While many Dickens on The Strand guests spend the festival mornings perfecting their costumes, the Lee family rolls into Galveston early.
For decades, Lindsey Lee and his family have brought their collection of antique bicycles to the Dickens festival and continued the tradition for the event’s 45th year.
The family arrives early, before crowds make riding difficult, Lee said. During the day, guests can try balancing on a high-wheel or steering a three-wheel bike.
“I enjoy coming out and meeting people,” Lee said. “It’s a lot of fun. A lot of people, we get to see every year.”
His father, Larry Lee, began coming to the holiday festival in its second year, he said. The annual event celebrates 19th century Victorian London culture and perfectly suits his family’s collection of 28 bicycles, he said.
Between the 1870s and 1890s, when they were most popular, these high-wheel bikes were primarily for the wealthy, Lindsey Lee said.
“Anywhere between a month to a year’s worth of salary for a working man is what you would spend for a bicycle in the mid- 1880s,” Lindsey Lee said.
The family developed its collection partly by accident, Larry Lee said.
He saw an ad in a Houston newspaper for a high-wheel bicycle for $100 and decided to buy it, he said. The family added bikes to their collection year by year, he said.
Now, the whole family attends festivals and even got their neighbors involved, family friend Eric O’Brien said.
“I grew up riding these,” O’Brien said. “Mr. Lee recruited all the neighborhood kids and he’d get us all riding.”
Galveston resident Tom Bass owns his own collection of antique bikes, all due to the Lee family, he said.
“I bought one, then two, then three, then five, then six.,” Bass said. “It’s kind of a family deal. Some of our best memories of our family being together were at Dickens.”
The bikes take a little skill to learn how to ride, Lindsey Lee said.
Maintaining them can also take some effort, he said. Friday night, the family spent several hours oiling and cleaning the bicycles in advance of Saturday’s festivities, he said.
“You probably end up working on them an hour for every hour you ride,” Lee said.
Finding new parts can also prove challenging because parts weren’t standardized when the bicycles were built, Lindsey Lee’s son Edward Lee said.
If the family loses a bolt, they have to make a new one, he said
But the maintenance doesn’t deter him, Edward Lee said.
“They’re more exciting than riding a regular bike,” Edward Lee said.
This dive into the past is exactly what brought Brooke Bonorden to Dickens for the first time this year, she said.
“I’m a historical archeologist, so I really like this time period anyway,” Bonorden said. “It’s a fun excuse to catch up with the history.”
She loves the historic nature of downtown Galveston, which also draws her to the event, she said.
Melanie Strain and her sister, Louise Cuaxe, also enjoy strolling between old buildings. They come every year in full costume, Cuaxe said.
“My sister makes and designs our parasols and our hats,” Cuaxe said.
Constructing the costumes only takes her a few weeks, Strain said, decked out in a bustled dress.
Dressing up is part of the fun, said Grayson Bushnell, Atascocita High School choir member.
“It kind of makes you feel like you’re part of everything,” Bushnell said.
He performed at the festival with the choir, he said.
Dickens on The Strand and the Lee family’s bicycles return Sunday.
Next year, event organizer Galveston Historical Foundation plans to add another weekend to the festival, though details are yet to be discussed, foundation staff said.