In the late 1980s when Paul Bitzel helped park cars for the Holidays at Hampton celebration, he was charged with welcoming visitors to the mansion. On one occasion, he recalls, a blanket of snow added to the atmosphere at the grounds — something that has rarely happened since.
"It really puts your mind on the holidays," Bitzel, 59, of Timonium, said. "Visitors come and they're excited, and everybody is in a good, happy mood. It's great."
That the natural beauty of the grounds might be amplified for this year's events is a fitting send-off for Bitzel, chief of resource management of Hampton and Fort McHenry, who spent his earlier years at Hampton as head horticulturalist.
Bitzel, who began working at Hampton in 1987, is set to retire, and the annual holiday celebration Friday, Dec. 13, through Sunday, Dec. 15, will be his last. But through all the years of successful events, Bitzel said the park staff's collaboration and commitment to pulling the festivities off is his favorite part.
"My happiest memory remains the park staff working together to make the event, decorate and make the house historically appropriate for visitors," Bitzel said. "To have visitors standing at the door in droves to see what we've created really makes us feel great."
Preparations begin in earnest in late September, with work ramped up in the weeks before the event. Each year, the staff collaborates on a new theme and dips into the vast collections of information and records to find new stories to tell for the holiday season.
This year, they're focusing on the jazz age, and Bitzel said an exhibit called "Dining in Style," featuring rarely seen porcelain and ceramics, will be a new feature for returning guests.
Though this yuletide celebration will be his last as an employee, Bitzel said he wouldn't let himself — nor would his colleagues let him — step away completely.
"[Hampton] has been very good to me, and I do plan on coming back to volunteer to help out after I do retire," he said. "I know I will be doing it next year."