Whalehead Revisited: Christmas in Corolla

By Beth P. Storie | Monday, September 29, 2014

It 's Christmas Eve of 1928, and all around the mansion preparations are under way for the many guests set to arrive by this afternoon's boat. The staff scurries throughout the house, each with their own task to accomplish. Marie-Louise and Edward Collings Knight, Jr., the owners of the mansion, which was christened Corolla Island at its completion just three years ago, have been here since before Thanksgiving and will stay until the hunting season ends in March, but Christmas is particularly special for them, and they are making sure everything will be perfect for their guests. This is the time of year when they can entertain, give gifts to guests, staff and Corolla villagers and make merry!

The day has dawned cold, and uncharacteristically but thrillingly, the ground is covered in snow! Against the brittle winter sky, chevrons of geese fly by honking their own holiday songs. Inside the house, the five fireplaces are blazing and the gramophone plays Deck the Halls. And, that's exactly what everyone is doing.

Above the doors, staff members hang fresh cedar bows cut from the abundant supply around the village. Their fragrance adds to the other holiday scents wafting throughout the house - gingerbread, plum puddings, fruitcakes, roasting duck, the sweet woodsy smell of logs turning to cinders and the room-filling scent of the giant Christmas tree. It, too, is being festooned with ribbons, tinsel and ornaments that reflect the sparkle of the electric holiday lights. No other structure in Corolla decorates with lights, since there's only electricity at the mansion. Tonight, when darkness falls, most people from the village will walk to Corolla Island just to glimpse the glow from the mansion - a new wonder that makes Christmas seem all the more magical to young and old alike, especially on this night when it reflects off the blanket of snow. Everywhere -- on table tops, on staircases, on mantles - poinsettias punctuate the interior with bursts of red and green. Over most doors, mistletoe, with its small white berries, invites all who pass below to embrace, and maybe even steal a kiss or two.

Christmas Tree at Whalehead in Corolla

By midday, the house is bedecked in holiday splendor and spirits are high (thanks, in some small part, to the bottles of fine wine procured from the cellar, despite the Prohibition that still attempts to regulate citizens' behavior...rather unsuccessfully). But, in truth, the spirit of Christmas is enough to make everyone at the mansion giddy. Guests are about to arrive! Sumptuous dinners will mark each evening. Hunting parties will bring home an ample bounty. Gifts are ready to be wrapped!

By late afternoon, as the sun is setting and an amber glow begins to wrap the house, the guests arrive in the Model Ts sent by the Knights. As the staff transports traveling cases to the bedrooms - a task made much easier with the elevator installed in the mansion - the house party begins. Guests

change from their traveling clothes into formal dinner wear - tuxedo, tie, vest and cummerbund for the men, women in lovely beaded dresses, stockings (to accent the shorter hemlines that are now so popular) and gorgeous jewels from Tiffany or Van Cleef and Arpels. Fine French Champagne is poured, and guests enjoy oysters, olives and peanuts as appetizers. The heat from the roaring fireplaces is quite a welcome thing after the cold and windy boat ride, and as everyone warms up and the bubbly flows, the night is off to a smashing start. Looking in from outside, through the many windows, you can imagine that the room might look like a magical snow globe scene.

Dinner is served, and what a dinner it is! A seafood chowder is first, followed by roasted goose, turkey and baked ham with stuffing and giblet gravy. String beans, potato puffs, creamed onions and Brussel sprouts add to the banquet. After, for dessert, the plum pudding and fruitcakes that have been scenting the house all day are served along with mincemeat pies and cakes.

Snow at Whalehead in Corolla

Though the bellies are full, the night is young! And, after all, it is Christmas Eve, so there is much celebrating to do. Guests convince Mrs. Knight to serenade them on her beautiful, one of a kind Steinway piano, and for the next hour voices join together to sing. Listen...

It came upon the midnight clear, that glorious song of old, from angels bending near the earth, to touch their harps of gold. "Peace on the earth, good will to men, from heaven's all gracious king." The world in solemn stillness lay, to hear the angels sing.

Song after song - Joy to the World, O Come All Ye Faithful, The Mistletoe Bough, Hail Hail Day of Days, God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen - and so many more fill the library with music, while glasses are filled with Brandies and Ports. Moods get merrier and merrier, and pretty soon couples are dancing to the accompaniment of the electric gramophone.

In come staff members with the gifts that the Knights have chosen for their guests! There's perfume and small porcelain sculptures for the women and quality Cuban cigars and cashmere scarves for the men. The Knights have gifts for their staff and the villagers too, but those will be distributed tomorrow - a task the generous couple gets great happiness from.

Interior Christmas Decorations at Whalehead

The huge grandfather clock begins to sound off the hours, and everyone realizes it's almost Christmas day. One by one, the couples retire to their bedrooms - all except the Knights. Standing on their porch, looking out over the expanse of lawn, the boathouse and the stalwart lighthouse, they stop for a moment to take it all in before the huge holiday celebrations begin anew in only a few hours. The snow makes it all seem even quieter, but the moon is lighting the scene like a celestial spotlight. And, from inside their mansion, perfectly timed...silent night, holy night. All is calm, all is bright.




Night of a Thousand Stars


The Night of a Thousand Stars Reading Challenge 2014 will kick off October 17 in Currituck County Schools and will culminate with the Grand Illumination of the Park and announcement of the results of the NOTS effort on the evening of December 5, 2014. This innovative program encourages kids to read with the promise that, for every book read, Whalehead will illuminate a light in Heritage Park and add the student's name to a Christmas tree representing their class in the basement of Whalehead. Last year, 28,000 lights sparkled to celebrate the 1.2 million pages read by more than 2,700 students, and 38 classroom trees lit up the mansion's basement! We can't wait to see what the numbers will be this year! Doesn't it bring joy to your heart that these well-read students will one day be the adults who carry on the traditions and work of Whalehead! For more information about the program, contact Ann Sensibaugh, Director of Education, at (252) 453-9040.

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(252) 453-9040

1100 Club Road | Corolla, NC 27927


About the Author Beth P. Storie
Beth Storie first came to the Outer Banks for the summer of 1976. She fell in love with the area and returned for good three years later. She and her husband published the national guidebook series, The Insiders' Guides, for more than 20 years and now are building OneBoat guides into another national brand. After spending time in many dozens of cities around the country, she absolutely believes that her hometown of Manteo is the best place on earth, especially when her two children, six cats and one dog are there too.