Each year, the Davenport House Museum celebrates the season with its Holiday Evening Tours by Candlelight.
The evening events give guests the chance to visit the historic Federal-style home and get a sense of what the holidays would have been like for the Davenport family and other Savannahians during the early 19th century. The event features docents dressed in festive attire, storytelling and light refreshments. The evening will culminate with a demonstration of period dancing.
The Holiday Evening Tours by Candlelight take place from 6-8:30 p.m. Dec. 26-30. The experience takes about one hour and there are no admissions after 8 p.m. It is recommended to call in advance for the best time to arrive to avoid a long line. Also, the tour requires that guests be able to walk up and down stairs and maneuver in the candlelit rooms.
According to director Jamie Credle, the staff enjoys finding a new special focus each year to research and present to guests. And this year, that special focus spotlights “The Fiddler, Antebellum Musician for Social Occasions.”
“We have a dance program at the end of the evening,” Credle explains. “We’ve done the dancing program for years and we use music on CDs. So, we thought, how did people back in the day have music and learn to dance? The curiosity led us to research who provided music for social dancing in the 1820s.”
They discovered it was the fiddler. By focusing on historical documents, Credle and her team discovered a wealth of information from the ads taken out in early newspapers for runaway slaves. They found fiddling was an occupation that was commonly, if not exclusively, performed by African Americans during that time. They also discovered that as a port city, Savannah had violins and sheet music for sale as well as music teachers and concerts. In private homes, either family members played or a fiddler was hired to play.
“These ads we discovered mentioned that these runaway slaves were fiddle players,” Credle explains. “And it wasn’t just because they were good at it, but also because it was a way for them to make money.”
She mentions an example that many people might be familiar with — the story of Solomon Northup, a professional fiddler player who was born free in New York before being stolen into slavery. His story was made popular in his book “12 Years a Slave” that was later made into an Academy Award-winning movie. His story is just one of many featured in the fiddle history that will be presented to guests.
“We hope to have a fiddle player most nights so people can get the full experience that we are trying to share,” Credle adds. “The docents are trained to know the history as well. This program gives us a chance to share our history with the community and to showcase our new docents and tour guides.
“I think it’s important to see that people didn’t celebrate the holidays the way we do now. And it’s our opportunity to share the house that is authentically Savannah.”
IF YOU GO
What: Holiday Evening Tours by Candlelight
When: 6 p.m.-8:30 p.m. Dec. 26-30
Where: Davenport House Museum, 324 E. State St.
Cost: $12 in advance; $15 at the door; $6 for children in advance, $8 at the door, plus tax
Info: No admission after 8 p.m.; davenporthousemuseum.org, 912-236-8097