Period Films for the Holidays: Part One

If there’s something Doug and I love to do, is talk about movies and movie history. In part one of this blog post, Doug recommends fifteen holiday classics you can enjoy while snuggled up in a warm blanket.

By Doug Daye
One of my favorite things to do at Christmas time is to get comfortable on the couch and watch holiday movies! There are so many holiday classics that people have watched with their families for generations. There are many holiday films that were set in a certain time in history or produced in years past that are still quite popular today. Here is a list of some period holiday movies, old and new, to sit back and watch with a good cup of hot chocolate!! 

1. It’s a Wonderful Life! (1946)

In this iconic holiday story, devastated businessman George Bailey is shown how life would be if he had never existed by an angel trying to earn his wings. The film reflects the post WWII time period in which the film was released. It also has flashbacks of the Great Depression and shows how the characters are affected by the challenges that faced the country at that time.

2. A Christmas Carol (1938, 1951, 1984, 1999, and more!!!) 

Of course, everyone is familiar with the famous Charles Dickens story of the stingy Ebenezer Scrooge and the three spirits that help change his heart. There are various versions of this film and most are set during the Victorian era. I’m a kid at heart, so I’ll mention “A Muppet Christmas Carol” and “Mickey’s Christmas Carol” right here too! 

3. White Christmas (1954) 

Set right after WWII, two former soldiers form a song and dance team with two sister performers and put on a big holiday extravaganza at a lodge, only to realize it is run by their former general. Bing Crosby leads the cast with beautiful musical numbers, including the titular “White Christmas.” 

4. A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965) 

One of my favorites when I was a kid! Based on Charles M. Schulz’s 1950s comic strip, Charlie Brown tries to find the meaning of Christmas as he finds the holiday becoming commercialized. It premiered on CBS in 1965, became a hit with audiences, and is still aired as a TV special today. 

5. Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) 

Starting off in 1903, the story follows one year of the life of the Smith family in St. Louis leading up to the opening of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition (or the World’s Fair) in 1904. Though the story takes course over different seasons and Christmas is not the main point, it does have beautiful Christmas scenes. Also, Judy Garland performs the famous holiday song “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas,” which is why it has earned a spot on this list. 

6. A Christmas Story (1983) 

Set around the 1940s, the movie reveals the adventures of a young boy, Ralphie, and his family during the holiday season. Ralphie is obsessed with getting a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas which, at the time, was based on the popular Red Rider comic strip released in 1938. Though made in more modern times, it maintains the nostalgia of an earlier era. 

7. The Polar Express (2004)

 On the night of Christmas Eve in the late 1950s, a young boy boards a train to the North Pole to meet Santa Clause. Based on the popular children’s book, the story was inspired by writer Chris Van Allenburg’s childhood memories of the Herpolsheimer’s and Wurzburg’s department stores at Christmastime in Grand Rapids, MI. 

We will be posting part two of Doug’s Christmas movie blog next week!

Is Villa Finale … HAUNTED?!

We get a lot of questions from visitors at Villa Finale, and one of the most asked is: is Villa Finale haunted? I can’t say that our entire staff believes in ghosts – I, personally, am on the fence – but all of us have experienced things that can sometimes be a little difficult to explain. Since we have three historic buildings at Villa Finale, I will make sure to cover our experiences at all three.

Villa Finale: The Main House

The Norton-Polk-Mathis House – now known by the name “Villa Finale” – was built in 1876. It had a total of 12 different owners before being owned as a historic house museum by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, so its walls have seen a lot of people come and go! Perhaps its old walls have recorded events of times past, but some of us have heard voices coming from the basement, footsteps coming from the main and rear staircase, and footsteps in the Green Rooms. Here is a video taken by John Brannon, a contractor who was working on a rewiring project in the house in 2017. John was making this video to show his son, who shares his love for historic houses, when he caught an extra set of footsteps in the Green Rooms. (This happens around :50 in the video. Sound up!)

I’ve also heard the sounds of what could be labeled as “footsteps” coming from behind me in the Green Bedroom. I was standing at the doorway with my back to the room as I was speaking to my colleague, Buildings & Grounds Manager Orlando Cortinas, who was across the hall in the Blue Room. As I stood there, I clearly heard someone walking behind me toward the door of the room, they suddenly stopped when I looked back. Were these really footsteps or just a figment of our imagination? As far we know, at least one person has died inside Villa Finale – this was back in the 1940s.

Listen to our staff share their “haunting” experiences in this video.

The Carriage House

Villa Finale’s Carriage House, 1968.

The Carriage House dates back to the early 20th century (we don’t have an exact date). Walter Mathis used it as a guest house, and prior to that, other owners used it as a rental property so again, many people have been through this building. Today, we use it as a reception area for visitors and our staff offices. Almost all of us have heard sounds in the Carriage House including voices and footsteps coming from upstairs.

