- Cape May NJ Travel Guide and Vacation Planner Blog

Month: December 2009

Cape May’s Tiny Railroad

This feature originally ran in the 2008 Winter Issue of Cape May Magazine. Bob’s Canal Toy Train Tour is no longer open to the public.



Panorama of Bob's trains. (Click to enlarge)

It is a fantasy land with tiny worlds within worlds.

This toy train tableau of miniatures is a giant. The display covers 600 square feet, but the landscape, its population, buildings and transportation systems are diminutive, created not in inches, but millimeters.

“It’s all about the romance of the railroad,” says Bob Heimenz, the creator of this toy train extravaganza that he shares with visitors at holiday time.

It is then that he opens the door to his special world – Canal Toy Trains – above his two-story, blue-gray garage on Batts Lane, just a short hike from the Cape May Canal. Families, especially the children, are welcome to visit the trains weekends from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Eve, noon to 4 p.m. “The joy is watching the children,” says Bob, sitting on his conductor’s stool. “One little boy comes back every Saturday. He just stands there, transfixed, moving from one village to another. It reminds me of when I was a boy.”

Bob Heimenz

Bob Heimenz. (Click to enlarge)

The scene features 16 towns, villages, industrial sites, an airport and a complex train yard. Thousands of little lights sparkle over the vignettes. Tying it together is the rhythmic clickety-clack of six trains traversing mountains, byways, bridges and tunnels. Train whistles echo off the hills of a New England farm community and a Pennsylvania coal town. This intricate land of Lilliputians strikes awe and curiosity even among the most blasé.

The winter wonderland surrounds an Alpine ski lodge with boys and girls careening down the slopes. A Victorian snow village, reminiscent of Cape May, is alive with ice skaters gliding over glistening ponds, children sledding and a horse pulling a carriage. Twinkling lights decorate trees, gingerbread houses and gazebos. There’s a playground in constant motion. A gentleman lifts his hat, children swing, a man gardens with a pick and a dog lifts his leg.

Details from the village. (Click to enlarge)

Details from the village. (Click to enlarge)

It is whimsical and magical. There’s a carnival with a tiny carousel, roller coaster and Ferris wheel, all of the little mechanisms synchronized, the colorful lights inviting another look. Nearby is the 1950s village with a drive-in, The Frosty Bar, the Starlite Diner and cars with fins. In the freight yard, American Flyer cars haul Heinz Food Products, Pacific Fruit and coal aboard a Union Pacific gondola. Lionel trains from several generations transport gravel, automobiles, grain and tankers. The locomotives hiss and sputter to a halt at the red and green lights on seven interrelated tracks at the big signal junction.

This lifetime hobby was born on a Christmas morning more than half a century ago. Bob was eight years old, and under the tree he found what he ordered from Santa Claus – a Marx train. “My father always set up a train display at Christmas,” says Bob. “My wish was for my own so I could operate it myself. I ran my first train for six years, until it fell apart.” He still has some pieces of that dream train. His vision was that one day he would operate a holiday toy train display rivaling those he saw in the big department stores in his hometown, Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

“I got myself a paper route,” says Bob. “By the time I was 11, I was buying my own trains. My grandfather worked for a distributor, so he got me a break with 40 percent off. We were kind of poor. That helped.”

Details from the village. (Click to enlarge)

Details from the village. (Click to enlarge)

The Pennsylvania Railroad ran through Lancaster. More than a dozen trains a day traveled from New York and Philadelphia to Pittsburgh, Chicago and points west and back east. For most children in the 1940s and ‘50s, the sound of a train set off daydreams about adventure and faraway places with strange sounding names. A trip on a train opened vistas for mostly rural, small-town Americans that defied the imagination. One could sit in relative comfort and watch the world go by, experiencing different landscapes and cultures. Viewing life by train was a lot more personal, glamorous and gritty than by plane, hop-scotching clouds at 35,000 feet.

