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Julia Plummer Schokker of the Blair County Historical Society checks a light bulb on the Christmas tree in the Baker Mansion hallway decorated by the Blair Garden Club. Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski

For more than six decades, members of the Blair Garden Club have used their talents to create unique visual delight inside Baker Mansion during the Christmas holidays.

This year, the members decorated the rooms on the theme “It’s a Victorian Christmas” but few people got the chance to see all the work put on the shelves.

Due to the increase in COVID-19 cases, the Blair County Historical Society decided on Tuesday to close for the season “Out of caution,” The chairman of the board of directors of the historical society, Michael Farrow, said in an email. He expressed his disappointment on Wednesday but wants “Protect everyone.”

The number of visitors to the mansion has fallen by 90%, according to Julia Plummer Schokker, first vice-chair of the board of directors, and the visits would have raised much-needed funds to help take care of the house built by the master of iron Elias Baker in the 19th century.

The Christmas event was reportedly open to the public this weekend, so only those who created the show were able to see the completed display.

A Christmas tree decorated by Blair Garden Club can be found in the unique living room of Baker Mansion. Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski

In an interview before the tours were canceled, Schokker praised the efforts of the Blair Garden Club.

“The Garden Club members do a terrific job for us indoors for the holidays and outdoors all summer in the gardens on the grounds. They do such a great job and have a different theme and decorations every year. “ Schokker said.

Mary Creamer, president of the Blair Garden Club, said the decoration was “Truly a group effort”, but this year COVID-19 changed the way the group created screens.

The pandemic has forced members to make decorations in their homes instead of working in groups as they usually do, she said.

Creamer, 83, of Duncansville, has been a member of the club for about 60 years and has been coordinating party decorating for the club for about 35 years.

A Christmas tree decorated by the Blair Garden Club can be found in the Baker Mansion’s double living room. Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski

For the Christmas exhibit, the club is planning the theme during the summer so that the appropriate flowers can be selected, dried and painted in the fall. In an effort to protect the historic structure, club members decorate artificial Christmas trees. There are no live or freshly cut flowers, as they could bring insects.

In recent years, the Baker House has been restored by Altoona artist Michael Allison, so club members said the holiday decorations were designed to show off the mansion’s ground floor – largely furnished and restored to what it was during the Baker family’s early years in residence.

For example, Creamer said she used greenery accented with red bows tied by hand along the stairwell and in decorative pots outside the entryway.

“I like to keep it simple,” Said Creamer.

“The mansion is different every year,” club member Linda Conrad said. “Anyone who visited two years ago may recognize an ornament or two, but we really try to make it different.”

Joanie Sweeda, a new member of the gardening club, told Baker Mansion “Touching me because it’s a piece of Altoona history that has survived.” It is my dearest wish that more Altoonans embrace their rich past and move forward, young and old, to preserve it.

As of Wednesday, the historical society had made no decision on what to do about the Christmas exhibit. Typically, the mansion is closed from January to April, but it is now closed until May.

Gift donations to help support Baker Mansion during the pandemic are welcome, Farrow said, noting that checks made out to Blair County Historical Society (BCHS) can be sent to BCHS, 3419 Oak Lane, Altoona, PA 16602.

For more information on Baker Mansion and Blair County Historical Society, visit blairhistory.org.

Mirror Staff Writer Patt Keith is at 814-949-7030.

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