I should note, I have had my desk stationed in almost all the rooms in the Carriage House, including upstairs, but I never had anything considered “strange” happen to me while I was on the second floor. During our first-ever ghost hunt at Villa Finale last year (due to COVID concerns, we will not be hosting one this year), participants recorded some strange sounds in the Carriage House during the event. Were these ghostly? If you’re wondering if anyone has died in the building, we know of at least one young woman who died in that location in 1931.

Want to hear more about the happenings at the Carriage House? Watch this video.

The Meusebach House

Let me begin by saying, I honestly do not know what to say about this house as far as the “activity.” Built in 1886 by Smith and Josie Ellis, the house was sold to Otto and Martha Meusebach in 1889 and this family occupied the home for several years. Several people lived in the house after the Meusebachs, including Walter Nold Mathis’ sister, Agnes.

Otto Meusebach

Today, the house is owned by the National Trust as part of the Villa Finale “complex.” It houses the museum’s research library and it is used for small meetings and programs, as well as storage for a variety of Villa Finale’s supplies. Museum staff is regularly in the building – some staff have even lived there – needless to stay, all of us have spent plenty of time in the house. As I said at the start, I really don’t know what to make about what happens in the building other than, it is something else! Like in the Carriage House, we’ve heard footsteps as well as movement of objects when no other person is in the building. Staff have also reported lights turning on and off.

All of us independently agreed, we are all quite a bit “unsettled” with one particular area of the house: the staircase and adjoining hallway. I’ve had an “experience” there and, after some casual conversation, two of our staff discovered they saw what seemed to be a “man’s figure” at the top of the stairs on separate occasions. Although going to the Meusebach House is needed throughout the week, none of us are “dying” to go over there alone!

Interpretive Guide, Sara Breshears at the foot of the “infamous” Meusebach stairs. She has been spending a lot of time over there alone while working on a project: what a trooper!

So, has anyone died in the house? I learned an older man may have died there post Meusebach era, but I do have documented proof a teenage girl, Anita Meusebach, died in the house in 1900. In fact, as was the custom back then, her wake was in the home. Is the Meusebach House haunted? We can’t say for sure as we don’t have any recorded proof. Maybe everything we’ve seen and heard could be reasonably explained. But until we know for sure, those of us who work at Villa Finale will make sure we spend as little time over there as needed!

In this video, our staff shares some their odd experiences with you!

Care to find out if Villa Finale is truly “haunted”? Join our staff online for a fun and, hopefully not-too-scary, Facebook LIVE virtual ghost hunt on Friday, October 30, 2020 at 7:00pm! Click on the link below for event information … BOO! Happy Halloween!

Celebrating Hispanic Artists: Frida Khalo and Patrociño Barela

As we continue to observe Hispanic Heritage Month, Museum Attendant, Doug Daye takes a close look at Latino artists Frida Khalo and Patrociño Barela!

By Doug Daye

Get an intimate look at two inspirational Hispanic artists, Frida Khalo and Patrociño Barela. Though their work was phenomenal, both artists had to face much adversity and sadness over the course of their lives. Examining the difficulties they had to face truly deepens the love and respect for the legacy they left behind for all to enjoy.

Frida Kahlo


Frida Kahlo was born on July 9, 1907, in Coyoacán, Mexico City, Mexico. Her father, Wilhem, was a German photographer who immigrated to Mexico and married Matilde Calderón y González, a mestiza woman. During her childhood, Kahlo contracted polio which caused her to be bedridden for nine months. The disease damaged her right and left foot which made her walk with a limp after she recovered. She went on to study at the National Preparatory School in 1922 where she became very popular with her fellow students and politically active by joining the Young Communist League and the Mexican Communist Party. In 1925, Kahlo, along with her boyfriend at the time, Alejondro Gomez Arias, became involved in a tragic bus accident that caused damage to her spine and pelvis. After returning home from the Red Cross Hospital to recuperate further, Kahlo completed her first self-portrait and gave it to Arias. In 1929, Kahlo married well-known muralist Diego Rivera. Following Rivera’s career, they lived in multiple places including San Francisco, New York, and Detroit. Their relationship was very strained and tainted by infidelity. Khalo suffered much heartbreak in her marriage to Rivera including a miscarriage in 1934. They divorced in 1939 but then remarried a year later.

Khalo painting while convalescing following the bus accident in 1925. From

Frida Khalo’s life was filled with challenges that were both physical and emotional that she displayed in much of her artwork. She kept a diary of her drawings and her inner thoughts up until her death in 1954. The Dolores Olmedo Museum in Xochimilco, Mexico City, displays the intimate, colorful pages of her diary on their online exhibit!

