Charles Dickens Comes to Galveston

Dickens on the Strand celebrates its 40th anniversary by expanding into a third evening.

By Michael Hardy December 5, 2013

Dickens on the Strand
Dec 6 5–9; Dec 7 10–9; Dec 8 10–6
See website for ticket prices and event schedule

In 1973, Evangeline Whorton, the chair of events for the Galveston Historical Foundation (GHF), attended a Charles Dickens–themed party in San Francisco that featured mock-ups of Victorian buildings. At the party, Whorton had an epiphany—Galveston had real Victorian buildings. Why not throw a Charles Dickens–style party on the historic Galveston Strand? 

Thus was born Dickens on the Strand, the Victorian England–themed holiday festival that will celebrate its 40th anniversary this weekend. Much has changed since 1973, when a small group of GHF members first gathered between 22nd and 23rd Streets on the Strand. At that time, only a handful of the Strand’s 19th-century buildings were occupied. The attendees wore Victorian costumes and shared a potluck dinner under the flickering light of lanterns.

As the years passed, the celebration—then known as Dickens Evening on the Strand—began to grow. Local organizations set up booths in vacant historical buildings. Restaurants offered kidney pie, fish and chips, and ale. The event expanded to three blocks, and then to five. The evening turned into a full day, which turned into two days. The GHF began inviting Dickens family members from England to attend the festival. In 1993, a regular roster of costumed Dickens characters was introduced, including Scrooge, Tiny Tim, and the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future.  

“What really creates the ambience is the architecture,” says Will Wright, the GHF’s director of marketing and special events. “The buildings on the Strand are of the same period as the Dickens novels, so you really get a feel for Galveston in a different way. It’s a holiday celebration that you really won’t find anywhere else.”

To celebrate the event’s 40th anniversary, Dickens on the Strand will kick off on Friday evening with “Dinner with Dickens.” For $80, you can dine with Lucinda Dickens Hawksley, Dickens’s great-great-great-granddaughter, and Jane Monk, his great-great-granddaughter. To cap off the evening, Emmy winner Al Hyslop will deliver a reading of “A Christmas Carol.” The festival proper begins on Friday at 5 p.m. and continues through Sunday evening. Highlights include several parades, a costume contest, and a live performance of “A Christmas Carol” by the Clear Creek Community Theater at 6 p.m. on Friday in Saengerfest Park. As usual, attendees in Victorian costume will be admitted for half price.

Few of the attendees at the inaugural 1973 celebration could probably have imagined that the festival would last so long, or become such a Galveston institution. As Wright observes, the event has now become a multi-generational affair: “We hear so many people say that they used to come with their parents, and now they’re coming with their children."

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