A Magical Island Kingdom ™
Dickens on The Strand
This event saved historic downtown Galveston!!
HistoryBy the early 1970s, historic downtown Galveston had fallen into such a state of decay and dis-repair that it was on the verge of being totally lost! The shadow of the wrecking ball loomed over those grand 19th-Century buildings! The Galveston Historical Foundation began looking for a way to save the heart and soul of the City. In December 1974, they decided to try hosting an "Old English Christmas and Hanukkah Party", on The Strand, as a one night celebration of the historic business district, and to raise funds for its preservation.
The next year, the event became "Dickens' Evening on The Strand". In 1983, the festival was expanded to a two-day event, and by 1984 it was officially re-named "Dickens on The Strand". The festival is always held during the first full weekend in December.
From the beginning, this festival was meant to attract attention to, and investment in historic downtown Galveston, one of the country's most significant collections of 19th-Century commercial buildings. If visitors could experience a 19th-Century festival, staged on The Strand, then maybe they could also see the potential of the area for everyday business.
The first few years, the festival was only held at night, so that it could be lit by kerosene lanterns to give it an authentic 19th-Century look, and to hide the poor condition of the buildings. Vendors were set up inside the vacant buildings, to make it appear as though The Strand was back in business.
In later years, as the area was restored, the vendors had to move out onto the streets, as fewer and fewer buildings remained empty. At that point, the festival could also begin in the day time since daylight no longer revealed a state of decay that promoters wished to hide!
It worked! Dickens saved The Strand! Today, this event is still a picturesque way to imagine what downtown Galveston was like at its zenith, and to showcase what it has become after a tremendous preservation and restoration effort! The money raised during this event continues to be the Galveston Historical Foundation's primary source of funds for its on-going preservation activities!
At the beginning of the week of the festival, the Union Jack will be found flying over The Island, in honor of Her Majesty Queen Victoria's arrival on the weekend. She and her husband, Prince Albert, will visit Galveston to celebrate a 19th-Century Christmas. The Queen and the Prince needed a city with a downtown district, from the Victorian Age, to stage this event, and what better place than Galveston?
Today's version of "Dickens on The Strand" is made possible by fencing off ten square blocks of downtown Galveston, between Harborside and Ship's Mechanics Row, and from 20th to 25th Street. Entry is gained by the purchase of a ticket, or by arriving in a Victorian-era costume. It is estimated that about ten percent of the 50,000-60,000 visitors come in period dress.
Once inside the fence, The Strand comes to life as a bustling 19th-Century cityscape as thousands of visitors, dressed in period costume, mingle with the vendors and performers, who are also in Victorian-era garb. The whole scene brings Charles Dickens' London, at Christmas time, to The Island; complete with Scrooge, Marley, the Ghosts and other characters that he created.
In the afternoon, The Queen leads a Victorian-Christmas parade through the streets. She rides in her horse-drawn carriage, escorted by an eclectic group of people including: a colorful guard of London Bobbies and Beefeaters, costumed characters of all types, Victorian-attired ladies and gentleman, both on foot, and riding horseback and in carriages, bagpipe bands, and a drum and bugle corps or two.
To supplement the Bobbies and Beefeaters, The Texas Brigade, the local contingent of Confederate Cavalry and Infantry, are there to protect the Queen, and all those assembled, from any Yankees who might try to invade this island sanctuary.
When the parade is over, many participants begin to perform on the streets and sidewalks for the thousands of people who come to The Strand, to celebrate the season in the Victorian style, throughout the weekend. Some bagpipers will start playing, both traditional tunes, as well as Rock favorites like InAGoddaDavida!
Later, The Texas Brigade, also fires their guns for the crowd! The sound of gun fire, as it echoes off the buildings, and the smell of black powder smoke, re-creates another scene from that bygone time. When the firing demonstration is over, the Brigade band plays "The Yellow Rose of Texas"; and, of course, "Dixie"!!! You have to Love those guys!
After sun down, many of those dressed in period costumes assemble themselves into "Pickwick's Lantern-Light Parade", where they carry gas lights, lanterns and candles to create a soft glow of light, as they move through the streets. There are holiday melodies from carolers, and bagpipe bands, and more participants in horse-drawn wagons and carriages.
The Dickens celebration also spills over to the pier where the 1877 Tall Ship Elissa is docked. This area is transformed into the West India Dock, and it tells the history of Great Britain's domination of the seas during the Queen's rein.
In addition to the main activities at the festival, there are special events within the event such as a Knighting Ceremony, a Costume Contest, Victorian Weddings, and Children's Activities, for those who choose to participate.
The Galveston Historical Foundation also stages other Dickens-related Christmas events away from The Strand in its properties at the 1880 Garten Verein, the 1838 Menard House, the 1839 Samuel May Williams House, the 1860 St. Joseph Church, and at the 1859 Ashton Villa. For details.
Food and drink is readily available from the street vendors as well as the restaurants and bars in downtown Galveston. Other vendors offer a wide variety of art work and crafts to supplement what is for sale in the shops on The Strand.
A Special Visitor
For the last few years, "The Delta Queen", paddle wheel boat, has come all the way from New Orleans to allow her passengers to enjoy "Dickens on The Strand", here in Galveston! She ties up at Pier 21, right near The Elissa, which gives visitors, to the event, the opportunity to see an authentic paddle wheel boat up close!
The Dickens celebration is not just confined to the downtown area, and should not end without a stroll through Galveston's historic residential neighborhoods. When seen after dark the decorations are spectacular!
01 and 02 December 2007
Dickens on The Strand