Frida Khalo’s diary can be viewed on the Google Arts and Culture website here:

Also, take a look at photographs from her life and her famous artwork at the Frida Kahlo Museum’s online exhibit “Frida Kahlo: Vida la Vida” here:

Patrociño Barela

Patrociño Barela from

Patrociño Barela was born in Bisbee, Arizona in 1908. He left home at a young age after his mother died, to search for work. He found work as a laborer in Denver, Colorado and became married to a widow with three children, before moving to New Mexico in 1930. He began crafting his own wood sculptures after being commissioned to reconstruct a wooden devotional carving, known colloquially in New Mexico as a bulto, and also commonly known as santo. For over 30 years he worked carving figures of men and women, to symbolize family dynamics, as well as many religious figures, eventually becoming one of the foremost santeros, or carvers of wooden saints. Barela’s art gained notoriety after Russell Vernon Hunter, director of the Works Progress Administration took notice and included his work in the Public Works of Art Project in 1935. Though his work was exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City and he was praised as the “most dramatic discovery” to come out of the exhibition, he was uninterested in fame and money. He unfortunately died in a fire in his woodshed in 1964. Barela is noted as being the first Mexican-American to receive national recognition for his work and his talent has been greatly admired by other artists, especially his grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Barela with his son in New Mexico, 1936. From Wikimedia Commons Archives of American Art.

The National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico has an online exhibit dedicated to Patrociño Barela. The exhibit gives details about his sensational artwork including “Untitled: Portrait of a Black Man” which he dedicated to a black family that helped him in his time of need.

The online collection can be viewed here:

Learn more about Patrociño Barela here:

Ten “Lesser-Known” Notable & Influential Hispanic-American Figures

Villa Finale is observing Hispanic Heritage Month with a series of blog posts and videos highlighting different aspects of Hispanic culture in the United States. We begin with a blog post by Villa Finale’s Executive Director, Jane Lewis, who will spotlight influential figures some may not be familiar with.

Jane Lewis

Each year, Americans observe National Hispanic Heritage Month from September 15 to October 15.  National Hispanic Heritage Month commemorates the contributions Hispanic-Americans have made to American society and culture at large, and honors five of our Central American neighbors who celebrate their independence in September. 

The observation started in 1968 as Hispanic Heritage Week under President Lyndon Johnson and was expanded by President Ronald Reagan in 1988 to cover a 30-day period starting on September 15 and ending on October 15. It was enacted into law on August 17, 1988, upon the approval of Public Law 100-402.

The day of September 15 is significant because it is the anniversary of independence for Latin American countries Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. In addition, Mexico and Chile celebrate their independence days on September 16 and September18, respectively.

The following, lesser-known Hispanic-Americans have played key roles in elevating the experiences, culture and art of Latinos and weaving them into American society through their service and bodies of work. Their service and work have broken barriers, helped tell the civil rights struggles and expanded the understanding of Latinos in the U.S., and added to the many dimensions of the American international culture.

  1. Rudolfo Anaya
Rudolfo Anaya (from Flickr)

Rudolfo Anaya was considered the godfather of contemporary Chicano literature. Noted for his 1972 novel “Bless Me, Ultima”, the themes and cultural references of the story had a lasting impression on fellow Latino writers. It was subsequently adapted into a film and an opera. His father, Martín Anaya, was a vaquero from a family of cattle workers and sheepherders. His mother, Rafaelita (Mares), was from a family of farmers from Puerto De Luna in the Pecos River Valley of New Mexico. The beauty of the desert flatlands of New Mexico, referenced as the llano in Anaya’s writings, had a profound influence on his early childhood.

Anaya’s family relocated from rural New Mexico to Albuquerque when he was in the eighth grade, where he graduated from high school in 1956. This experience later appeared as an autobiographical allusion in his novel “Tortuga.” Following high school, he earned a B.A. in English and American Literature from the University of New Mexico in 1963, after which he went on to complete two master’s degrees.  In 2016, Anaya received the National Humanities Medal for his portrayal of the American southwest and the depiction of the Chicano experience.

2. Macario Garcia

Macario Garcia (from

Macario Garcia was born in Mexico in 1920 before his family immigrated to Texas in search of a better life. He grew up working as a cotton farmer before World War II broke out, prompting him to enlist. On November 27, 1944, García’s platoon was trapped by enemy fire in Grosshau, Germany. Realizing that his company could not advance because it was pinned down, Garcia went alone and destroyed two enemy emplacements and captured four prisoners. Despite being wounded himself, he continued to fight on with his unit until the battle was over. He became the first Mexican immigrant to receive the Medal of Honor, the United States’ highest military decoration. Just a few years later he was granted American citizenship.

3. Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales

Rodolfo Gonzales (from UNO Grace Abbott School of Social Work’s Facebook page)

Rodolfo Gonzalez grew up in a tough neighborhood in Denver, Colorado, during the Great Depression, which took an especially heavy toll on Mexican Americans. His father instilled a sharp sense of history from his native Mexico and encouraged his son to take pride in his heritage. Considered one of the founders of the Chicano Movement of the 1960’s, Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales helped organize Mexican Americans in the fight for equality, including the right to unionize, access to education and voting rights. As an activist, Gonzales founded Crusade for Justice, a civil rights and cultural organization that advocated for the rights of Hispanic-Americans.

Gonzalez is perhaps most widely known for his poem “Yo Soy Joaquín (“I Am Joaquín”), which confronts cultural multiplicity and the oppression of Chicano Americans in the U.S.  Gonzales was a talented boxer prior to his activist career, winning the Golden Glove championships in his youth. He died in April 2005, leaving behind a legacy of Chicano empowerment and pride.

4. Juan Felipe Herrera

Juan Felipe Herrera (from

Juan Felipe Herrera grew up in a family of migrant workers who traveled throughout California, taking work where they could and often living in tents. Settling in San Diego, Herrera graduated from high school and received a scholarship to UCLA, later earning a master’s degree from Stanford and an MFA from the renowned Iowa Writer’s Workshop. As his career flourished, Herrara’s experiences as a poor campesino continued to influence his writing. The 21st U.S. Poet Laureate and the first Hispanic-American Poet Laureate, Herrera held this esteemed position from 2015–2017. During his time as California’s Poet Laureate in 2012, Herrera created the I-Promise Joanna/Yo te Prometo Joanna Project, which focuses on anti-bullying and advocacy of the arts for children.

5. Dolores Huerta

Dolores Huerta (from

Born as Dolores Clara Fernandez in northern New Mexico in 1930, Dolores Huerta followed a family tradition of activism. Her father was a farmworker and union activist, while her mother was involved in numerous civic organizations. Huerta found her voice while serving as an organizer for the Stockton (California) Community Service Organization (CSO). It was during this time that she met a fellow organizer, Cesar Chavez. The two bonded and in 1962, they formed the National Farm Worker’s Association (NFWA). Throughout her long career, Huerta has advocated for workers’ rights, women’s rights, and Latinx rights, and continues to do so to this day at age 90. Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign slogan was taken from Huerta’s words from NFWA strikes: “Si se puede,” which translates to “Yes we can.”

6. Octaviano Larrazolo

Octaviano Larrazolo (from

Born in 1859 in Allende, in the Mexican state of Chihuahua, Octaviano Larrazolo would go on to influence U.S. thinking on Hispanic issues. Larrazolo moved to Arizona in 1875 with Reverend J.B. Salpointe, who taught him theology. Larrazolo taught in Tucson for a year before eventually settling in Las Vegas, New Mexico, and becoming involved with the state’s Democratic Party. Working his way up the political chain, Larrazolo was elected Governor of New Mexico in 1918. He was then elected to the U.S. Senate in 1928, becoming the first Hispanic to accomplish such a feat. Larrazolo fell ill soon after taking office and died just six months into his Senate term, but his unfortunate end didn’t prevent Larrazolo from making his permanent mark on Hispanic-American history.

7. Joseph Phillip Martinez

Joseph P. Martinez (from

Joseph Phillip Martinez was the first Hispanic-American to receive a Master of Architecture degree from Harvard University in the 20th century. He was the founding Dean at The New School of Architecture, previously teaching at the University of California at Berkeley. Martinez’s broad professional practice has garnered many awards including a National AIA Presidential Award and a National AIA Citation. He was named by the National Association of Land Grant Universities and Colleges as Alumni of the Century for the University of California San Diego (the only other Hispanic-American honored was Henry Cisneros from Texas A&M University). Martinez’s more than 40 years of professional practice using his Eclectic Design Methodology has resulted in a portfolio of unique works of architecture, earning him recognition as the “Father of Chicano Architecture.

8. Gabriela Mistral

Gabriela Mistral (from

Born as Lucila de María del Perpetuo Socorro Godoy Alcayaga in Chile in 1889, poet and educator Gabriela Mistral was the first Hispanic-American person to win a Nobel Prize in Literature. Although she was no stranger to tragedy, she used her pain to create lasting works of poetry. Throughout her career, Mistral traveled the world as a writer and educator, teaching at Columbia University, Vassar College, and the University of Puerto Rico. She died in New York in 1957, twelve years after winning the Nobel Prize.

9. Ruben Salazar

Ruben Salazar (from

Ruben Salazar was just an infant when his family immigrated across the border from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, to El Paso, Texas. He would go on to become one of the first Hispanic-American journalists in mainstream media. His work was particularly significant because it focused on injustices being done to those in the Chicano community. Salazar served in the United States army before becoming a journalist for the Los Angeles Times.  In “Who is A Chicano,” Salazar explained the plight of Hispanic-Americans struggling to find identity and equality: “Chicanos feel cheated. They want to effect change. Now.” While covering a protest of the Vietnam War, the Chicano Moratorium in 1970, his life was cut short by a tear gas projectile thrown by the police.

