By John Lauritsen

DULUTH, Minn. (WCCO) — USA Today is calling it one of the 10 best holiday home tours in the country — right up there with Graceland and the Hearst Castle.

And that’s exactly what the folks at the Glensheen Mansion want to hear.

But things are changing at this historic site.

For the holidays, it’s still a classy Christmas display inside, but outside it’s downright tacky — and that’s the point.

In this week’s Finding Minnesota, John Lauritsen went to Duluth for a different kind of Glensheen visit.

“Absolutely gorgeous. Unbelievable. It really makes it Christmas,” said visitor April Deelstra.

It takes a small village to decorate 39 rooms for the holidays, and if you’re keeping score, that’s 27,000 square feet, 25 Christmas trees and 25 hidden elves
throughout the mansion.

Dan Hartman, director of Glensheen, says decorating the mansion is a lost more stressful than decorating his own house.

“We are closed the week prior to this because it takes a full week of staff, 10 staff to 20 a day, to put all this stuff up,” he said.

But the most wonderful time of year has also become one of the most popular at Glensheen.

“The Christmas tree in the library is extra special because it has the Congdon family’s original Christmas ornaments on it,” said Jane Pederson, Glensheen’s marketing manager.

Original ornaments, the Congdon family piano from 1909 and new places to roam have all been a big hit.

The holiday attraction indoors is now being celebrated outdoors as well. It’s where classy meets tacky.

“You will actually find a unicorn on this display as well somewhere. So at the beginning of the tour we always say, ‘Look for the sharks, the unicorn and the spaceship,'” Hartman said.

The folks at Glensheen are trying a new approach by breaking down the “house museum” stereotype to get more people to feel welcome. A parade of snowmen, elves and sharks, as well as Christmas Mardi Gras and a yard sale are now scattered across the former backyard of Chester and Clara Congdon.

“Purposefully tacky works well for out here. Playing around in the snow,” said visitor Robert Butler.

But at night, it all comes together. A transformation that illuminates the 110-year-old home and property. It’s a pretty site that puts an emphasis on both holidays and history.

“For me, it’s the greatest juxtaposition you can think of. The tacky, inflatable snowmen with the classy Glensheen backdrop,” said Dan.

John Lauritsen