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Barker Mansion summer camp in Michigan City gives children a history lesson

Barker Mansion played host to a 1920s-themed party Saturday night. 

Michigan City’s Barker Mansion drew an array of guests Saturday evening for its first-ever Midsummer at the Mansion event.

The historic mansion hosted the 1920s themed party Saturday night. in the estate’s garden to celebrate its 160th anniversary with special cuisine, drinks and popular ‘20s backyard games.

The building dates back to 1857, when wealthy businessman and entrepreneur John Barker built the original family home. His son expanded the house to its current size in 1905, according to the mansion website. John Barker’s granddaughter, Catherine, later donated the mansion to Michigan City for its current use as a civic center.

Catherine’s Prohibition-era lifestyle, in which she made her own gin in the master bathroom’s bathtub, partly inspired the party’s theme, according to heritage interpreter Jackie Perkins, who planned the event.

“The 1920s was the party time and everyone knows it as the party time. So if you’re throwing a party at an old mansion, you [have to] go 1920s,” Perkins said.

The evening’s $50 admission included an entree of Chinese food — popular among the wealthy in that decade — and two drinks ranging from lemonade to beer and wine. Guests could also play games such as croquet and bocce and had access to a self-guided tour of the three-story mansion.

Money raised from the admission fee will go to future programming at the Barker Mansion, according to Perkins.

Midsummer at the Mansion served as a replacement for the Pink Tea event the mansion used to host, according to volunteer Anthony Holt, who helped Perkins plan the new event.

The Pink Tea was a summer tradition for mothers and daughters that ended in 2016 due to declining attendance, according to the mansion’s director, Jessica Rosier.

“The Pink Teas had been real popular for a long time and they had kind of run their course. And over the past probably five years we had seen dropping numbers,” Rosier said. “So since the numbers were dropping, we decided it was time to just try something different.”

For sisters Joyce Butler and Marlene Pierce, visiting the Barker Mansion has been a tradition since they first attended a Pink Tea 15 years ago.

“There’s always something you don’t see every time you come. You can’t take it all in in one visit or anything,” said Butler, from Portage.

While the pair said they’ve been to the mansion around a dozen times, they said they still love visiting and walking the tour.

“It’s just cheerful and relaxing and to be able to see how it used to be, you know, during that time, you know, how people had lived,” Pierce, of Griffith, said. “We don’t get tired enough of this place.”

Others such as Joan Wachowski, of Wanatah, who came with her daughter and had never visited before, had a positive first impression of the Barker Mansion at the midsummer event.

“Oh, it’s been amazing. The architecture, the rooms and the information that they give you about the background of the Barker family was just excellent,” Wachowski said.

Perkins said she hopes the Midsummer at the Mansion event can become a recurring tradition with a different theme each year.

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