The Victoria Mansion Christmas Gala on Dec. 4 was a record-breaker, with 210 guests, 63 sponsoring patrons, a couple dozen design volunteers and nearly $20,000 raised for conservation and education initiatives.

The theme of Ghosts of Christmas Past connected present-day revelers with the Morse family who had the Italianate mansion built before the Civil War and lived there until 1894, followed by the Libby family who occupied the stately home on Portland’s Danforth Street until 1928.

“The ornaments on this tree have photos of people who used to live here,” said Meredith Davis, who decorated the Green Bedroom with her mother Caroline Davis. “This gets me into the Christmas spirit and allows me to be creative in a different way, with glimpses of memories that may have occurred in this space.”

Even the gala’s signature cocktail honored the building’s history. Called Holmes for the Holidays, the drink was named after William H. Holmes, who bought the mansion in 1940 to preserve it as a museum so that it wouldn’t be demolished to make space for a gas station.

For many guests, the ghosts of Christmas past were their own memories at the mansion. Party-goers recalled touring the home on school field trips, donning tuxes and gowns for holiday galas and opera and ballet performances, or being involved with the mansion’s conservation and education programs and social clubs through the decades.

“I used to come here as a kid with school, so I have a connection,” said Ralph Hendrix of Scarborough. “You appreciate that as you get older.”


“A place like this is one of the rarest historic houses in the country, if not the world, with an intact collection of furnishings,” said Greg Sundik, who signed the guest book as a middle school student, later worked at the mansion and now serves on the board of trustees. “The mansion’s resilience is amazing.”

Admissions were up in 2019, with visitors coming to see the flying staircase, frescoes, carved marble fireplaces and Turkish smoking room. The home was once incredibly modern, with hot and cold running water, a servant call system and lights that turned on with the flick of a switch.

“There was a button to trigger a spark to light the gas lights,” said Bill Layton of Waterville. “The inventions that were in this house were groundbreaking for the time.”

This time of year, visitors come primarily for Christmas spirit and glamour.

“This is so fun and so over-the-top,” said Jean Marie Layton. “I feel like I’m in ‘The Nutcracker.’ ”

The mansion is open for Ghosts of Christmas Past self-guided tours through Jan. 5.

Amy Paradysz is a freelance writer and photographer based in Scarborough. She can be reached at

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