Ladies of the manor
A smaller version of Pat Nixon’s floral Christmas tree.

IB/Finnegan

Ladies of the manor

Story By: LIZ FINNEGAN
12/13/2018


SUFFOLK COUNTY—The Sagtikos Manor Historical Society has been hosting an annual Christmas tour of the Suffolk County-owned manor in West Bay Shore for a number of years. This year’s tour, entitled “Christmas with the First Ladies,” took place last Saturday and Sunday and featured an enchanting display of American history.

 “This year the society chose to keep to one of our country’s themes, ‘Year of the Woman,’ and selected to honor a few distinguished First Ladies of the United States who chose interesting White House Christmas themes for decorating the White House…or who had traditional observances while their husbands served their term,” said event chairperson Phyllis Chan Carr. She added that all of the First Ladies were well researched for the show.

In several of the manor’s lavishly decorated rooms, docents in appropriate period dress gave visitors a glimpse into the lives of each of those represented.

In the music room, Celeste Topazio described the contributions of our nation’s 43rd First Lady, Laura Bush. Sept. 11, 2001 altered the way the First Family celebrated their first Christmas in the White House. However, in 2002, Mrs. Bush, an animal lover, chose the theme “All Creatures Great and Small,” with a tree decorated with bird ornaments representing all 50 states. The rest of the room featured a number of other animal toys and drawings and one 7-year-old Spinone Italiano named Jemma, the docent’s pet. “Remember to donate to shelters,” Topazio said.

Abigail Adams, our nation’s second First Lady, moved into what was known as the “President’s Palace” or the “President’s House” in 1800. Mrs. Adams’s room was set up for a Christmas Tea Party that she had once hosted in honor of her 4-year-old granddaughter, Susanna, who lived with the First Family.

Visitors learned that Eleanor Roosevelt loved Christmas so much that she wrote three books on the subject. She also managed to pose every year with a department store Santa to “embarrass the grandchildren,” according to one of the docents.

Two trees in the room honoring Michelle Obama replicated her tributes to military personnel and their families. A tree decorated in red, white and blue honored those serving in the Armed Forces, and a tree in gold recognized Gold Star families, who paid the ultimate price for freedom.

In the dining room of the manor, docents explained how Grace Coolidge started the first outdoor lighting of the White House Christmas Tree in 1923. Six thousand people attended the lighting. And in the butler’s pantry, a floral-decorated tree represented one that Pat Nixon featured of flowers from around the country. 

In a hallway, Jackie Kennedy’s “Nutcracker” theme was highlighted while in the kitchen, Mamie Eisenhower, who was known as “Mrs. Christmas,” was featured. She acquired that nickname because each year she resided in the White House, there were 26 Christmas trees that were up and decorated by Dec. 1.

At the end of the tour, all of the attendees were invited to write out holiday greetings to be sent to the troops serving overseas. “This year’s theme generated a great deal of interest, as it was sold out for its two-day presentation,” said Carr.  “It will be difficult to find a theme [next year] to present as worthy as this year.”