By CYNTHIA SCHUSTER EAKIN
Stan Hywet Hall and Gardens is all set to party like it is 1930 and you are invited.
The spring and summer season at the Manor House kicks off with a new exhibit themed, “Entertaining: You’re Invited,” exploring the notable events and social gatherings hosted by the Seiberling family from 1915 through the 1930s. Additionally, the exhibit focuses on the important role played by the domestic staff.
“The leadership team at Stan Hywet Hall works on a rolling five-year creative plan. Each year, we are reviewing the themes we select for the next four years and picking a theme for the fifth year. Entertaining has been a potential idea for a number of years now and it finally aligned so that we executed it in 2022,” Curator Julie Frey noted. “The Seiberlings were prolific entertainers, but what many people don’t realize is that the majority of their entertaining was philanthropic focused. They did not throw parties just to throw parties. They hosted fundraisers for other organizations, musicals to showcase local talent or support other arts organizations and lectures for educational purposes. The motto over the front entry of the Manor House, ‘Non Nobis Solum,’ or Not for Us Alone, was embodied by the way they used entertaining to further their philanthropic goals.”
“We also thought it was important to focus on the domestic staff side of the story,” she added. “The Seiberlings could have intended to throw all of the parties they wanted, but without the staff to set up and break down each event, cook and serve the food, help settle guests into their rooms and clean the spaces after guests left and events ended, none of it would have happened. We used this year’s theme as an opportunity to pull the domestic staff story into the main rooms of the house and show how these individuals interacted with the family and the public spaces.”
“I think there was more of a public aspect to the Seiberlings entertaining in their era. They were not solely inviting family and friends into their home. They constantly opened their home to the public, to people who most likely would have been strangers to them socially, but as I said, they saw their home as a community space and viewed the events they hosted through a lens,” Frey said. “I think there was a certain formality to hosting that we no longer have. For events that did involve a sit-down meal, there were multiple courses, and different types of serving dishes to ensure were on hand, borrowed or rented from someone or somewhere else. People dressed up more for parties and events back then. It was a chance to get out of your everyday clothes and acknowledge that coming to Stan Hywet Hall was a special occasion.”
“The collection department has been keeping track of every event held at Stan Hywet Hall between 1915 and 1955. We have used family letters and newspaper articles to populate a spreadsheet. There are over a thousand events that have been documented during this 40-year period,” she said. “We commonly use an example from the week of April 16, 1933 where the family hosted an Easter Egg hunt on Sunday for family, a tea and musical for 300 guests for the Fortnightly Music Club on Tuesday, a dinner party for family on Friday and then a bridge party fundraiser for 800 guests for the Tuesday Musical Club on Friday. All in the same week!”
“My favorite aspect of the exhibit is the domestic staff side of the story. During most of the Seiberlings’ lifetimes, the staff outnumbered the family as residents of the estate. We think of it as the Seiberlings’ home, but it was also the home to this large and diverse group of people who each had their own life story,” Frey noted. “We have been trying to dig more into who these individuals were, what they did at Stan Hywet Hall and where they went after leaving the estate. It is a more challenging group to research overall. Stan Hywet did have a number of staff that were first generation immigrants. The largest percentage were from England and Scotland, with others from Poland, Switzerland, Germany and Romania.”
“The exhibit highlights each staff position and what the duties were, both every day and during special events. We took photos of actual domestic staff who worked at Stan Hywet Hall, enlarged them to full size and have them staged in the rooms as if they are working or caught in the moment by our museum visitors. We have documented 243 domestic staff members who worked at Stan Hywet between 1915 and 1955. They filled all of the typical rolls, such as butler, head housekeeper, laundress, cook, chamber maid, house maid, house man and chauffeur. Then, there were a lot of outside positions, like gardeners, mechanics and groomsmen,” she said. “The size of the staff changed over time. When the family first moved in, there were 13 staff members living and working in the Manor House, plus outside staff. But, with the Great Depression and war years in the 1940s, the size shrank down until it was only four to six staff members. Gertrude would have been considered the manager of the staff, but would have relied on the head housekeeper or butler to do the day-to-day management. She did approve payroll and would have been involved in interviewing individuals for some of the key positions.”
“We are fortunate in that we probably know more than most historic house museums, so we have a lot to share with our visitors about this theme. We are also in the process of rewriting our most popular tour, the Nooks and Crannies tour, to better reflect this new research. That is a behind the scenes tour of the domestic staff spaces in the Manor House. You can take the Nooks tour now, but there will be a new script starting on June 1,” she added.
“We have also started something new this season where, in our hallway spaces, we have removed the ropes that created a defined tour route. There are still ropes that prohibit guests from walking entirely into the rooms, but once you are out in the hallways, you can choose in which order you view the rooms and walk around the house in any direction.A guest can curate their own experience,” Frey said. “The house feels much different without the ropes, more like the home the Seiberlings walked through when they lived there. We have received a lot of positive feedback from the public and think guests will enjoy this new experience.”
Stan Hywet Hall and Gardens is open for tours on Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., with the last admission at 4 p.m. Visit www.stanhywet.org. Stan Hywet, at 714 N. Portage Path in Akron, is the former residence of Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company co-founder F.A. Seiberling and his family. In 1957, Stan Hywet became a non-profit historic estate museum so that the public could benefit from the cultural, educational and inspirational riches of one of the most significant achievements in architecture and horticulture to come out of America’s Industrial Age.
Stan Hywet Hall opens with, “Entertaining: You’re Invited”
By CYNTHIA SCHUSTER EAKIN