the original roses was not only hard to come by, it was also expensive.
"I stumbled across these roses, and they were really simple and a lot easier to do," she said. "I made lots of food and drew a crowd, and we made hundreds of them. It was fun."
"It was fun because it became a community thing," Rosenberg added. "People were involved; this is our mansion, and there's a lot of history."
In addition to the traditional 19th century decorations, other rooms boasted different themed trees.
A patriotic tree is decorated in red, white and blue ornaments, as well as American- and Fort Drum-themed decorations.
A "white" tree is covered in white and silver decorations. The idea for the white tree came from the idea of snowy mountains, both in the North Country and in the far away mountains of Afghanistan, according to Rush.
"Our white tree is reminiscent of that effort and our ties to northern New York where we certainly get our fair share of snow," she said.
The last tree has an Adirondack theme as a representation of the partnership between the local communities and Fort Drum, Rush explained.
"These decorations are a celebration of our relationship between the installation and northern New York and its natural beauty and appreciation for what that brings us," she said. "The northern New York community and our location here at the Adirondack foothills make Fort Drum a very special place to be assigned.
"Many times (people), especially those from the American South, come here with tremendous trepidation," Rush continued. "In actuality, when they arrive and get a chance to meet the local people and experience the extremely beautiful northern forest and our mountains of the Adirondacks, they come to appreciate and are grateful for the opportunity to live and work here."