10. Luis Valdez

Luis Valdez (from

Luis Valdez, a director, playwright, actor and writer, received the 2015 National Medal of the Arts for bringing Chicano culture to the American public through works like “Zoot Suit,” which told the trial of Chicanos who were beaten and stripped of their zoot suits in racially-motivated attacks and the award-winning movie “La Bamba,” a biopic about rock ‘n roll musician Ritchie Valens.

Valdez also founded “Teatro Campesino” which created and performed actos or short skits on flatbed trucks, and helped dramatize the struggles of the nation’s farmworkers. First staged during the California grape boycotts organized by Cesar Chávez and Dolores Huerta, the Teatro performed across the U.S. and Mexico. Teatro Campesino is considered an integral part of the Chicano civil rights struggle.

Napoleon & “Egyptomania”: The Rosetta Stone

This is Villa Finale’s first post in our “Egyptomania” series. Join Interpretive Guide, Sara Breshears, as she takes us through the birth of this craze in Europe beginning with the discovery of the famed Rosetta Stone.

Sara Breshears

The Rosetta Stone

Chances are you have heard of the Rosetta Stone and how it was the key to deciphering ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics. But did you ever wonder how it was found, how exactly this language was deciphered and who did it? Well you have Napoleon to thank for that. Napoleon is credited with awakening interest in ancient Egypt and its monuments and setting the spark for ‘Egyptomania’ in Europe in the 19th and 20th century.

The Discovery

In July 1798, Napoleon launched the beginning of his campaign in Egypt in an attempt to protect French interest and trade routes in the Mediterranean. In what was a first for the time period, along with his legions and battalions of soldiers, Napoleon also brought a corps of 167 savants or technical experts called the Commission des Sciences e des Arts, which produced the Description de l’Egypte, a series of publications about Egypt. This text covered everything, from Egyptian flora, fauna, and history and was critical for making many Egyptian sources and materials widely available to Europeans for the first time ever.

Discovery of the Rosetta Stone (from

In the Egyptian port city of Rosetta, now modern-day Rashid, French soldiers working on the defenses of Fort Julien, stumbled upon the now-famous stone quite by accident. Built into a very old wall, officer Pierre-Francois Bouchard spotted a slab with inscriptions. He and his superior officer reported the find to General Jacques- Francois Menou, who happened to be at the Fort. The discovery was announced to Napoleon’s scientific association in Cairo, the Institut d’Egypte and it was noted in the report the stone contained three inscriptions, the first in hieroglyphics and the third in Greek and it was transferred to Cairo for further study.

Napoleon himself inspected the Stone before his return to France in August 1799. In 1800, an expert charged with discovering ways to copies of the text on the stone, Jean-Joseph Marcel, a printer and linguist was the first to suggest the middle text was Egyptian demotic script, which was rarely used for stone inscriptions and had been rarely seen by scholars at the time of the stone’s discovery. In fact, until this point the middle text had been misidentified as Syriac.

Jean-Joseph Marcel (from

After their eventual defeat at the hands of the British and the Ottomans and the signing of the Treaty of Alexandria in 1801, the Stone along with many other artifacts were handed over to the British, who immediately shipped it to the United Kingdom for further study.

Cracking the Code

In 1802 after arriving in Portsmouth, the Rosetta Stone was placed in the British Museum under the orders of King George III and scholars raced to crack the code. A crucial key to understanding the Rosetta Stone and what it said was that it had three different languages written on it.

Rosetta Stone at the British Museum, 1874 (from

Demotic, from the Greek meaning ‘popular’, was the ‘everyday’ or administrative language of Ancient Egyptians in the later periods, while Hieroglyphics were considered the language of the gods, and thus more formal. The stone also had a section written in ancient Greek, because at the time of the stone was carved, Egypt was ruled by the Ptolemies (of whom the infamous Cleopatra was one) originated from Macedonia, and took control of Egypt after the death of Alexander the Great.

English physicist Thomas Young was the first to show that some of the hieroglyphs on the Rosetta stone wrote the sounds of a royal name, which it turns out was Ptolemy.

Jean-Francois Champollion (from

A major breakthrough came when Champollion pieced together the hieroglyphics that were used to write the names of non-Egyptian rulers. He announced his discovery, based on the Rosetta stone and other texts in a paper presented at the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles Lettres in 1822 to an audience that included Thomas Young. A second crucial discovery came two years later in 1824 when Champollion realized the alphabetic signs were not only used for foreign names but also for the Egyptian language and names. Using his knowledge of ancient Greek and the Coptic language, which is derived from the ancient Egyptian language, he began to piece together the puzzle and he began to read hieroglyphic inscriptions in full.

