An extended family of snowmen and women has taken up residence at Akron's beloved Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens.

They brought along a forest full of woodland critters that would have been unthinkable to be inside the stately estate that the founding family of Goodyear Tire once called home.

But this is the holiday season and it is all part of the fun at Deck the Hall, where miles and miles of garland stretch as far as the eyes can see — if you are not blinded by the 1 million lights that have been put up inside and outside the Manor House.

This year's decorating theme is Winter Wonderland.

The real wonder is how they transform the historically accurate Seiberling home into a holiday showplace with decorations from floor to ceiling in just two days.

It is all hands on deck, with staff and an army of volunteers working like Santa's elves on Christmas Eve to get it ready to open to the public the day after Thanksgiving.

The well-orchestrated chaos actually begins in January, when the last decorations are tucked away into numbered tubs in the estate's upper floor and a trailer that's used to store larger decorations like giant reindeer, and planning starts anew for next year's event.

Collections Manager Kim Sorboro said the planning stretches even further back than that, as each year's theme is set five years out.

But with some 18 rooms covering 20,000 to 30,000 square feet in the home to bedazzle, Sorboro said, a lot of attention has to be paid to detail, down to which historic items from the family's personal collection can be incorporated into each year's display.

 

Skis and skates

An example can be found this year in the second floor's Blue Bedroom, where antique skis are in a closet and a young girl in skates is gliding away on the floor. The mannequin is wearing a vintage winter outfit that belonged to one of the grandchildren of F.A. and Gertrude Seiberling.

Some of the decorations this year are just plain silly fun, like the lounging Santa found just outside the Blue Bedroom's door, the jolly ol' man resting in a beach chair with his feet cooling off in a small pool.

On the opposite end of the hallway, inside the Master Bedroom, is a handsomely decorated Christmas tree with unwrapped presents and festive paper on the floor.

With the room's theme, the "Morning After," a woman is asleep on the couch, exhausted from the festivities of Christmas the day before.

Christmas goes to the extreme in the expansive Music Room. With a nod to the beloved Disney favorite "Frozen," Elsa is there by a large Christmas tree with her dress flowing in the breeze.

There's even a giant igloo that glows from inside. The large ice-like structure had to be constructed inside the home because it is way too big to fit through any of the doors.

Chloe Wingard, a collections assistant, got the inspiration for the igloo on Pinterest.

The perspiration came over the past few months, collecting and cleaning some 500 milk jugs. It took about 10 hours and a hot glue gun and a couple burned fingers to put it all together.

"The spirit of Christmas is holding it together," she said with a giggle.

The theme for each year's decorating is not random, explains Julie Frey, the estate's collection manager. The focus of programming in 2018 was health and wellness, so there are nods to this throughout the estate.

The family's love of winter sports is evident in an elaborate train display in the Reception Room — the first room guests at Deck the Hall will encounter on the self-guided tour.

It re-creates the family's beloved Cedar Lodge where they retreated for some well-deserved rest and relaxation. The small island in Michigan's Upper Peninsula is still owned by the Seiberling family.

An old-school Lionel train chugs around an ice-covered lake with skaters creating an idyllic winter scene.

Ice skating may be healthy, but volunteer Charles Steiner concedes the ice the miniature figures are gliding on is not.

It is actually 60 pounds of melted sugar with some corn syrup mixed in. "It's really candy glass," Steiner said.

 

Dazzling lights

The fun begins each night with a tree lighting by Santa in the Courtyard at 5:30 p.m. The bulk of the lights are outside. Guests can watch Dazzle, a light show synchronized to music, wander through Gingerbread Land or warm up in the Corbin Conservatory that is home to a 20-foot-tall poinsettia tree.

There is a large outdoor fireplace outside the visitor center to nosh on warm gingerbread cookies or sip some hot chocolate.

Donna Spiegler, Stan Hywet's communications manager, said they are thrilled to be just one of three recommended local stops included on TourismOhio's Holiday Lights Trail. The other two are the Akron Children’s Hospital Holiday Tree Festival and Christmas in Peninsula.

"We are in some pretty good company," she said.

Depending on the weather, Sean Joyce, Stan Hywet's president and executive director, said as many as 35,000 guests are expected to visit during the six-week run of Deck the Hall.

Folks like some snow to get into the holiday spirit, but bitterly cold temperatures like last year's between Christmas and New Year's can scare off visitors.

The event has become so popular with bus companies, Joyce said, they have had to limit the number on some particularly busy nights to ensure lines do not get too long.

"It just seems to get better and better every year," he said. "This is becoming an annual tradition for a lot of families."

 

Craig Webb can be reached at cwebb@thebeaconjournal.com or 330-996-3547.