May 25, 2020

Play lights up with history at Wellington Farm

By Kristi Kates | Nov. 30, 2016

When you visit Wellington Farm in Grayling, you’ll find yourself smack dab back in the middle of the Great Depression, whether you’re old enough to have experienced it the first time or have only read about it in history books. And if you visit Wellington Farm during the winter holidays, you’ll be able to experience what a Great Depression Christmas was like at Wellington’s Farm by Lantern Light event.

Expanding upon the farm’s own story as a working farm set in the 1930s, Farm by Lantern Light’s new tradition has grown to become an immersive holiday experience that’s a must-see every year for families in Gaylord, Grayling and those visiting from elsewhere in northern Michigan.
“We started by just wanting to do something for Christmas, like a sleigh ride — but we wanted it to be bigger,” explained Howard Taylor, the farm’s general manager. “We thought we could light the pathways with barn lanterns and add some narration.”
Taylor actually did even more than just that; he wrote a play, “A Place Called Wellington” — set just before Christmas in the year 1932 — and that play has been the basis for the event ever since.
While Taylor won’t reveal too much of the play’s plot (“especially not the ending, which is the real surprise,” he said), he did say that the play aims to highlight the true meaning of Christmas, and that it’s based on a real-life event that took place in Wellington that deeply affected the people who lived there.
Farm by Lantern Light is a combination event in which guests experience a tour of a living history farm, several sleigh rides and immersion in a two-hour “progressive play” that takes visitors through five different buildings on the 60-acre farm, with each building hosting one 20-minute scene from the play as the story unfolds.
As the guests gather in Wellington Farm’s visitor center at the start of the event, a costumed actor arrives, inviting them to board the first sleigh that will take them into the heart of the farm, where the play begins. Dozens of authentic kerosene lanterns light the way, and everything from the buildings to the actors’ costumes are all set in the year 1932.
Also available to attend is a Depression-era church service (call for days/times), in which you’ll hear old-fashioned Christmas songs like “Joy to the World” and “Away in a Manger.
“It’s a pretty conventional Christmas Eve service, only because those kinds of church services haven’t changed much over the years,” said Taylor.
After the play concludes, guests are returned to the visitor center by sleigh, having experienced a new view of the holidays and the Great Depression through this visual, historical and conversational time warp.
“As stated in the show, ‘you may ask questions, but keep in mind these people have no knowledge of the last 84 years,’” Taylor said.
“If we refer to anything of the ‘current time,’ that time is 1932 — so if you hear any talk about ‘the election,’ that’s going to be about how Franklin Delano Roosevelt won by a landslide.”

Wellington Farm is located eight miles southwest of Grayling at 6940 Military Road. Farm by Lantern Light will be held Dec. 9-10 and 16-17, with seven shows/tours taking place each evening. The church service is only held on Dec. 18. Admission is $12.50 per person. Reservations are required and can be made by calling 989-348-5187 or emailing welfar32@gmail.com. For more information, visit wellingtonfarmpark.org.

Kristi Kates is a contributing editor and freelance writer.

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