December brings a host of activities, including traditions and new opportunities. Both the Flanagan House Museum and the Pettengill-Morron House Museum will celebrate the holiday season with annual candlelight tours on the first two weekends, starting December 2 to 4 and continuing December 9 to 11.

At Flanagan House, a mystery tour entitled “The Case of the Perfect Irish Christmas” will unfold, featuring costumed historical figures from the 1860s Flanagan household. Volunteers are filling 144 positions at Flanagan over the six days of candlelight tours. Dennis Wyckoff, a District 150 teacher and history enthusiast, will serve as the shanachie—the skilled Irish storyteller who introduces the Flanagan House mystery. The challenge to guests is to learn about and then recognize the various Irish Christmas traditions presented throughout the house.

“All Through the House,” the theme at Pettengill-Morron House, includes the scent of baking cookies and the sounds of Christmas carols, as well as the children nestled in beds for the turn-of-the century celebration. Abundant decorations at Pettengill-Morron include a collection of antique dolls and toys displayed by David Rogers and costumed children and adults in Christmas vignettes. Rogers also is sharing his decorating talents at Flanagan House. Both house museums will include gift shops this holiday season, with unique notecards, donated items, and special treasures.

At Pettingill-Morron House, Liz Dusenberry and Melissa Enyeart are co-chairing, along with House Manager DeAnn Ruggles. Members of the Peoria Garden Club are assisting with decorations. Gloria LaHood is coordinating at Flanagan, where the Peoria Herb Guild is decorating, and Carin Caras is arranging the gift shop.

Both houses are sponsoring “Fill the Sleigh”—collecting non-perishable foodstuffs at Flanagan for a local food pantry and wrapped gifts (labeled boy or girl) at Pettengill-Morron for hurricane victims.

The house museums will be open from 6 to 8 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays, and from 1 to 4 p.m., Sundays, for Candlelight. Admission is $5 for adults and $2 for students under 17.

On December 7, the Peoria Historical Society hosts a dinner featuring Dr. Randall Saxon, co-pastor of United Presbyterian Church, the 2005 Rennick Art Award winners, and a silent auction of some pieces of Murray Baker Bridge memorabilia. Several powerful sculptural works by Preston Jackson evoking his heritage of slavery also will be displayed.

Dr. Saxon, who’s particularly knowledgeable regarding the Civil War era, will focus on the economics of slavery for his talk on “Dollars and Sense.” While addressing the fiscal and physical expense of slavery before and during the Civil War, Dr. Saxon also will note the clashes of theology and biblical interpretation within and between religious groups.

As the instigator of the Lincoln statue project in Peoria, he’s particularly familiar with Lincoln’s 1854 Peoria speech that describes the history of slavery in America while drawing the line against its expansion. Dr. Saxon plans to include a variety of references to Peoria history in the context of larger issues such as the underground railroad and the opinions of abolitionists including Frederick Douglass, who visited Peoria before, during, and after the Civil War.

In addition to his ministry, Dr. Saxon also teaches philosophy at Illinois Central College and has been a popular lecturer at the Institute for Learning in Retirement for the past 11 years. He’s authored several books and recently presented a paper regarding Lincoln on slavery at a Springfield conference on Illinois history. During a pastorate in Gettysburg, he served as a battlefield guide and continues to lead tours to that area.

Dinner activities begin at 6:15 p.m., December 7, with a reception, followed by the meal at 7 p.m. at Peoria’s Hotel Pere Marquette. Tickets cost $65 and are available from the Historical Society office. AA!