World tour…right at home

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 12, 2007

MURFREESBORO – No pesky custom officers, aircraft restrictions nor passport requirements plagued this international tour.

Last Thursday and Friday, Murfreesboro transformed into a gateway to 13 different countries via the 22nd annual Candlelight Christmas Tour.

This year’s theme, “Christmas Around the World,” allowed tour-goers to munch on cheese quesadillas in Nicaragua, be greeted by a Scot donning a traditional kilt in Scotland and bask under a palm tree in Cuba, despite the chilly North Carolinian winter air.

Each of the 12 stops along the tour offered food indigenous to the country represented, Christmas traditions and the historical link to Murfreesboro. Tour programs presented more insight into the different cultures and recipes for conventional food.

Historical structures and museums in the town were also open to the pubic to explore.

Visitors began their international journey at the Roberts-Vaughan House (or Canada in this case).

Site Manager Catherine H. Jenkins of Murfreesboro and tour volunteers embellished the 1790 house in traditional Christmas Canadian d\u00E9cor, including Canadian geese and children’s shoes left by the fireplace for goodies (a common tradition reflected in several of the countries featured.)

For accuracy on Canadian Christmas traditions Jenkins looked to her daughter who works at the Canadian Consulate in Boston, Mass. and, of course, the Internet.

Murfreesboro’s first newspaper, The Hornet’s Nest, was started in 1812 by Minor Huntington, an ex-army officer and a native to Nova Scotia, Canada.

The Jefcoat Museum opened the first floor to visitors to look over the numerous items on display many which have ties to Germany, the country the site represented.

Jefcoat Director Brinson Paul said several of the furniture pieces on display were made in the Black Forest region in Germany. Music boxes featured in the museum played German Christmas songs.

As for a historical tie to the town, German Duke Karl Bernhard made a trip through Murfreesboro one year after General Lafayette’s famous visit. However, Bernhard didn’t find the area as welcoming as the French general, calling the local ferries “narrow and bad” and the local inn “mediocre.”

Chowan University presented Israel to tour-goers. Reflecting the Christian beliefs of the area and the religion’s relations to Israel, students were featured in a live nativity scene as a choral group sang on the porch of the Column’s Building.

Students also explained the history of Chowan University and told the story of “The Brown Lady” that reportedly haunts the campus.

Chowan junior Ashley Brooks of Roanoke Rapids has volunteered for the tour since she was a freshman. Brooks, a history major, said the best part of the tour is showing people history is fun.

“It was a blast,” she said about her participation in the tour.

Historic Christian churches were noted in the program, including the Meherrin Baptist Church, the second oldest Baptist congregation in the state.

Christmas in England was celebrated at the Murfree-Smith Law Office.

While living in Murfreesboro, English immigrant Charles Henry Foster owned and operated a newspaper.

Site Manager Brenda Watson of Severn said volunteers took a more English-American approach to the d\u00E9cor with a Colonial Williamsburg spin.

Watson said the tour is good for the town as it brings in people from the surrounding area.

“I don’t think a lot of people know what we have here,” she said.

Cuban culture greeted guests as they entered the Agriculture and Transportation Museum. Although Cubans have not been allowed to celebrate Christmas since 1969 under the dictatorship of Fidel Castro, volunteers infused Cuban culture into their site with tropical outfits and dresses and the Cuban flag displayed outside of the building with palm trees.

United States Army Physician and Major Walter Reed, who lived in Murfreesboro as a boy, traveled to Cuba to study Yellow Fever. His research helped to confirm Cuban Scientist Carlos Finlay’s theory that the disease is transmitted through mosquitoes, not through direct contact.

Latin American culture continued at the William Rea Museum where guests experienced Nicaragua. One of Murfreesboro’s well-known citizens, John Hill Wheeler, served as the United States Minster to Nicaragua for three years.

Ireland was represented at Evans Tinsmith Shop, where mistletoe adorned each corner. Mistletoe was a favored plant of the Druids and the Celts believed mistletoe held magical healing powers.

The founder of Murfreesboro, William Murfree, was reportedly of Irish descent.

Barbados was the featured country at the Winborne Country Store, where the culture was evident in Caribbean decorations, including traditional poinsettias.

In 1790, Murfreesboro was designated by Congress as an official port of entry and the customs indicate a profitable three cornered trade with New England and the West Indies, including Barbados.

Christmas in Scotland was celebrated at the Vincent-Deale Blacksmith Shop with volunteer Hugh Vincent wearing a Scottish kilt and a welcoming smile to boot.

Early town citizens Thomas Wood Borland and Patrick Brown where reportedly Scottish immigrants.

Denmark and the African country of Liberia were featured at the John Wheeler House property.

United States Ambassador to Denmark John P. Cain is married to Helen (Revelle) Cain, who was raised in Murfreesboro.

At the Wheeler House Slave Quarters, Liberian culture was shared through recipes, food and stories of slaves that lived on and around the property. Many of Murfreesboro’s African-American residents can trace their roots back to Liberia.

Weary visitors rested their feet in the good ole U.S.A. at the Murfree Center where they dined on turkey, ham, sweet potatoes, green beans and wine.

Then it was off to France, or the Hertford Academy, where tour-goers wrapped up their feast with home made cakes.

Site Manager Mary Lou Flowers said the tour is an effort by the whole community. More than 200 volunteers helped the Murfreesboro Historical Association to put on the tour.

“It really takes the whole community,” Flowers said.

For visitors to the tour the experience seemed more than they hoped for.

France’s connection to the town, of course, goes back to General Lafayette’s visit, which prompted a ball in his honor.

First time tour-goers Tammy and Larry Fowler of Newsomes, Va. said they enjoyed their tour through the historic district. Larry Fowler said he had made trips to Murfreesboro several times, but never knew about the historic district.

“There are a lot of things I didn’t realize were here,” he said.

The Fowlers said they plan to come back for the tour next year.