History Labor of Love for Settlement Worker

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Byline: Kelly Caccamo Daily Herald Staff Writer

Ever wonder what life was like during the Civil War era?

More specifically, how about Christmas during the Civil War?

Well, a volunteer at the Naper Settlement in Naperville can answer even the most detailed questions thrown at her.

Linda Coffelt of Naperville spends her Tuesdays and Wednesdays submerged in the year 1857. She can explain Christmas tree traditions of the time, why mistletoe was used, where plum pudding came from and what's in it.

The curious can find the Naperville resident giving tours at the settlement's Christmas Memories program. Dressed in period clothes and full of knowledge, Coffelt educates both students and adults alike.

"I am in the Murray house, where Mr. Murray, nephew of Mr. Naper, founder of Naperville, lived," she said. "I give public and school tours with different information in each."

And different they are. When public tours pass through the depths of the house built in 1842, Coffelt lectures on Murray and his family. The information changes, she said, once she has the kids' attention.

"I tell the kids about hygiene during that time. I mention showers and outhouses that were used. The kids don't realize that they only took showers once a week, usually on Saturday night before church. They didn't think it was healthy," Coffelt said.

What is rewarding for her is seeing the expressions on kids' faces when they learn something new, their excitement to see the large metal bathtub that was kept in the kitchen and learning how women dried their long hair.

"It was a shame for women to cut their hair. So to get it to dry quicker, they would sit in a rocking chair, put their hair over the back of the chair and rock so the air would pass through it to dry quicker," Coffelt said.

She also informs the kids about the old-fashioned Christmas tradition of receiving pomander balls in stockings after a visit from Santa. …