Find the Spirit of the Holidays

The story behind the 2017 Lantern Light Tour “The Spirit of the Holiday: A Christmas Ghost Story.”

There has been a tradition of telling Christmas ghost stories for hundreds of years, and the Victorians were particularly good at it. Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol” – published in 1843 – was not only the most successful book of that holiday season, but it is a perennial favorite and has been made into multiple film and television versions.

So when the planners of Lantern Light Tours at Mystic Seaport sat down earlier this year to determine the story for this year’s production, talk of ghosts quickly arose. In addition to being fans of Dickens, many in this crew love Tim Burton’s “The Nightmare Before Christmas” as well. “We thought it would be fun to Victorian-ize ‘Nightmare Before Christmas’,” said Denise Kegler, the program manager for Lantern Light Tours. And so Lantern Light Tours: “The Spirit of the Holiday: A Christmas Ghost Story” was born.

Written by Rebecca Bayreuther Donohue, a local historian, author, and Mystic Seaport staff member, this beloved Museum tradition runs weekends through December 23. And while there is a ghostly element, Kegler says, “It’s warm-hearted and cheerful, with a touch of ghost.”

There are five scenes in the production, which take place across the Museum’s 19 acres. Because of the popularity of Lantern Light Tours, there are two schedules that run concurrently, a red tour and a green tour. Each tour follows the same story, but takes place at different locations across the grounds. A cast of about 60 makes up the two tours.

The opening scene includes both tours, however, as it involves the Victorian athletic competition of Pedestrianism. This is a sport that came into vogue after the Civil War, Kegler explains, and it’s basically speed walking in garish outfits. The two competitors in this particular race, which happens in the Greenmanville Church, are real: Edward Payson and Dan O’Leary. Because this race is happening in 1876, the nation’s centennial, expect very patriotic costuming.

The storyline is based on this race – it is a charity event to raise money for destitute sailors. As the play progresses from location to location, a mystery unfolds and visitors’ sleuthing skills are put to the test! As they go, each group meets a pair of eccentric sisters, some traveling spiritualists, and a mysterious sailor who looks a lot like a jolly old fellow from the North Pole.

The message is true to 38 years of Lantern Light Tours, Kegler said. “The true Christmas spirit is always found in human kindness and being good to one another.”

Lantern Light Tours runs weekends through December 23. Click here for more information and to buy tickets.