The Campbell House is decorated for the season and ready for visitors. And welcoming guests to the kitchen will be actress Rebecca Cook. She’ll be baking sugar cookies and sharing stories as Hulda, the Campbell’s cook, as she has for nine years.
“Hulda has taken on her own sort of legend since we brought her to life. I kind of feel like the Santa Claus of the Campbell House,” Cook said.
“There’s kids who have been coming all nine years who now are taller than I am, and they come back and tell me about their year, and I always get a hug,” she said.
This year, the Campbell House Holidays is set in 1914. Throughout the house, there will be panels that interpret life at the Campbell House in the context of the exhibit “Norman Rockwell’s America,” which continues at the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture through Jan. 12.
The Campbell’s daughter, Helen, was born in 1892, and Rockwell was born in 1894. And while they grew up in different circumstances, “They would have shared a lot of similar late Victorian values,” said Freya Liggett, the MAC’s curator of history.
For instance, in the Campbell dining room, there’s a celery dish on the table. There’s also a celery dish in Rockwell’s iconic “Freedom From Want.”
“Both Helen and Rockwell would have recognized that as a symbol of prosperity,” Liggett said.
Helen will be portrayed by Cassandra Carpenter. Also at the Campbell House for the holidays will be coachman Joseph Rainsberry (Mica Pointer), cook Sevia Strand (Robyn Urhausen) and seamstress/laundress Elvira Swanson (Isabelle Girtz).
The characters have changed over the years, but Hulda has always been there. That’s in part because there’s so much information about her, Cook said, like that she came to the U.S. in 1900.
She met her husband while working for the Campbells, and they gave her $50 as a gift when they were married in 1907. She left the Campbells six months later to open a restaurant in Post Falls. Later, she ran a teahouse in Spokane.
“It’s enough to paint a really lovely picture of her,” Cook said. And in all the years of Campbell House Holidays, it’s never been set in a year that Hulda actually worked for the Campbells.
“There’s always an excuse for Hulda to come back for the holidays to help out,” Cook said. This year, it’s to train the family’s new cook.
Cook said she loves being part of the living history program, and her relationship to the role has changed over the years.
“The first year, I was so nervous because I thought I had to memorize all these dates and these specific facts about the family and things,” she said. “But at the end of the day, what people love is stories.” So they’ve developed stories about the house, the family and the people who worked there.
But it isn’t just the stories about the Campbell House that she’s come to love. It’s hearing stories from visitors. Guests will see something that reminds them of their own family history – the oven that their grandmother used or the clock in the living room.
“Part of the magic of the holidays is letting people tell their stories,” Cook said.
Campbell House Sugar Cookies
Rebecca Cook says she’s not a baker in real life. But after nine years as Hulda, “I feel like I’ve perfected the making of the sugar cookies. They’ve definitely gotten better over time.”
And though guests are given a sugar cookie as they leave the house, thanks to state health codes, it won’t be one Hulda baked with the kids.
The recipe the Campbell House uses comes from the Washington Women’s Cook Book published by the Washington Equal Suffrage Association in 1909:
4 cups flour
1 cup butter
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 heaping teaspoons baking powder
3 tablespoons milk
Dash of lemon
Dash of nutmeg
Rub butter and flour together, add sugar, beaten eggs, milk and flavoring.
Note: The original recipe didn’t including baking temperature or time. Bake the cookies at 350 degrees for 7-8 minutes.
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