Visitors to Old Cowtown Museum are sure to feel as if they have time-traveled to 1880s Wichita as they walk under a gas lamp on Main Street while the crisp Kansas air blows past the clapboards of the old Presbyterian Church. Each year, the museum rings in the season with a celebration of Christmas past. The museum has celebrated a Victorian Christmas for more than 30 years.
“Cowtown is the only place where you can experience the history of our area,” said David Flask, the museum’s executive director.
Dozens of staff and volunteers will be dressed in Victorian clothes. Some will guide visitors through settlers’ homes. Others will sing carols and play instruments. Still others will run a printing press or forge a nail out at the blacksmith’s shop. Each night between 60 and 80 volunteers from the museum’s 300-deep volunteer base will help create historic ambiance. They have learned about the time period and many of the customs, including German and Swedish Christmas traditions.
“It gives you a feel of the time period," said Teddie Barlow, the museum’s acting curator. “There are beautiful sights, sounds and smells."
As visitors walk through the streets, they can roam in and out of the century-old buildings, watch a play at the schoolhouse, witness a Victorian dance at the town hall, drink hot cocoa at the saloon and ride a horse-drawn wagon to an old farmhouse.
“It’s one of our most traditional events," Barlow said. “People come because they like the same experience every year."
Although many activities remain the same, Cowtown sometimes changes performers or opens a new area. This year, the museum opened a tin shop where an interpreter will show off the machines. Many Victorian-era storefronts, ceilings and toys were made of tin.
Throughout the evening, children will be able to send telegraphs to Santa and watch woodworkers make nutcrackers and tops. Many time-period crafts and food items will be for sale in the gift shop and the village.
Next year’s Christmas treat will be a visit to the schoolteacher’s home, a new exhibit for 2013.