The Historical Society of Carroll County (HSCC) has produced a video that salutes a poem written more than 130 years ago. The author, Louis Edwin Shriver of Union Mills, dedicated the verses to his nieces Winnie and Catherine Shriver. Louis dwelled in what we know today as the Union Mills Homestead and his nieces lived in another part of the house. The girls found the poem Christmas morning among their gifts and cherished it as a special letter from Santa Claus.
The poem is notable in reflecting the extent to which Santa Claus had become a part of local Christmas traditions by 1886. Maryland families like the Shrivers, descended from German immigrants, had for generations marked Christmas with the Belsnickel and Kris Kindle traditions. Belsnickel was a fearsome character who would make his rounds as a scout of sorts for Kris Kindle prior to Christmas to help compose the “naughty or nice” list. It was not until the early part of the nineteenth century that Santa Claus became popular in the U.S., emerging as a mixture of England’s Father Christmas and Holland, Belgium, and Switzerland’s Sinterklaas or St. Nicholas.
This video rendition of Louis Shriver’s poem is distinguished because members of the Shriver family, direct descendants of those who lived at Union Mills back in 1886, and members of the Union Mills community recite the verse. In this age of COVID-19 and social distancing, the cast recorded their segments individually with smart phones and provided the footage to the HSCC for editing. The effort was born of a review of local Christmas traditions found in the HSCC’s research files and produced with the assistance of the Union Mills Homestead Foundation, Inc.
Jay A. Graybeal uncovered the poem in 1995, and it was featured in an article for the Carroll County Times published on December 24 of that year. Graybeal was then director of the Historical Society.
“Christmas Eve 1886” is presented by: Helen Shriver Riley, former HSCC Board Chair and granddaughter of B.F. Shriver; Doug Klein, grandson of Winifred Shriver Klein, the Winnie to whom the poem is addressed; Jen Weidman Schoener, a great-granddaughter of Winifred Shriver Klein; Frank Shriver, grandson of B.F. Shriver; Mark Kennedy Shriver, son of R. Sargent Shriver, Jr.; Bill Jones, grandson of Jeanette Shriver Jones, one of the three other children mentioned in the poem; James M. Shriver, III, HSCC Board member and B.F. Shriver descendant; Jane S. Sewell, Homestead Foundation Executive Director; Sam Riley, Foundation Board President; Eve Klein, great granddaughter of Winifred Shriver Klein; and Jane Sharpe, Union Mills area resident and long-time Homestead Foundation Board Member.
Archival photos and period postcard illustrations are used to tell the engaging tale of Santa’s visit to Union Mills that suffers unforeseen complications when he encounters a barrel of cider and a steep, slate roof.