“My first train ride was when I was about five,” says Bob. “Every summer Lancaster featured the Grocers’ Special. It was sponsored by grocery store owners and was the big excitement of the season. Families – there must have been 200 people – climbed aboard the Special. It was powered by steam engine and we were off to Atlantic City for a day at the beach. We packed our lunches in boxes and ate on the beach or boardwalk. Shoobies, we were. It’s the only time we ever got to the beach.”

The Pennsylvania Railroad remains Bob’s favorite. He has collected many of the line’s passenger cars, engines and cabooses with their trademark burgundy color. They clatter around the tracks stopping at the magical villages along the way.

Stonington Mill (Click to enlarge)

Stonington Bay Mill (Click to enlarge)

The Pennsy pulls up to a Bavarian village and eases to a stop. This village is populated with authentic stucco-and-beam houses and shops. “I made these little buildings from kits before I could drive,” says Bob. The structures are so intricate, the tiny beams each placed with a tweezers and glued in the stucco. It is unfathomable that a teen would have the patience and hand-to-eye skills to build the entire old European setting with the smallest of tools.

“My father was a watchmaker,” says Bob. “He worked for Hamilton watches and I used his precise watchmaker implements for my projects.”

One train led to another and Bob built his own display during his teen years. His layout was becoming so complex that he stumped himself and needed additional electrical knowledge to meet the challenges of his trains.

He decided to go to electrical school. His education in circuitry enabled him to add more tracks, trains, lights and switching gear. And the bonus was that he became a professional electrician. He worked for Pennsylvania Power and Light for several years, eventually supervising 500 men building sub-stations. He never gave up playing with toy trains.

A tiny carnival (Click to enlarge)

A tiny carnival (Click to enlarge)

His electrical career led him to Niagara Falls, New York, and one fierce winter night, tinkering with his trains, he decided that 30-inch snowfalls and blizzard winds were not for him. He researched and found that Cape May County was the fastest growing area in the United States. He was ready to go into business for himself and he figured Cape May was the perfect place: plenty of potential business and mild winters. Thus was born R&J Electric. That was 30 years ago.

Bob and his wife Carol outgrew their home in Fishing Creek. She needed more room for her expanding art studio and he was still on a mission to outdo the department store toy train displays that infatuated him when he was a boy in Lancaster.

Train crossing the bridge (Click to enlarge)

Train crossing the bridge (Click to enlarge)

They fell in love with a ramshackle property in a country setting on Batts Lane in Lower Township. The 1847 farmhouse was falling down. Bob and Carol combined their artistic and building talents creating an environment for their his-and-her passions: painting, gardening, toy trains and nurturing wildlife.

Carol’s studio is on the first floor of the garage where each week several artists from the St. Barnabas art group gather to paint together, preparing for their annual summer show.

Holidays in the tiny village (Click to enlarge)

Holidays in the tiny village (Click to enlarge)

On slow winter days Bob and Carol work together making little snow trees from dried weeds and finding new ways to recycle materials into miniature works of art for the train display. They melt down lead from old pipes Bob collects. They pour the liquid lead into tiny molds creating miniature people and animals. Carol paints them in rich soft colors to populate the villages.

Bob, at 66, is slowing down his R&J Electric business. But his hobby speeds on track.

It’s only August, but already he is planning for the 2008 holiday display. He experiences the same problems in miniature that a real railroad faces. Locomotives break down, wheels wear out, tracks and electrical systems demand maintenance. Bob crawls under the display table and examines the wiring and transformers. “We’ll be adding more lights this year,” he says. “Our bill goes up about $150 a month at Christmas time.”

The boy with the dream train, now a grandfather, throws the switch, sits on his conductor’s stool, silently transfixed, as the Pennsy chugs out of the station, rolls across the big bridge alongside the 1950s farm and climbs the mountain to a holiday at the Alpine ski lodge, with happy whistles along the way.

Twas a Picture Perfect Christmas in Cape May – A Holiday Pictorial

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
in hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there.

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
while visions of sugar plums danced in their heads.
And Mama in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,
had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap.

Stroll with us through the town of Cape May all dressed up in her holiday finest.

Around the Town

When out on the roof there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
tore open the shutter, and threw up the sash.

