Up on the Rooftops

The holidays were a special time to be growing up at Meadow Brook – for the children and later the grandchildren of Matilda and Alfred. Read below to hear more stories of holidays past.

Santa’s Red Light

It’s the sound every child listens for, waiting at night in their beds. The sound of reindeer on the roof and the ringing bells of Santa’s sleigh. Softly he lands and quietly he slides down the chimney. But what if your house has 39 chimneys? How will Santa know which one to come down?

This was the question asked Matilda Dodge Wilson by her little granddaughter Rikki one holiday season. They were hanging their stockings by the mantle and she was worried that he wouldn’t be able to find the right fireplace to bring the toys, presents, and treats. And Matilda laughed, and replied, “We always shine a red light on the right chimney to guide Santa in.”

To honor this tradition of magic, hope and childhood dreaming, Meadow Brook Hall has brought this historic story to life during the Holidays at Meadow Brook. Look up to the rooftops to see the light as it may have looked in the 1950s.

The Most Wonderful Time of Year

Sleigh ride at Meadow Brook HallIn later years, Frances, wearing a long red velvet cape, took on the role of delivering presents on Christmas morning, and the family placed them under the tree together.

Richard and Barbara gleefully remembered one year when Frances brought a horse through the front door and into the living room as a present for their mother—a joke they swore only Frances could get away with.

A home video shows Alfred, Matilda, Richard and Barbara sitting together on the floor in front of a lit tree, having just finished setting up Richard’s new electric train set. His most memorable gift was his first two-wheeled bicycle. Because of the snow that year, his parents let him ride it inside The Hall!

Joy to the World

Matilda Dodge Wilson cared deeply about helping others during the holidays and all year long. She picked out clothes and presents herself for the children at Denby House, a home for children and unwed mothers in Detroit.

Every Christmas Eve, the Dodge-Wilson family visited Denby House, a home for children and unwed mothers in Detroit.

After watching the children perform a play, Matilda and her family distributed 60-80 handwrapped gifts and shared cookies and milk. Matilda was said to know each child individually and she spent weeks personally picking out a new outfit and toys for each child.

The Salvation Army named her Volunteer of the Year for her tendency to show up on Christmas during the Depression with food from Meadow Brook Farms, roll up her sleeves and help cook a healthy breakfast.