What does the Rosetta Stone Say?

Ptolemy V Epiphanes came to the throne at the tender age of five. Being so young, he had a series of regents who were either reviled or incompetent and led to the loss of Egypt’s territories and general unrest. In 196 BCE Ptolemy V came of age and was crowned Pharaoh.

The Rosetta stone commemorated this event. Once part of a larger stone stele, the Stone was commissioned by the High Priests of Memphis, the text commemorates the coronation of King Ptolemy V, lists his accomplishments, and establishes his divine cult. Egyptian rulers were seen to be semi-divine and had cults to worship them as a living deity. The text on the stone goes on to command that every temple have a similar stone with text written in Hieroglyphics, Demotic, and Greek.

Ptolemy V Epiphanes (from

Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics were used well into the 4th century AD and with the final closing of the pagan temples in the 5th century knowledge of hieroglyphic writing was lost.

While all three texts were largely incomplete, Champollion was able to use the text to begin identifying hieroglyphics and their meanings leading to the creation of an Egyptian grammar and dictionary, which was published after his death in 1832, making Champollion the Father of Modern-day Egyptology! Once scholars could understand ancient Egyptian’s writing system, they began to develop a greater understanding of the ancient Egyptian culture and this sparked further interest in Egypt itself!

Rosetta Stone (from

Since Champollion’s groundbreaking discovery, Egyptologists have made major progress in further understanding ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics and the ancient Egyptian language and its rules.

These days the Rosetta Stone sits pride of place in the Egyptian galleries in The British Museum, where thousands of tourists see it every day. Looking at it now it’s hard to believe that this is what kicked off the Egyptomania craze in the 19th century and all the way up to today, and we’ll explore more of that  in later posts in our Egyptomania series!

Click here to see The British Museum’s “The Rosetta Stone” on Google Arts & Culture.

“Collecting History”: General Tom Thumb and Lavinia Warren Miniature Wedding Album

This item was meant to be a souvenir commemorating the wedding of Charles Sherwood Stratton (stage name, General Tom Thumb) to Lavinia Warren in February of 1863. Both were performers for P.T. Barnum. Although the event took place during the height of the American Civil War, the wedding pushed the raging war off the front page. Thousands attended the wedding reception in New York – Barnum sold tickets to the event at $75.00 per person – and the newlyweds were even received at the White House by President Abraham Lincoln.

Barnum with his star, “General Tom Thumb” (Pinterest)

Charles, aka “Tom” was born in Connecticut in 1838. By all accounts he was a large baby but stopped growing at about five months and didn’t grow any taller than about 3’. He was still four years old when P.T. Barnum – a distant relative of Stratton – began “exhibiting” him at his American Museum in New York. Barnum taught him to sing, dance, and do impressions of famous people like Napoleon. Because Charles turned out to be a natural performer, he became all the rage with audiences in New York. Tom Thumb became a millionaire under Barnum.

Lavinia Warren (Wikipedia)

Lavinia was born in Massachusetts in 1842 to a well-respected New England family. Both she and her sister Minnie had dwarfism, a condition caused by pituitary disorder, one of the possible occurrences of family intermarriage. When Lavinia was 16, she began her career as a teacher but was lured into show business, especially after following the success of “General Tom Thumb”; first as a dancer onboard a Mississippi showboat, and later managed by Barnum as one of his performers. Reportedly, she fell for Charles Stratton – “Tom” – during their first meeting.

Wedding party, 1863. Lavinia’s sister, Minnie is at the far right and “Commodore Nutt,” who had pursued Lavinia, is at the far left.

Photographer Mathew Brady took the image of the couple that would be turned into a bestselling carte-de-visite – or calling card – that was licensed to other photographers and lithographers. This little locket was shaped to look like a suitcase with the words “Somebody’s Luggage” which is a reference to an 1862 short story by Charles Dickens. The 12 images inside were taken by Brady. Note: the baby in the photographs was not theirs. It was meant to show Lavinia had good domestic skills and therefore would be a great wife to “Tom.” Charles died in 1883 (he was 45). Lavinia remarried ten years later and died in 1919.

Photographer Mathew Brady (

You can see the video that accompanies this blog post here:

Introducing “Collecting History”: Stories Inspired by Villa Finale’s Most Weird & Wonderful Curiosities

When we buy an item from an antique store, we are getting more than whatever object is on our receipts. We are acquiring stories, some of which we not even be aware of.

Paperweight housed in Villa Finale’s Green Sitting Room.

Take this cranberry glass paperweight purchased at the Texas State Fair in 1906. How far did it originally travel? What child did “Mama” gift this to? If it could talk, what sort of wonderful stories could this object tell us?

The Post at Mittenwald, ca. 1900.

