The Times West Virginian

December 20, 2012

Anna Jarvis Museum hosts Christmas tours

By Nicole Lemal
Times West Virginian

FAIRMONT — While you are sitting around this holiday season, make it a priority to spend time with your mom.

This is what Anna Jarvis, who is the founder of Mother’s Day, would have wanted.

“This all was created because of a love for mother, and because of that we can now celebrate this special day,” executive director of the Anna Jarvis Museum Olive Dadisman said. “Anna wasn’t big on cards or flowers or candy. She just thought you should try to spend a really nice day with your mother.” 

Jarvis ’ birthplace is still standing, and in fact, has been open to the public since 1996. Located in Grafton, the museum was once desolate until Dadisman and her husband drove by one day and peered through the windows. A woman by the name of Ocean Pearl Felton offered them the house, and within two years they had it up and running.

Mother’s Day is a special holiday, but Dadisman and her staff are just as excited to celebrate the Christmas holiday season. A special Christmas tour will be open to the public Tuesday through Sunday until Dec. 31. The historical tour costs $5.

Throughout the month of December, the house has remained lit for the holidays, and a number of Christmas trees add a special holiday spirit to your visit. Each room has a tree with a different theme. Last year, the house had a jewelry tree and a tea pot tree, and this year the house has an elf tree and a Santa Claus tree.

“You never know what the trees are going to be decorated with,” Dadisman said. “If you can think of a tree, we’ve probably done it.” 

Local organizations, high school students, college students, and even younger children have put in their time at this museum to add to its Christmas glory. Inside the nursery is a lollipop theme, courtesy of a very creative 3-year old.

“It’s adorable,” Dadisman said.

If you’re also interested in the history of the museum, the historical tour will highlight the history of Mother’s Day, Anna Jarvis’ life and other interesting facts about the house. Providing tours since 1996, Dadisman has seen visitors from 26 different countries, including a few who have visited more than once from Japan, Australia and Canada.

Built in 1854, the house has been barely altered — 95 percent of it being original. From the outside, the house doesn’t look very large, but one step inside surprises people. It’s much more spacious than people imagine, Dadisman said.

“You’re walking on the same floors, and the same walls are there,” she added. “We’re lucky the staircase is there and the fireplaces were never ripped out. It’s very unique to be able to step back in time.” 

More than 5,000 items have been donated since the museum opened in 1996.

“Everything has been donated in memory or in honor of mothers, mostly,” Dadisman said. “But we have lots of other things that are donated in other memories, like fathers, grandfathers.” 

One of the highlights of the tour that people enjoy the most, according to Dadisman, is the “whistle story.” On the back porch of the house, the slaves and servants cooked and prepared food in what was known as the summer kitchen. Servants and slaves were commanded to whistle as they walked, so that those living in the house knew they weren’t sneaking a few bites into their fruitcake, roast beef, turkey or other extravagant meals.

“People get a really big kick out of that, and it’s something that even the kids remember on their tours,” Dadisman said. “When they write thank-you cards, they always say they like the ‘whistle way.’” 

Each room in the house has a significant amount of history. The dining room is where the tour guides discuss how Jarvis would often help soldiers from both sides during the Civil War time period. In the master bedroom the tour guide will tell the story of Jarvis, who was born in that room. Shortly after coming up with the idea to have a special day to honor mothers, Jarvis’ mother passed away. For nearly 10 years, she fought hard to make it a national holiday and eventually got her wish.

“The male population thought it was a pretty stupid idea,” she said.  “The reason they thought that was because they didn’t think their mothers really wanted the day off and didn’t need a day off. But of course she persevered and got her day.”

Email Nicole Lemal at nlemal@timeswv.com.