As an intern at CapeMay.com, one of my many jobs is reading e-mails that you, our faithful readership, send to CapeMay.com. Many times, visitors recount their fondest memories of Cape May. They spout statistics and ask intriguing questions, most of which send me running to our local history buffs. Throughout the e-mails one word seems to resurface in our readers attempts to describe Cape May — magic.
For the typical local resident, the magic of Cape May fades rather quickly during the hectic summer months. I look in awe at the tanned, happy faces of tourists passing by the CapeMay.com office window on their way to the beach or the Washington Street Mall. It is a refreshing and odd occurrence when the magic of Cape May is rediscovered, as it was for me this past month when I visited the Dollhouse and Miniature Museum of Cape May in the Goodman House at 118 Decatur Street.
I must say I was a bit reluctant when I was first assigned to write this piece on a dollhouse museum. As a child I rarely played with dollhouses — the delicate and quaint pieces were just not for me.
When I walked into the Goodman House, and subsequently the Dollhouse museum, I felt surrounded by history as most first-time visitors of Cape May feel as they enter this historic landmark city.
I was in awe of the more than fifty houses from all over the globe, filled with antique dollhouse furniture from France, Germany, England and the United States. The museum was very visitor friendly, every ounce of space was utilized, but I didn’t feel overwhelmed at all. Actually, it was the opposite – I felt like my eyes couldn’t open wide enough to see the nooks and crannies of each petite house.
The woman behind this collection, Libby Goodman, was as interesting as the collection itself. She’s traveled to Europe, read extensively and sat through many an auction to compile her collection — or should I say collections. The museum not only includes dollhouses and dollhouse furniture but also mini-collections of antique children’s toys such as stoves and baby carriages, china and tea sets, as well as antique children’s furniture.
Goodman, who opened the dollhouse museum in 1998, takes pride in and has much passion for collecting. She’s done extensive research and suggests that new collectors of dollhouses or collectors in general, do the same. Goodman said there are three things necessary to have a collection — disposable cash, time and knowledge. She also said that it’s necessary the person who’s collecting, collect something he or she truly enjoys.
“I think it’s almost criminal to have a collection like this and not share it with the public,” Goodman said as she reflected on one of the first times she thought of opening a house museum.
For the past few years, the Goodman House has participated in the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts Historic House tours during the Christmas season, and the dollhouses had such a warm reception that Goodman, with the support and encouragement of her husband, decided to open her own house museum.
The exhibit currently on display at the Goodman House is titled “A Century of American Dollhouses, 1900-2000,” and includes collection pieces from the Dollhouse Preservation Society. The society is a group of Delaware Valley collectors striving to raise the public’s awareness of the beauty, historical significance, and value of antique and collectable dollhouses.
The dollhouse museum is really a two-part collection because almost all of the houses acquired came empty. So the art of dollhouse collecting encompasses the craftsmanship of architectural design as well as interior design.
My favorite dollhouse in the exhibit just happens to be the oldest. It’s a Victorian dollhouse — Queen Anne style — from 1900. It is made completely of wood, some of which has been painted, while most of it is just shellacked, allowing the natural beauty to shine through. On the porch of this house was a couple getting married. The wedding scene, coupled with the detailed architecture, captures the almost fairy tale, whimsical world of a seven-year-old child imagining his or her own story of “When I grow up…”
The endurance and sheer passion needed to keep a collection such as Goodman’s up and running is quite inspiring. Throughout the past ten years, when Goodman says she seriously started collecting, her collection has taken her to many places throughout the world, and has also introduced her to many new and dear friends. With great conviction Goodman said, “I fully expect my dollhouses to carry me to 100.”
This, I can’t dispute. Goodman has seemingly found her fountain of youth in the craftsmanship, beauty and stories within her dollhouses from the past.
Thursday, Friday and Sunday
1-5 p.m. and by appointment
Adults $4, Children $2
(children under 3 years – free)
For additional information, call the Goodman House: (609) 884-6371