What about this charming little painting called ‘The Post in Mittenwald, Bavaria,” by German artist, Georg Hemmrich (1874 – 1939). This painting is nearly lost among the dozens of other Continental paintings hanging on the Walls of Villa Finale’s Pewter Room. Why did Hemmrich choose this subject for his painting? Did this place have a significant meaning to him? If we explore the artist’s other works, we find many of his other paintings capture many of the same type of scenes. Why?

Any object can lead us to ask many questions, and what we can discover if we take the time to dig deeper, is truly fascinating! Our new video and blog series, “Collecting History”: Stories Inspired by Villa Finale’s Most Weird & Wonderful Curiosities, will highlight objects in the collection that aren’t always highlighted during our regular tours, but have more stories to tell than the eye can behold. The series will have a short video – viewable on our social media platforms and website – where we take a closer look at an object accompanied by a blog post that can be found here where we go into further detail.

Be on the lookout for this fun series. We’re looking forward to bringing it to you as well as all the fun and entertaining stories that come from it!

“The Pueblo Grande Museum: Uncovering the History of the Hohokam” by Doug Daye

Doug Daye

Hello, friends. We’re glad you could join us again as Villa Finale’s Museum Attendant, Doug Daye, takes a look at the Hohokam people who lived in the area of what is now Phoenix, Arizona. The Pueblo Grande Museum & Archaeological Park, which has been in operation for over 80 years, includes an interpretive trail where one can view the prehistoric remains of the Hohokem’s platform mound, replicated dwellings, native plants, and more. Do enjoy this “trip” to the Pueblo Grande Museum in Phoenix from the comfort of your home! ——————————————–

Imagine going back in time and experiencing living in a mud-covered pithouse, roaming the fields to hunt for food, crafting a necklace from shells, or playing a game in the ballcourt! This was everyday life for the Hohokam tribe of Arizona. Learn about their way of life by touring the Pueblo Grande Museum!

Platform mound at Pueblo Grande. From

The Hohokam
The Hohokam people are believed to have lived in the south-central part of Arizona from A.D. 450 to 1450. Their territory expanded from the south of Flagstaff to the Mexican border. They constructed many elaborate structures such as mud and adobe covered homes called “pithouses” and oval “ballcourts” that were used for recreational games. (It was also believed that they studied stars in a great compound called a “Big House”!) By using rustic tools, they built an enhanced irrigation network that produced many crops and attracted many animals to hunt. They were also known to have crafted many utensils and jewelry from materials that included bone, shell, clay, and wood. Though the reason for their disappearance is unclear, much can be determined about their culture from the structures and relics they left behind.

Pueblo Grande from Scottsdale, Arizona’s Pinterest.

Exploring the Pueblo Grande Museum
Constructed in 1933 the Pueblo Grande Museum preserves the ancient history of the Salt
and Gaia River Valley and the Hohokam that inhabited the area. Both the indoor and outdoor
exhibits contain fascinating displays that can all be viewed virtually !!!

● Main Gallery: Learn about the Hohokam culture by examining artifacts and their innovative creations including clay pottery and maps of their extensive canal systems!
● Outdoor Trial: Observe Hohokam structures and agricultural exhibits e.g. The Adobe Compound, The Pit House, and the Agricultural Garden!
● Children’s Gallery: Hands-on exhibits educate children on the process of archaeology like identifying artifacts and even drawing their own!

Take the virtual tour and view their online exhibits here:

Find out more about the history of the Hohokam and the Pueblo Grande Museum and National Park here:

Villa Lewaro: A Virtual Tour

Hello friends! It has been a while since Villa Finale has posted to our blog. These are certainly different times we are living in and we realize that many folks are looking for entertainment from the comfort and safety of their homes. As such, our staff would like to highlight places of interest, objects in our own collections, or even little-known stories of history you may not know too much about. This month, Doug Daye, Museum Attendant at Villa Finale, brings us a review of the virtual tour of Madam C.J. Walker’s Villa Lewaro!

“Villa Lewaro” by Doug Daye

Doug Daye

Did you ever wonder how America’s first self-made female millionaire lived? Where did she entertain her guests? Did she host any well-known visitors at her estate? For answers, take a virtual tour of the Villa Lewaro, the divine home of trailblazer Madam C.J. Walker!

A Brief History of Madam C.J Walker

Born in 1867 as Sara Breedlove to an enslaved family, in Delta Louisiana, she worked her way up into becoming a successful business pioneer in hair care for black women. After losing much of her hair to a scalp condition, she experimented with different remedies and treatments to seek a cure. With the help of her husband, Charles Walker, she went on to advertise her hair care treatments for African Americans. As business progressed, she had numerous amounts of trained sales agents to serve customers throughout the United States, Latin America, and the Caribbean. She had Villa Lewaro constructed in 1918 by successful African American architect, Vertner Tandy, in the Hudson Valley, north of New York City.

