ONE YEAR AFTER HURRICANE IKE, GALVESTON HISTORICAL FOUNDATION ANNOUNCES PLANS FOR RETURN OF FULL-SCALE VICTORIAN HOLIDAY FESTIVAL, DICKENS ON THE STRAND
Galveston Historical Foundation (GHF) will hold its annual Dickens on The Strand Victorian Holiday Festival on the first weekend of December this year, as it has for 36 years. The festival will take place in Galveston's historic downtown on Saturday, December 5 and Sunday, December 6.
Last December, only three months after Hurricane Ike, much of the downtown Strand Historic Landmark District was still vacant and gutted as a result of flooding by a 10-to-13-foot storm surge. But Galvestonians interrupted the work of rebuilding their historic island city to join GHF in the first large-scale public event held in Galveston after the devastating storm. For islanders and visitors alike, the festival, themed with Galveston's Victorian past, last year served to affirm their faith in the city's future. Islanders, fearing tourists might never return, breathed a sigh of relief as crowds dressed in Victorian finery thronged to the island city to celebrate Galveston's first steps toward revival after the hurricane.
This year's Dickens on The Strand will be a celebration of what has been accomplished after a long year of rebuilding.
The festival, held from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday, has been named one of the top 10 events in the state of Texas by Texas Highways Magazine and one of the top 100 events in North America by the American Bus Association. Special events in conjunction with the downtown festival will be held December 4, 5 and 6 in historic sites throughout the island.
This year, with the recent reopening of the historic Tremont Hotel on Ship's Mechanic Row, as well as the return of nearly all Galveston's downtown commercial establishments, the festival gates will include both Strand and Mechanic streets, making for 10 blocks of Victorian pomp and circumstance. Costumed entertainers and visitors, hundreds of volunteers, vendors, craftspeople and musicians will fill those 10 blocks with color and cheer, with three parades led by "Queen Victoria" and her entourage.
Dickens on The Strand originated in 1973 as an evening potluck celebration of Galveston's historic downtown, including re-enactments from Charles Dickens' novel "A Christmas Carol." The purpose of the event was to bring people back into a 19th-century downtown that had been neglected for decades so they could see first-hand restoration efforts and participate in a celebration focused on Galveston's Victorian heritage. In those early days, the festival was held at night, and the empty commercial buildings were lit with lanterns.
"In the beginning with Dickens, the whole point was to bring attention to the architecture of downtown," says Clay Wade, director of events for Galveston Historical Foundation.
Downtown Galveston has one of the largest collections of restored 19th-century iron-front commercial buildings in the country. In the years since the first Dickens on the Strand in 1973, these buildings had been largely restored, and by 2007, The Strand had become the focal point of a thriving heritage tourism industry.
In 2009, Galveston's cast iron architecture is again threatened, this time by corrosive rust that was exacerbated by Hurricane Ike's toxic, salty flood waters. The downtown was added to the National Trust for Historic Preservation's 2009 list of America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places. The Dickens festival, as it has in years past, will offer visitors the opportunity to contribute to the downtown's restoration.
Even as new visitors have joined the revelers at Dickens during each of its 36 years, many people have returned year after year, making the festival an indispensable part of their holiday observances.
"This year, more than ever, we're depending upon them to come back to Galveston," Wade said.
A number of new features have been planned for this year, including Victorian bed races and an exhibit from the Charles Dickens Museum in London. Henry Dickens Hawksley, a member of the museum's board of directors and Charles Dickens' great-great grandson, will accompany the collection to Galveston.
Pickwick's Lantern Parade will return in 2009. All 400 of the kerosene lanterns used for the parade were lost to the floodwaters of Ike and last year's parade had to be cancelled. GHF is currently soliciting donations to cover the cost of their replacement in time for the 2009 event.
Separately ticketed Dickens special events, held outside the gates of the downtown festival, begin December 4. Held in historic properties throughout the island they include:
Victorian Hand Bell Concerts at the 1859 St. Joseph's Church Museum;
A Dickens Feast at the 1880 Garten Verein;
English Country Breakfasts at the 1859 Ashton Villa;
Christmas at the Oaks Tour of Galveston's oldest residence, the 1838 Michel Menard House;
Dickens of a Tour of 1892 Bishop's Palace, basement to attic tour of Galveston's grandest mansion;
Restoration in Progress Tour of 1859 Hurricane-Damaged Ashton Villa, the oldest mansion on Broadway.
Dickens on The Strand is the principal annual fund-raising event of GHF, which is the steward of numerous historic properties on the island and provides an array of services to residents. Through its innovative Preservation and Conservation Services Department [PCS], GHF seeks to preserve thousands of Galveston's historic buildings. Much of this work occurs through the revitalization and stabilization of older neighborhoods, helping to make them safe and attractive places in which to invest, live, and retire. GHF staff and volunteers carry out this mission through a variety of programs.
Tickets and complete information about Dickens on The Strand are available at www.dickensonthestrand.org. For more information about Galveston Historical Foundation, visit www.galvestonhistory.org.