Five Reasons Why Self-Guided Tours might just be Perfect

Lucie B. Amundsen
Jul 31, 2018 · 5 min read

The tours at Glensheen are excellent. The guides are well trained and love to share their knowledge. Honestly, they bubble with enthusiasm and it can be down right infectious.

So, why would anyone take a self-guided experience instead?

Turns out, there’s lots of great reasons why the Classic Self-Guided tour might be great for you.

  1. As a Visitor, YOU are in Control

Maybe you’re a control enthusiast? Ok, perhaps the idea of being escorted room-to-room just makes you a little twitchy. Especially, if you’re on a trip with many factors to juggle. I get it; time matters.

If that’s you, you’re part of a national movement of visitors who prefer to go at their own pace. That’s why Glensheen developed a daily self-guided tour option available 9:00am — 4:00pm during the busy summer season.

They take their mission to educate very seriously around Glensheen, and have found many clever ways to incorporate the 1910 Congdon story …sans guide. In fact, I’m betting you’ll feel like you haven’t missed a thing.

One way they do this is by issuing calling cards (above). Visitors in my group held them in hand while knocking on the Mansion’s oversized oak doors. A guide opened right away and asked to see our cards.

These cards are based on real life Duluthians who actually did call on the estate. Had their dear friends, the Congdons, not been home, these visitors would have left their calling cards with the butler.

Fortunately, we got to hold onto ours as a keepsake. The children that happened to be in my group really liked theirs. Plus, you can see that the littlest girl has a Treasure Book. She and her siblings happily looked for items in the book’s treasure hunt, as their parents read and talked to guides.

2. Ask ALL the Questions

Something that surprised me was how easy it is to talk to guides in this setting. Nearly every room has a tour guide in it, ready to tell you about the room, the objects and the family. And that “Ask Me” on their sleeve? They mean it.

Casey was stationed in the library’s Exploration Station showing a book that Chester Congdon himself reviewed. Chester was a tough critic and did not think much of this particular author or his book on Egypt. However, seeing his own handwriting and knowing that he actually read this book (and a good many in the house) really brought it alive for me.

And Chester knew Egypt. Casey told me of the family’s extensive travels — likely why Chester had such an opinion about that particular book.

These are all things I was particularly interested in and might not have asked a guide in a group setting. So, in some ways, I felt like I was getting a private tour tailored to my exact interests.

Claire filled me in on all things about the lives of the Congdon’s servants.

3. Linger in a space

In a traditional guided tour, one sees a space, hears about it and moves onto the next one fairly quickly. In the self-guided experience, one may truly take as much time as you’d like.

The Breakfast Room is a beloved spot but I happened into it when no one was there. So…I soaked it in. The stanchions were recently repositioned so one may walk deeper into the room, and for the first time I had the feeling of what it was like to USE this space.

I’m not sure I’d ever gotten so close to all the beautiful dark cypress wood. (Its finish is based on the Japanese method of jin-di-sugi. It’s a process of aging the wood then repeatedly searing and brushing away the top layers for a heavily contoured surface. How do I know that? Well, I asked a guide.)

4. Keep those kids moving

That family with the young children were keeping it at a pretty tight clip — ticking off items on their treasure hunt book and going on to the next thing. They were chatting and entirely engaged.

And that was the beauty of it. No one was having to miss the Glensheen experience for fear that a guided tour would not match the kids’ pace.

Obviously, Glensheen is a museum and there are many things we aren’t able to touch. But there are things you CAN touch, which can make a huge difference.

This hands-on exhibit features the stereoscope. It gives historic Glensheen photos a 3-D effect. And it’s a hit.

5. Picture perfect

For decades, photos weren’t allowed in Glensheen. Then, a few years back, that ban was lifted and non-flash photography was welcomed. However, many of us like to really compose a shot, find better angles, try different settings on our camera. You know, fiddle.

Like this great shot from @annemariewistad…

And this one from @nowwandering…

The possibilities for macro shots are nearly endless. This one from @sho___euff is has a moody feel.

Clearly, on the self-guided tour, one can really take all the time needed to create that satisfying photograph.

So, while I remain a big fan of the guided tours, especially the speciality ones like the Nooks & Crannies and Servants Tour. I do see the value in going in on your own.

Soaking in Glensheen is a good thing.

The Glensheen Collection

Anything and Everything related to Glensheen, the historic Congdon Estate. ~Duluth, MN

    Lucie B. Amundsen

    Written by

    The Glensheen Collection

    Anything and Everything related to Glensheen, the historic Congdon Estate. ~Duluth, MN

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