- The Washington Times - Friday, December 20, 2002

Christmas is undergoing a renovation, with the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site celebrating the holidays as the famous abolitionist, author and statesman would have.

Kym Elder, the National Park Service's manager of the site, in Southeast, said she hopes children who visit Douglass' historic second home, known as Cedar Hill, during the holidays are reminded of simpler joys than video games, laser-disc movies and expensive gifts.

The park staff emphasizes Douglass' family life, and his love for his children and grandchildren, and replicates the ways he and his family decorated their home and celebrated Christmas.

"We hope people see Frederick Douglass in a different light, as a family man," said Ms. Elder, 35. "We look at him as a statesman, ambassador and author. But how many have thought of him as grandfather? I can imagine his eyes lighting up, thinking about what ornaments his grandchildren were going to bring."

A Christmas tree in the parlor is decorated with handmade Victorian ornaments, as it would have been in Douglass' day, when his grandchildren brought homemade ornaments each Christmas. Wreaths and greenery adorn the front porch and the windows of the house, where 90 percent of the artifacts are original.

"You won't see the big flashing lights," Ms. Elder said. In the late 19th century, she said, "we weren't doing Christmas at the level we do it today."

Schoolchildren who visit the house, which the Park Service opened to the public in 1972, are given an orange and a candy cane on their way out. Many of them, Ms. Elder said, are not impressed until she tells them the story of how, in Douglass' day, oranges were a delicacy.

"We take so many things for granted that meant so much," she said, adding that she keeps a basket of oranges at her home with her two sons, and each year has her sons make ornaments for their tree.

Working at Douglass' former home for 15 years "has affected the way I look at Christmas," she said.

Douglass is still affecting people 107 years after his death. He was born as a Talbot County, Md., slave in 1818, and educated himself and escaped to the North, where he devoted himself to abolishing slavery.

After about 35 years of human rights activism, he bought the 9-acre Cedar Hill estate in 1877 for $6,700 and moved there with his wife, Anna. While there, he served as the U.S. marshal of the District until 1881. He died in 1895, at age 77.

The Park Service will conduct candlelight tours of the home, including storytelling and caroling, Thursday and Friday.

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