Frank Museum decked out in 1890s holiday decor

KEARNEY — April White, director of the Frank Museum of History and Culture, knows a great deal about how George Frank Sr. and his wife, Phoebe Frank, celebrated the holidays in the 1890s.

“We know that the Frank family regularly attended church, so it’s highly likely that they would have celebrated the holidays every year, as most families at that time did,” she said. “And being one of the wealthier families in Kearney, they would have had more extravagant decorations.”

Photo curtesy of the Frank Museum

To help patrons better understand that time of Kearney’s development, White has re-created the look and feel of an 1890s holiday with decorations at the family home, now the location of the Frank Museum of History and Culture located on West Campus of the University of Nebraska at Kearney.

Although the house currently is closed due to the COVID-19 shutdowns, White and her staff still want to convey the feeling of the holidays — from more than a century ago.

Photo curtesy of the Frank Museum

Patrons can see the decorations in photographs and videos at the museum’s Frank Museum of History and Culture Facebook page.

“We bought a brand-new artificial Christmas tree that is more 1890s-appropriate,” White said. “We’ll decorate it traditionally with popcorn strings, paper garlands, different fruits and a small collection of 1890s Christmas tree decorations as well as some 1890s candle clamps.”

The small clamps attached to the branches of a Christmas tree and held a candle.

Photo curtesy of the Frank Museum

“You would actually light the candles, which was obviously a fire hazard, but they only did it one night,” she said. “And that is the reason why we still put electric lights on Christmas trees today.’

The display at the Frank Museum also will feature more modern decorations, too.

“People will be able to stand in the Grand Hall and see a comparison between the two sets of decorations,” White said. ‘They can see how things have evolved and changed over the years, as well as seeing how some elements have carried on through the years.”

Photo curtesy of the Frank Museum

The displays also will include typical gifts from the 1890s.

“Books, board games and what was, at the time, considered exotic foods like oranges, will be included,” she said. “At that time, oranges were considered exotic because people might expect to get one orange a year, since the oranges had to travel so far to get to Nebraska.”

White hopes to use the holiday decorations as a way to tell the stories of Kearney’s early years surrounding the holidays.

Photo curtesy of the Frank Museum

“This becomes a vehicle to tell how traditions have changed over time and through history,” she said. “And that’s the entire point of our museum: To persevere history and make it relevant today.”

White also feels that the decorations at the Frank house will help people get into the holiday spirit.

“We want to do all this to let UNK and the Kearney community know that we are still thinking about them,” she said. “Even though we aren’t technically open, we want to put in the time and energy to put up the decorations as a kind of a thank-you gift to the Kearney community. We hope to be able to open soon.”


Photo curtesy of the Frank Museum