Victorian Christmas at the Vaile mansion

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They’ve spruced every pine, and they decked every hall. Colored lights and candles adorn every wall. The ghosts are all festive, so there’s no need for fright. It’s a Vaille Mansion Christmas at the Globetrotting Grandpa tonight!!

The Vaille Mansion is a Victorian-era mansion in Independence, Missouri. The estate is open year round, but during the Christmas Season, the home is decorated for the holidays. This year’s theme is “A Victorian Romance”.  Come with us as we explore this Christmas gem and learn about the mansion’s bittersweet history. 

 

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The home was built in 1881 by Colonel Harvey Vaile. Vaile was a successful attorney and owned a company that moved mail and freight throughout the western half of the US. The House initially sat on 55 acres and had a large lake in the back. The mansion has three floors, 31 rooms, and nine fireplaces. All the bricks in the home were crafted directly on site, and all the wood, marble and glass were imported from Europe.
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Harvey Vaille, the designer, builder, and first resident of the Vaile Mansion.
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The mansion was a gift for Vaill’s wife Sophia.  Sadly her time in the mansion was brief.

Harvey and Sophia Vaile, the original owners and builders of the mansion. Harvey was a successful abolitionist lawyer. His close association to the Lincoln administration enabled Mr. Vaile to access the freight lines heading out to the western half of the country. The mansion was a gift to his wife. The house cost over $150,000 (3.5 million in today’s money) to build. No expense was spared the house even had hot and cold running water(very rare at the time) and imported furnishings. Unfortunately, the Vaile’s time in their new home was short-lived. In the early 1880s, Harvey Vaile was implicated in a case of mail fraud and spent nearly two years in Washington D.C. In February 1883 while her husband was away, Sophia died in the mansion of an overdose on morphine. No one is exactly sure if her death was an accident or suicide.  What is known is that she was distraught over the prospect of her husband’s possible conviction and some accounts say she was suffering from stomach cancer at the time of her death. Sophia Vaile’s fear was unfounded as her husband would be acquitted on all charges later that year.

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Every room of the mansion’s first two floors was arrayed with Holly, wreaths and decorated trees each with different colors. 

Harvey Vaile returned to his home after the trail but reports are he was never the same and became a bit of a recluse. He would continue to occupy the home until his death in 1895. Since the Vaile’s had no children the house and all the property were contested by his nieces and nephews in a protracted legal battle that would last for five years. Even after succeeding in court the family was unable to pay the court costs so the house and property were all sold off in an auction.

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The house has nine coal burning fireplaces. Each was mantled in Italian Marble.  The mantles each had different holiday themes.

Since none of the extended family could afford the legal fees of a contracted legal fight the property was acquired by their lawyer Carey May Carroll who converted the home into a psychiatric hospital. There has been a persistent rumor that patients whose mental conditions were the most profound were kept in cages in the basement. There were a lot of rumors about this place especially during the time it was a sanitarium. The house would later be converted to a nursing home.

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The Vailes and every other owner of the mansion were childless. Shame really, especially at Christmastime.  With all the decorations the house was magical. 

The mansion would change hands many times and eventually was abandoned and slated for demolition a local family purchased the home for just $60,000 but spent a great deal more than that trying to restore the home.  Eventually, the city of Independence would acquire the estate in 1983 and the home has been restored. Since none of the original furnishings remain all the furniture of the house has been donated but is of the period when the Vailes lived there.

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This is a memory tree. In Victorian times, family members would attach pictures to the Christmas tree of friends and family members who have passed. 

At the time of its opening, the Vaile mansion was considered one of the finest homes in the entire country. Whenever any dignitary would stop by Independence or Kansas City they were sure to make an appearance at the home. The house has three floors, only the first two are open on the tour. The third floor was a planned ballroom and billiard parlor. Sadly, the Vailes never was able to finish furnishing the floor. After Mrs. Vaile’s death, Harvey Vaile lost interest in any additions. The floor was used during the mansions days as a psychiatric hospital and nursing home. I was told the third floor is just used for storage now.

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A Christmas caroller theme on one of the many fireplaces of the mansion. 
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This electric snowglobe was fascinating. I could stare at it for hours, and probably would if I owned one. 

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Each room had a wreath on the door. To get all the decorations up and set takes almost a month. The mansion shuts down for most of November to decorate. A local Boy Scout troop helps out.

 The music room has an antique phonograph that had to be wound up by hand. But there was also a piano, organ, and violin when you got tired of having to work the record player. Below are some random shots from the tour.
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The Vaile Mansion in Independence, Missouri is open from 10-4 now through December 30th. (Although will be closed December 23-25) Admission is Six Dollars. The Mansion is worth visiting any time of the year but is especially lovely during the holidays. 

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