Marveling at the lives of the bygone super-rich: Christmas at Stan Hywet

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written by Andrew Leask; photos courtesy of Stan Hywet

“Deck the Hall” at Stan Hywet Hall and Gardens is open on select evenings from November 28 to January 2. For more information, visit stanhywet.org. 

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Baby, it’s cold outside. That’s why we have this enormous fireplace. (Photo courtesy of Stan Hywet)

Take a tour of Stan Hywet Hall and Gardens, or simply leaf through promotional materials for the historic estate-turned-museum, and you’ll notice a phrase come up frequently. “Non nobis solum,” a Latin quote by Cicero meaning “not for us alone” is carved into the stone above the mansion’s front door. This quote, according to the non-profit organization that maintains the property, is evidence that its original owners, F. A. Seiberling, founder of the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, and his wife, Gertrude, always intended to share their 65,000 square-foot mansion and its 3,000 acre grounds with the public.

It’s worth noting that Stan Hywet Hall was only opened to the public in 1957, two years after the death of F.A. Seiberling, and more than 40 years after the estate was completed in 1915. Before then, the Seiberlings shared their home with their large family, business associates, friends, and visiting celebrities. Perhaps more likely, then, what they originally meant by the inscription was, “Not for us alone, but for our friends and family too!”

But who can blame them? It was their house, after all.

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How the other side dines. (Photo courtesy of Stan Hywet)

This is not to say that the Seiberlings were not philanthropists. By all accounts, they were. But when you visit Stan Hywet Hall and Gardens, feel free to set aside any Downton Abbey-esque notions of noblesse oblige. Touring the palatial manor house, the impression that emerges is less of the Seiberling’s generosity than of their good fortune. Theirs was a family that made it big, at a time when America, nestled comfortably between economic crises, was itself making it big.

Tour the house during Stan Hywet’s “Deck the Hall” celebration, and you’ll get a glimpse into the Seiberling’s charmed lives as they unfolded over the holidays: a cavernous music room, where family members would perform plays for one another (Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” was a yearly favorite); an enormous kitchen churning out Christmas sweets just steps away from a dining room that could, and often did, seat 60; a roaring, three-story fireplace; bedroom after bedroom studded with decorations.

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A mini-downtown Akron from way back. (Photo courtesy of Stan Hywet)

Once you’re done marveling at the lives of the bygone super-rich, you can enjoy the estate’s other holiday attractions. The courtyard by the Carriage House hosts a nightly Christmas tree lighting by Santa Claus, while the adjacent café and gift shop boasts an old-fashioned animated window display depicting a miniature Downtown Akron (complete with circling Goodyear blimp). The Corbin Conservatory, just north of the courtyard, houses a sea of red and gold poinsettias. Next to the Conservatory is a Gingerbread Land themed play area for the children, and an elaborate music and light show plays throughout the evening.

“Deck the Hall” is Christmas done big—fitting for a celebration that takes place in one of the largest houses in the country. This is how we would all celebrate the holidays, if we could afford to do it right.

Andrew Leask spends his spare time plucking ineptly at his electric guitar while his wife, Amy, and their two cats cover their ears.

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