The ground may not be coated with powdered snow, and the weather may still be abnormally warm for December, but it is surely beginning to look a lot like Christmas. To usher in the start of the holiday season, the Historical Society of the Lower Cape Fear held its annual Old Wilmington by Candlelight tour last weekend. The prestigious event gives festive tours of private homes, churches, and historical sites that are decorated in streams of lights and located around downtown Wilmington. For those who were unable to attend, the society has decided to hold its first Christmas of Yesteryear event at the Latimer House, as an extension of the tours.
“The program is basically geared toward the children,” Pat Hardee, a member of the historical society’s board of directors, says. “We want them to come in and experience being around the house, and sharing some of the sights and sounds of the society.”
Christmas of Yesteryear is an old-fashioned evening, comprising historical folksongs sung by local musician and storyteller John Golden. As well there will be traditional Christmas stories like “The Night Before Christmas,” read by Suzanne Smith and Chris Moore, Victorian ornaments adorning trees, and plenty of festive treats to indulge. All members who are assisting with the event will be dressed in Victorian style costumes to match the décor of the house.
After the stories are told around the Christmas tree, cookies and apple juice (a safe substitute for hot apple cider) are available and songs are sung, children and their families are welcome to join the society in caroling. They’ll sing an arrangement of traditional Christmas songs such as “Jingle Bells,” “Silent Night” and “Deck the Halls,” and the group will be led by Golden and Bush James, another member of the society. Both Golden and James have been in charge of leading the caroling excursion numerous times over the last decade, and Golden has been playing and singing holiday music in the Old Wilmington by Candlelight tour since the early ’90s.
“I look forward to the opportunity to share Christmas songs and stories in the grandly decorated Latimer House,” Golden says. “It will be a program that children and adults will enjoy.”
Golden began storytelling in the mid-’80s, while working as a civil engineer with the Army Corps of Engineers in Wilmington. He performed for various school districts around southeastern North Carolina and decided to add melodies to each of the stories he shared. It added layers of intrigue to all educational programs he led.
“I combined folksongs with history-based stories from the Lost Colony, up through pirates and colonial times, to emphasize the North Carolina history curriculum,” Golden explains. After retiring in 1977, he continued to perform for schools, churches and historical sites and organizations. Some of the songs he performs are true, while others embellish tall tales from the region.
Golden’s “The Light at Marco Station” is one of the most fascinating local legends he tells. The story dates back to an 1867 train wreck that took place on the Brunswick County side of the Cape Fear River. Joe Baldwin, the conductor, died in the wreck, and locals say they’ve seen his lantern light bobbing across the railroad tracks ever since. When Golden wrote the song, he started off with a lyrical poem about the events in the story. Then, he collaborated with Rob Nathanson, a guitar professor from UNCW, who put it to music. The two have been writing together since 1983. “The Light at Marco Station” and others by Golden can be heard on his CD, “Cape Fear Songs.” The recording is sold at The Golden Gallery, owned by his wife, Mary Ellen Golden.
Aside from performing historical classics, Golden also will be singing Christmas mainstays and a few melodies based on his own family Christmas traditions. His favorites during this time of year are “The Twelve Days of Christmas” and “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” Both are sing-along favorites (in his experience) with kids.
“I also tell a story about visiting my family’s home place for Christmas, where my Uncle Ernie would play practical jokes on us on Christmas Eve,” Golden says. “His most elaborate prank involved a hand-built sleigh strung on a cable over the barnyard, and then … well, you’ll have to come to hear the end.”
Though Christmas of Yesteryear and the caroling are free, tours of the Latimer House cost $5 for students, $9 for AAA members and $10 for adults. Donations are accepted and appreciated as well. All contributions go toward ongoing restoration of the house and continuing the society’s educational programs. Past events have included lectures, such as philosophy and religion professor at UNCW, Dr. Walter H. Conser’s talk on religion in Wilmington at the St. James Episcopal Church. Typically, the programs welcome notable guest speakers.
Christmas of Yesteryear will provide the community with another, more informative way to get caught up in the spirit of the season. “We’re just want the community to come,” Hardee says.
Christmas of Yesteryear and Evening Tour
Friday, December 12, 6:45 p.m.
Latimer House Museum
126 South Third Street
Evening Tour: $5-$10;
Christmas events: Free