Friday, December 18, 2009

Candlelight Evening - the Niagara Falls of museum events

By: Erin Crissman, Curator As a native Western New Yorker, I have a special place in my heart for Niagara Falls. What does this have to do with Candlelight Evening at the Farmers' Museum? They both fit well into one of Immanuel Kant's definitions of the sublime. Candlelight and Niagara are simultaneously beautiful and horrifying. Here's why:
When I describe The Farmers' Museum's Candlelight Evening event to other museum curators, they're typically shocked. Why would anyone light 1000 candles inside historic buildings - MADE OF WOOD - then allow 3000 visitors inside? I used to share these fears and still approach the event's set-up with caution.
Each year, some of the things that come to mind as I prepare for Candlelight are -
"How about a little fire, Scarecrow?"
and one of my favorite campfire songs:
There'll be a Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight (aka - Old Lady Leary)- a song about the great Chicago fire. Who doesn't enjoy shouting "Fire! Fire! Fire!" as an 8 year old?
Fortunately, we have a stupendous staff and lots of security and fire safety at The Farmers' Museum. Despite the quizzical looks from my other museum colleagues, I feel quite safe, and I know our buildings and objects are safe as well. Of course, I do take precautions, along with other staff, to ensure the safety of our buildings, objects and visitors during the three hour event. All staff here are trained annualy in fire safety, how to use fire extinguishers, and how to safely start and extinquish wood fires.
For this specific event, there are some additional precautions we take.
Patrick McGregor and I took down the curtains in the More House to keep them away from the flames.
Patrick places the votives on two-by-fours so that they're not too close to the wood muntins on our historic windows. No, the lumber isn't historically accurate, but neither are votive candles. Before a generous family donated 1200 glass votives to the event many years ago, the candles were placed in assorted baby food jars.All of the buildings are staffed with historic interpreters, volunteers or staff, like myself, to ensure that nothing goes wrong. This is the 30th annual Candlelight Evening, and although we've had a few fires in our historic buildings in that time, none of them were on the Sunday before Christmas!
I'm proud to be a part of the team that puts on this event every year. The crew takes the "terrifying" out of the day, so that we can all focus on the beautiful.

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