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
gave the lustre of midday to objects below,
when, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
but a miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer.

And how would St. Nicholas find us here in Victorian Cape May unless we dressed out houses with greenery, and cheery red bows? But never fear, as night falls the a twinkling of the lights on the houses provide a perfect landing spot for the miniature sleigh and its eight tiny reindeer.

Christmas Reflections

With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles, his coursers they came,
and he whistled and shouted and called them by name:

“Now Dasher! Now Dancer!
Now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! On, Cupid!
On, Donner and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch!
To the top of the wall!
Now dash away! Dash away!
Dash away all!”

At Christmas time all the shopkeepers in town adorn their windows with Christmas finery in the hopes of seeing shoppers, friends and relations stop by for some h0liday cheer on Hospitality Night.

Christmas Twilight on the Mall

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
when they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky
so up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
with the sleigh full of toys, and St. Nicholas too.

And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
the prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head and was turning around,
down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.

A full moon, the stars and the decorative lights on the Washington Street Mall are sure to light the way for Santa’s sleigh.  What’s that you say, “Only a first quarter moon Christmas Eve?” No matter, Santa will find his way.

Cookie Exchange

He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
and his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot.
A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,
and he looked like a peddler just opening his pack

The whole community looks forward to the Great American Cookie Excvhange held search December by the Center for Community Arts at the Cape May City Elementary School. Kids and parents bring cookies, helpers make cookies in the school kitchen, other kids learn how to make cookies. And all the cookies are displayed on big tables filled with cookies of all kinds, all shapes, all sizes. At the other end of the auditorium, more helpers sew away, busy making colorful Christmas hats to wear throughout the holiday season. And right above the sewing helpers is Santa himself, listening to each young child’s Christmas list.

Designer Show House

His eyes–how they twinkled! His dimples, how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
and the beard on his chin was as white as the snow.
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
and the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
that shook when he laughed, like a bowl full of jelly.

Even the most sophisticated of holiday revelers adorn their homes for the season. This year’s Designer Show House was the Carpenter Cottage at 511 Franklin Street. It was originally one of two lots sold by the Corgie family to Aaron and Elizabeth Garretson in 1853. The house was thought to have been built shortly thereafter. The newly renovated house is now owned by Susan Carpenter Priester and her family and will be open to the public through the New Year weekend.

Physick Estate Tree Lighting

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
and I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself.
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head
soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.

Each year friends and visitors alike gather at the Emlen Physick Estate (operated by the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Art – MAC) for the tree lighting, a visit from Santa Claus, and a tour of the 1879 estate. Surely is one has any chance at all at spotting St. Nick on Christmas Eve, this is the place one would perch.

Physick Estate Christmas

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
and filled all the stockings, then turned with a jerk.
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
and giving a nod, up the chimney he rose.

No one knew how to do Christmas like the Victorians – after all, they had Charles Dickens, among others,  to guide them. Americans added their special touches – like store bought ornaments and our special thanks to the very imaginative Clement C. Moore for writing Twas the Night Before Christmas. The Physick Estate is bustling with activity at holiday time.

Rotary Park Tree Lighting

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ‘ere he drove out of sight,

“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”

Clement C. Moore – Twas the Night Before Christmas

Caroline: Elegance on the beach

My husband and I had our dream wedding in Cape May, NJ on September 12, 2009!! We got married right on the beach at Jackson St and Beach Ave!

We then had a small reception of about 70 guests at the Virginia Hotel where we dined in the Ebbitt Room! Our cake was created by Kathy Pastiu from the Washington Inn. Flowers were by Cape Winds Florist. Photography was by Aleksey Photography, and our wedding planner was Catherine Walton from Weddings by the Sea. We gave taffy favors from Morrow’s Nut House.

Family and friends all gathered in Cape May for the weekend renting out entire bed & breakfasts and rooms at Congress Hall (the Summer Cottage being where I stayed). What a perfect weekend! Having our wedding in Cape May was so special! Walking through town in my wedding gown and having people stopping to congratulate us was something I will always remember!

