ESSEX — From the front yard of the Essex Museum on Sunday, two gleeful Christmas elves and Yukon Cornelius, the prospector from the television special “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” rang their bells greeting passersby and asking them to come inside to visit Santa. It was the inaugural Christmas in July event organized by the Heritage Society of Essex and Middle River, and, sure enough, on the other side of the museum door sat St. Nick in a Hawaiian shirt waiting to hear wishlists and take photos.
After the photo shoot, event attendees had the option to walk through the network of narrow hallways to see the display of artifacts in the museum and a diverse group of local vendors and suppliers eager to share their products. The museum had small gifts and coloring sheets for the children, and all sorts of historical items for adults to view, and vendors had samples and pamphlets strewn about the tables.
“For our first time doing this, I thought it went really well,” Heritage Society President Lisa Harlow said. “Santa was a draw for the kids, and we are always a family-friendly place to visit.”
In May this year, the museum reopened since it closed in 2019 for its yearly hiatus (December to April) and remained closed through 2020 due to COVID-19.
“It is nice to see the community back out and coming in to say ‘Hi’ and give us support,” Harlow said.
Following discussion among the Heritage Society’s board of trustees – which includes Santa for Hire Brian Marchetti, the museum has now shifted programming to open only once a month for special events, instead of every Saturday afternoon.
Harlow said that the board came to a consensus that the museum needed to change its practice, because it was not attracting a lot of visitors.
“Some weekends in here, it was like a ghost town,” she said. “We decided that if we did one event a month, we would likely get more people than if we opened every Saturday.”
For July, the board decided to hold a Christmas in July event, and invite vendors inside for the first time ever, several of whom are from the area. It held an event commemorating first responders in May and an event celebrating Flag Day in June.
“Single-day events have had more visitors than some months in past years when we were open every Saturday,” she said.
Now, thanks to social media and word of mouth, the board has been able to promote the museum’s programs more effectively. Harlow said that she has seen community members who have attended every event, and new attendees who have never visited the museum. Following an event, she also has more people asking when the museum is opening again.
On Aug. 14, the board plans to hold an event to watch the NFL preseason game between the New Orleans Saints and the Baltimore Ravens, and on Sept. 18, it will hold the 44th Annual Essex Day Festival.
“Everyone has been happy with the turnout so far,” she said, “and I hope it continues through the rest of the year.”