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If you’ve been missing Lady Mary and the Dowager Countess—or, more pointedly, Carson, Mrs. Hughes, and the rest of the “downstairs crowd”— ever since Downton Abbey aired its last episode earlier this year, keep a stiff upper lip: Meadow Brook Hall will be hosting a series of events throughout February, calling the program Downton Days.

This is the popular program’s third year, and Rochester’s opulent Meadow Brook Hall—the historic former home of Matilda Dodge Wilson, widow of automotive pioneer John Dodge, and her second husband Alfred Wilson—seems as close to a British countryside castle as one can find in Michigan. Built in the 1920s, the Hall stood at the center of a 1,500-acre estate that also contained farm buildings, residences, and formal gardens.

MBH ExteriorMeadow Brook Hall“The idea (for Downton Days) came to us a few years ago, when someone made a comparison, saying Meadow Brook was Michigan’s own Downton Abbey,” said Shannon O’Berski, Meadow Brooks’ director of marketing and community relations. “It just seemed like a great opportunity to host events and bring people to Meadow Brook to learn about the house and the staff that had lived and worked here.”

Downton Days events include two Tea & Talks, which include a presentation on the history of tea and a tour of what once made up a servant's life at Meadow Brook Hall (February 16 and 23 from 1-4 p.m.; $55 per person); Lunch & Lecture, wherein Meadow Brook’s curator will talk about the life of the staff that formerly lived and worked at the estate, with lunch and tour (February 21 and 28 from 12-3:30 p.m.; $45 per person); and the most popular offering, A Servant’s Life Living History Tour, wherein a volunteer, playing the estate’s head housekeeper (in period costume), invites guests to learn, via an immersion tour, how servants once lived and worked at the Hall, followed by tea and scones in the servants’ dining room (select dates between February 11-26, $35, but all sessions are already sold out).

“They enter the house through the staff entrance,” O’Berski said of the Living History Tour. “As they tour the home, they experience other staff living and working in the Hall, and there are activities, where a few will be given tasks they have to do. … In the past, it’s been something like arranging silverware properly, or doing a table set. Nothing too intense. … But people love the program.”

But why does Downton Abbey, and by extension Meadow Brook’s Downton Days, seem to strike such a chord with so many? 

downtondays 2Downton Days: A Servant's Life at the Great Estate “People are always intrigued by the differences between the upstairs and downstairs life,” said O’Berski, referring to the families who resided in these grand homes, and those hired to serve them and keep up appearances. “There was great wealth in that era, but for a long time, people didn’t talk much about the servants who worked for them, or know what their life was like. When Downton became popular, people started talking more about that, and thinking about how you had these two different worlds in one home.”

O’Berski said that the lunch lecture “will be more specifically about the Wilson family and their travels, and what these trips meant for the staff—those who stayed back, as well as those who traveled with the family, and what was expected of them.”

Attendees seem to adore Downton Days events, but the volunteers who participate love the program, too. “They take it pretty seriously,” said O’Berski. “They’re ambassadors of this home, and they really like getting dressed up in costumes.”

O’Berski said she’d expected this to be the last-ever set of Downton Days at Meadow Brook, since the end of the beloved PBS series would likely mark its retreat from mainstream consciousness. 

But since all of the immersive tour reservations have been claimed before the program even get underway this year, the folks at Meadow Brook Hall may consider bringing them back again next year.

“We’re always open to it,” said O’Berski. “We’re always looking for ways—through all kinds of programs and fundraisers—to invite people in to find out more about Meadow Brook Hall and its history.”

Photos courtsey of Meadow Brook Hall.

Reservations are required for all Downton Days events, and tickets are limited. To purchase tickets, call 248-364-6252. For more information, or to purchase tickets, click here.

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