A Glowing Tradition: Mt. Tabor’s Paper Lanterns

by Michelle Munn, Mt. Tabor Historical Society
November 7, 2023

Britten Villa decorated with lanterns. Photo courtesy of Mt. Tabor Historical Society

Visitors to Mount Tabor’s Richardson History House often inquire with some curiosity about the lantern hanging in the parlor. They are perhaps surprised to learn that the 19th-century Methodist camp from which the community sprang was not only about lengthy sermons, but a place for lighthearted pomp and frivolity, too. Many cottagers were enthusiastic about decorating their houses for Children’s Day festivities and illumination nights each summer. In particular, inexpensive paper lanterns lit by candles were an exotic and fashionable decoration in camp meeting illumination festivities across the country, likely due to the emergent growth of such camp meetings coinciding with a significant increase in the popularity and ubiquity of goods from the Far East.

Wilson lantern on exhibit at Acorn Hall.

In 2013, Ann Wilson, whose family spent their summers at Mount Tabor for generations, found a box of paper lanterns that had been stored in her attic for perhaps over 75 years. These lanterns, compressed flat from years of storage and speckled with melted candle wax from long-ago illumination, were used in the family summer home, Britten Villa. Her family, the Brittens and Menaghs, were some of the earliest participants of the Mount Tabor Camp Meeting and maintained the summer residence from 1891 to 1961. Ann herself enjoyed the summers of her childhood in the ‘30s and ‘40s at their cottage on Morris Avenue.

Two of Ann Wilson’s lanterns, which she donated to the Mount Tabor Historical Society’s collection, were chosen for conservation at the Conservation Center for Art & Historic Artifacts in Philadelphia. One, a blue and beige lantern painted with a simple floral design, is on display through January 2024 at Acorn Hall as part of MCHS’s exhibit, “Morris County Through the Lens of Time: A Photographic Journey by Xiomaro,” to help share this unique aspect of the community’s history.

The tradition of adorning Mount Tabor cottages with decorations and lanterns like these has survived for over 150 years. To this day, residents still bedeck their porches and gables with all manner of ornament each Children’s Day. Thus, this fragile bit of paper ephemera continues into its third century, bringing a bit of exotic frippery to the already exuberant gingerbread ornamentation of Mount Tabor porches.

Photo courtesy of Mt. Tabor Historical Society