The Ehrlichs' Finishing Touch

"It's a part of who we are. Some people are just holiday people," Kendel Ehrlich said. The governor's mansion is filled to the brim with decorations. (By Marvin Joseph -- The Washington Post)
By William Wan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 18, 2006

When Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. departs next month in a flurry of packing tape and farewell speeches, he will leave a legacy of more just than legislative bills and battles over slots.

Ehrlich and wife Kendel's contributions to Maryland also include a curious collection of inflatable creatures, a small army of snowmen at the governor's mansion and an unswerving example of irrepressible holiday spirit.

For four years, the Ehrlichs have set a more whimsical tone for their home in the heart of Annapolis. Under them, the 54-room Georgian-style mansion has served as an elfin paradise, a hang-coat for hundreds of feet of plastic garland and an unapologetic home of large holiday displays.

While Republicans and Democrats in town have been preoccupied with the respective gloom and glee at the coming change in leadership, the Ehrlichs have kept much of their focus on the holidays since the Republican governor's defeat last month. After all, a few weeks in the mansion remain -- enough time for one last Christmas spectacular.

In the pre-Ehrlich era, holidays at the mansion had been a fairly muted affair -- a few lights on the trees, some low-key wreaths on the fences. So when the Ehrlichs moved in with their more festive spirit and bigger displays, it got Annapolitans talking.

"There were, of course, a few people horrified at the inflatable Santas," said Gregory Stiverson, president of the Historic Annapolis Foundation. "Annapolis, after all, is nothing if not hidebound in tradition. But generally, I think people enjoyed seeing a young couple with young children and fun things for kids at the mansion."

This year, the prevailing theme of the decor appears to be snowmen.

A 10-foot tall inflatable giant looms over the wrought-iron gate. A smaller ceramic one sits at the door. And inside, a life-size snowman springs into a wild holiday dance should anyone veer too close to its motion sensor.

And most peculiar of all: the triumvirate in the yard, trapped in a huge plastic snow globe and covered in a never-ending shower of "snow."

The decor, Kendel Ehrlich said, is a way of making the ancient manor more of a home for her two boys. And in an interview next to one of the mansion's many Christmas trees, she explained the family's intense love of Christmas this way: "It's a part of who we are. Some people are just holiday people."

Over the years, the family's Christmas spirit has even found its way into politics. Last year, after being told of a state law that prohibits anyone from bringing reindeer into Maryland, the governor issued a proclamation granting clemency to all flying reindeer in Maryland airspace "during the very late hours of Dec. 24."

He also beat every governor in the nation in 2005 for most holiday cards mailed: 40,000. And when a "Santa ban" in Kensington threatened to keep St. Nick from the town's 2001 ceremony, Ehrlich sent out a statement of support, welcoming Santa to visit other Maryland areas. (The Easter Bunny was invited, too, for good measure.)


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