We also had a live event artist Carol King Hood that came to the reception and painted a scene live from our wedding! This was my wedding gift to my husband! Cape May will always have a special place in our hearts!! Can’t wait to celebrate out 1st anniversary here!

The Sweet Taste of Italy

italy2I don’t think it’s an accident that our best food holidays are in winter. If Thanksgiving were in July, the main course would be a Turkey Caesar Salad with dressing on the side. But the winter feasting season is here and that means an abundance of food to enjoy. One of the great things about America is that we have embraced and adopted the holiday traditions of our ancestral homelands.

Subscribers to Cape May Magazine know that in the last two Winter issues I have explored holiday traditions through food. (If you don’t subscribe give yourself a holiday treat).The current issue is loaded with succulent fish recipes to celebrate the Italian Feast of the Seven Fishes, La Vigilia. However, it lacked one of the key components to any successful holiday celebration – sweets.

italyNotice I didn’t say desserts. I don’t want people getting visions of sugarplums and elaborate English puddings and trifles stuck in their head. After cooking and eating seven fishes who, besides me, would have room for a large slice of pie or cake? Any Menu Di Natale (Italian for Christmas menu) would feature an array of one or two-bite treats that go well after a large meal with a cup of espresso or almond biscotti with Vin Santo. Vin Santo is Italian for holy wine and is Italy’s version of port. Originating from the Tuscany region, it is often made from white grape varietals like Trebbiano or Malvasia. Varying in sweetness, they are often served after espresso as a digestif.

The diversity of regional Italian cuisine makes writing an authentic menu difficult. Difficult because I enjoy items from different regions that you would never find on the same table in an Italian household. Culinary dogma can be so restrictive sometimes. Since it is the holidays, I will choose to indulge in my favorite sweets even if it means uniting southern Cannolis and northern Castagne Carmellatta – carmelized chestnuts, which the French call Marron Glacé, but now I am turning the buffet into a European Union event, which is not a bad idea since the Italians have an oddly named holiday dessert, Zuppa di Anglaise. This dish could only have been created by an expatriate Brit longing for his holiday trifle and explaining it to an Italian chef. The jams and jellies are replaced with liqueurs (good change) and zabaglione is used for the custard.


A must-have for any Italian dessert for me is Almond Macaroons. The hardest part about making this dessert at home is finding almond paste. These chewy almond morsels are even great a day old. Just dip them in your morning coffee. They are also a lot simpler to make than biscotti. I also get torn between choosing Struffoli or Cenci, the latter is traditionally served at Carnevale, but I can’t wait that long.

Struffoli are bits of fried dough in honey syrup and powdered sugar or, at the holidays, red and green sprinkles. Cenci are served doused in powdered sugar. I also like to dip them in fig jam.

No matter your ethnicity or holiday traditions, this Christmas season enjoy a taste of Italy with these recipe for Struffoli, Cenci, Almond Macaroons and Cannolis. Until the New Year, Buona Fortuna and Buona Appetito. My apologies to my Italian friends. I know I am butchering the Italian. I ask them to forgive me. After all, I am Scot/Welsh.



  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/4 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cocoa powder
  • 2 tablespoon butter
  • 6 tablespoon marsala

Sift dry ingredients together. Cut in butter. Add marsala. Shape in ball. Wrap tightly in plastic. Refrigerate. Roll out dough to ¼” thick. Cut 2-inch circles. Form around cannoli molds. Deep fry. Let cool slightly. Remove from molds. Let cool, then fill.


  • 1 pound ricotta
  • 1/2 cup superfine sugar
  • 1/3 cup lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • 4 tablespoons orange zest
  • 1/4 cup chocolate chips

Mix all ingredients. Place in pastry bag with open tip. Refrigerate. Fill cannoli shells. Roll in chocolate chips. Dust with powdered sugar.