Virtual Tour Highlights

Madam C.J. Walker from

Narrated by Madam Walker’s great-great-granddaughter, A’Leia Bundles, the viewer is taken on a historical, detailed virtual journey through the grand estate. Here are a few highlights from the tour:

. The Music Room – Decorated with gold leaf- trim, Madam Walker entertained guests with live music from notable musicians including violinist Joseph Douglass, grandson of Frederick Douglass.

. Christmas in the Dining Room – With an astonishing ceiling decorated with paintings of mermaids and other mythical creatures, guests were served an elaborate breakfast on Christmas morning. Sadly, it was Madam Walker’s only Christmas celebrated at the Villa Lewaro before her death two months later.

. Independence Day Celebration – As the Villa Lerwaro’s magnificent patio and garden are displayed, the tour explains the grand Independence Day event held during the President of Liberia’s visit to the home. Since he was not welcome in the White House, President C.D.B King was invited to the Villa Lewrao by Walker’s daughter for Independence Day where he enjoyed all the festivities!

By offering a detailed history and magnificent views of the property, the Villa Lewaro virtual tour permits the viewer to learn about the life of Madam C.J. Walker and the legacy she left behind.

The tour can be viewed on the National Trust website by clicking here:

More information on Villa Lewaro can be viewed by clicking here:

If you haven’t watched it already, check out the Netflix limited series “Self Made,” based on Madam C.J. Walker’s life!

Victorians and Their Parlor Amusements

Victorians have a reputation for being stuffy and quite hung up on the strict rules of etiquette of their time. However, they loved to have fun and enjoyed a variety of leisure activities, especially the middle and upper classes. There were many outdoor activities they enjoyed, like lawn tennis and cycling, but there were a lot of indoor amusements – like parlor games – Victorians loved to take part in.

9d833eef481c4b39ce9d89700e397f31--victorian-games-victorian-toysThese games would take place in what we commonly know today as the “living,” “great,” or “family” room. In Victorian times (1837 – 1901) the “parlor” in a family’s home was host to these activities. “Parlor” comes from the French word parloir or parler which means “to speak.” Originally, the word “parlor” was the name of a place where people “debated.” In its original usage, a “parlor” denoted a place set aside for debating people, a chamber for an “audience” gathering. In a Victorian home, it became a room for the family or guest gatherings, a perfect place to play the popular games of the day and have “nanty narking” (Victorian slang for “a great time”)!

And what were those games? Here are just some of them:


For this group game, a list of similes is compiled and one person – a “simile keeper” – is chosen to, in turn, pick other people who must complete a simile chosen by the keeper. The simile keeper informs players if they are right or wrong, or if they come close. Players could choose to be creative. The simile keeper was well versed in similes. Here are some simile examples: as bold as brass; as bright as a button; as blind as a bat.

the-book-of-parlour-games-3“The Sorcerer Behind the Door”

A person stands behind the door of a room where the group is gathered. The group will have on their persons several belongings. The game “leader” or “questioner” asks the person behind the door – the “sorcerer” – if he / she is ready. Then, the questioner asks that person if he knows Mr. or Ms. whomever they choose and begins to call out a list of the belongings they are wearing (jewelry, clothing, etc.). After calling out the list, the questioner will ask “what am I holding him / her by?” If the person behind the door – or “the sorcerer” – does not name the right item from the list called out before, he /she must surrender one of their own belongings. When the sorcerer knows who it is, he / she says “you are holding (person’s name) by the (personal item).” The sorcerer then picks a new sorcerer.


One person in the group playing is chosen to leave the room: this person will play the role of the “auctioneer.” Everyone who stays behind forms a circle and must “forfeit” a personal item and place it in the center. The auctioneer comes back in, picks up one of the items forfeited, and begins to describe the item as if it would be sold at auction. In order NOT to forfeit their item, the owner must speak up and admit the item is theirs and do something amusing – such as sing, dance, do an imitation, etc. – in order to win back their belonging. That person then becomes the next auctioneer.

scans0007If you would like to have an opportunity to go “nanty narking” in a real Victorian parlor, don’t miss out on Villa Finale’s upcoming event, Nanty Narking: Parlor Game Night at the Edward Steves Homestead on Friday, February 1st from 7:00pm – 9:00pm. Guests will play games in the Steves family parlors while enjoying finger foods and adult beverages, all for only $15.00. Guests need not worry: they will not have to be experts in similes or “forfeit” any personal belongings! Instead, more modern group games such as a card game version of “Oregon Trail” will be played. Just don’t “die of dysentery.”

Bring your friends or make new ones! Nanty Narking: Parlor Game Night at the Edward Steves Homestead. Friday, February 1, 2019 from 7:00pm – 9:00pm (gate opens 15 minutes prior to event time). Guests 21 and over only. Smoking not permitted.

Visit to purchase or for more information. You may also call Villa Finale at (210) 223-9800.