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Surprising sweets found on mansion holiday tour

Peppermint pigs, chocolate cockroaches and red and green gumdrops sat on tables in Victorian-styled rooms Saturday at the David Davis Mansion.

"Victorians went ga-ga over candy," site manager Marsha Young said during one of her Christmas at Clover Lawn tours at the state historic site in Bloomington.

The home, which the Davis family dubbed Clover Lawn when it was built in 1872, has been decorated for Christmas in the styles of the 1870s to 1890s. Tours will be offered through the end of December.

Mary Ann King of Bloomington toured the house Saturday with her granddaughter, Samantha Livingston, 20, who recently moved to Bloomington.

"It's fun to come back and bring my granddaughter because she'd never seen it," King said. "We wanted to get in the Christmas mood, and that did it."

A papier mache figurine in the form of Belsnickels, a German version of Santa Claus, sat on the mantle of the dining room. Young removed it from the mantle and twisted it open at the torso, explaining that Victorians used them as candy containers.

Young explained that the balls sitting on the table also contained candy.

"So much of what we see on Christmas trees started as a Victorian candy container," she said.

Unlike the benevolent Santa Claus, the Belsnickels has a scowl on his face and holds switches. His image was based more on a centuries-old image of Saint Nicholas' wicked twin, Krampus, who reputedly punished misbehaving children.

Images of Krampus himself, who looks much like the modern image of a devil, also are on display throughout the mansion.

Candy in the form of pigs or even cockroaches is historically correct for the period, she said.

Aside from having a sweet tooth, Victorians had a fascination with the natural world that was reflected in their decorations and candies.

They hung ornaments decorated with cat and fish faces on their trees, and such decorations were on display in the mansion's parlor.

The parlor displays the type of decorations typical in a middle-class home in the 1890s.

Below the tree sit presents wrapped with the plain white tissue and red ribbon that were usually used in Victorian times.

Two presents were in patterned wrapping paper, which was just coming into vogue at the time. Today's mansion staff imported reproduction paper from Italy.

The sitting room is decorated in an 1870s style.

A tree is adorned with paper ornaments and candles. Sitting near the fireplace was a bucket that would have been filled with water or sand to be used if a candle caused a fire.

A rocking chair and dollhouse also are on display.

Artificial pickles hung from the branches of several trees in the mansion.

Although not strictly a Victorian tradition, the ornaments have long been considered a sign of good luck. Tradition says a child who finds a pickle on Christmas morning is rewarded with an extra gift.

This contest was intended to encourage children to appreciate the trees instead of focusing only on their gifts.

The current staff of the mansion keeps the tradition alive by encouraging children on Christmas tours to find the pickles on all of the trees in the house.

Source: Bloomington Pantagraph

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