ALBIA — Women walked around in crinolines and petticoats. Men wore morning suits and top hats. Carolers sang in front of shops, and a horse-drawn carriage traveled around the town square.
Welcome to Albia in 2019.
The Albia Victorian stroll has been a tradition since 1989. The stroll celebrates the town’s history and kicks off the holiday season.
Catherine Burkman, head of the Albia Victorian Stroll Committee, described planning and drawing in crowds as a full-time job. After the stroll ended, she began planning for next year’s stroll. “[The stroll] brings tourists to Albia and appreciate what we have here and our resources,” she said.
Tonia Benson was a Victorian woman. She said Burkman and others on the committee did an excellent job in pinning down the exact resources.
“They do a really great job and work hard to put it together,” she said. “They have sure all the bases are covered. They have lights that go outside, they match each other and they think about every single detail like making sure every shop owner and worker inside has clothes.”
Putting on the stroll did require volunteers to get into character, but it also required making sure the settings matched the Victorian-era lifestyle. Many of the ideas, Burkman said, came from other towns, books, TV shows, etc.
“I’m always looking everywhere I travel,” she said. “It’s the thought process of what someone would enjoy looking at.”
What did catch attendees’ eyes were the live windows. One could walk around the entire square and see all 40 displays of women having high tea, men working, women mending or dining, spinning wheels, art and music, etc.
Marsha “Marti” Willetts participated on and off again for 30 years, helping create the reactions. People participating in the live windows faced a unique factor.
“What’s interesting with the windows is that a lot of people don’t realize that you can’t hear them,” she said with a laugh, “but they can hear everything that’s being said in there.”
Willetts switched her roles; sometimes she acted in the window displays and other times called for a different purpose. She pointed at her daughter and two granddaughters who were in a display. The daughter was mending, while the youngest granddaughter played with her black kitten and the older granddaughter sewed.
“You have three generations of Victorian strollers,” she said with a wide grin.
Willets herself felt she was transported back in time.
“I suppose I’ve always had a fantasy of being a time traveler,” she said. “For one night we turn back the times to not only the Victorian times, but also the small town that it was Saturday and people would come in and say, ‘Oh, I haven’t seen you for so long’ and people would come back. It gets away from a lot of the commercialism of Christmas, and it’s community coming together.”
Like Willets, Burkman loved the reactions and community. She adored the sight and sound of children. Earlier in the day she recalled a little toddler laying down on the bridge and watching the trains and falling asleep.
“He was so relaxed,” Burkman said with a smile. “He was having fun. I love to involve children and families. It’s the love of the town. I was born and raised here, I love the town, I love to show it off — it’s beautiful.”
Willets said the evening stroll from 6-8 p.m. was the icing on the cake. Burkman seemed to agree as she watched attendees enjoy the rest of the Victorian Christmas.
“It’s just special,” she said with a smile. “You don’t see this in a lot of little rural towns. They come together to make the best it can be.
“It’s that step back in time to enjoy each other,” she added, “relax a little bit in that old-fashioned friendly town, not ‘shopping run here, run there.’ Just take a breath, relax, take a step back in time and appreciate what we have today.”