  • 2 cups flour
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 cups oil to fry in
  • 1 cup honey, plus 1/2 cup sugar

Heat honey in saucepan stirring constantly. Cook 2 minutes. In bowl mix flour, eggs and salt. Knead until smooth. Let rest 10 minutes. Roll dough out until it is 1/4” thick. Cut in 1/2” wide strips. Cut strips into 1/2” long pieces. Roll into balls. Fry in 350 degree oil until golden brown, turning with wooden spoon. Drain. Toss in honey syrup. Let cool and sprinkle with powdered sugar.


  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/3 cup confectioners sugar

Mix in bowl until stiff dough is formed, kneading 10 minutes. Cover. Let rest 1 hour. Roll out dough 1/8 thick. Cut strip 2 fingers wide with serrated pastry wheel and as long as fingertip to palm. Cut each strip ¾ way down the middle. Twist gently and fry until golden. Dust with powdered sugar.

Almond Macaroons

  • 1 pound almond paste
  • 6 ounces confectioners sugar
  • 6 ounces sugar
  • 2 1/2 ounces pastry flour
  • 6 egg whites

In a stand mixer, blend almond paste and sugars until smooth. Blend in pastry flour. Slowly add egg whites, one at a time until mix is smooth and creamy. Using pastry bag and straight tip pipe quarter-sized discs onto parchment-lined sheet pan. Space evenly. Bake at 540 degrees for 12 minutes or until golden brown.

persnicketychefJon Davies is a graduate of Johnson and Wales University of Culinary Arts. His work as a chef has taken him to Aspen, Colorado; Cape May, NJ; and the odd private jet for culinary gigs for the rich and famous.

The Parade Lady: Charlotte Daily

This article originally appeared in the Winter 2006 issue of Cape May Magazine and has been updated.


Charlotte Daily

Charlotte Daily

She is one of Cape May’s best known celebrities, but few could tell you her real name. She is called The Parade Lady, famous for staging a colorful holiday tradition every December for the past 44 years. Her name is Charlotte Warner Daily. She is part rogue, part saint – sweet and tough. She is a showboat of a person who wishes life would have put her on stage, singing and dancing in the bright lights of Broadway. Instead she lives on Broadway, in West Cape May, and lights up her street every year with her big heart and uncanny ability to produce one of the best old-fashioned hometown parades in America. Her efforts are all volunteer and have been since 1965. She is a retired West Cape May city clerk and dreams of having the time one day to pick up her paint brush again and enjoy making some art with her grandchildren. That’s doubtful anytime soon, because her obsession is still the magic of the West Cape May Christmas Parade.

Karen: When you staged the first parade, did you envision it would become such a major tradition?

Parade Lady: No, I thought it would be a one-time happening.

Karen: Why did you organize your first parade, in 1965?

Parade Lady: The annual City of Cape May parade was cancelled because of bad weather. The rain poured in sheets. I never saw it rain so hard, and then pea-soup fog rolled in. Santa Claus was supposed to come to town on a train – The Lady Bird Special that had been in President Johnson’s inaugural parade. Well, they never rescheduled the Cape May parade. The kids were so disappointed. That made me really mad. Now don’t make me mad!

Charlotte (age)

Charlotte at age 15, 1944, with her beloved saxophone, which she played in the Cape May High School Band.

Karen: So you took matters in your own hands?

Parade Lady: I did. Understand that my kids had worked so hard on their 4-H float and they had won a $100 prize for the best in a Sea Isle City parade. I was so proud of their work, I wanted their hometown to see their float. I told everybody everywhere in the county to come to our parade, but then it was cancelled. I couldn’t let down the children. I was their 4-H leader. Our club was The Snappers, specializing in sewing. I said to my husband, “Let’s have a West Cape May Christmas Parade.” So we go over to Mayor Ed Smith’s house, and his wife said – “Sure, come on in.” That’s the way it was then. Real small town. The mayor was sitting there, putting on his shoes and socks. I told him we needed to start a parade of our own. He said okay, as long as it doesn’t cost the Borough of West Cape May one cent.

Karen: What was the theme of the float that made you so proud?

Parade Lady: Our theme was “May the Angels Watch Over Them While They Protect Us.” There were three angels dressed in white, standing on risers, watching over five soldiers in the battlefield. Vietnam was then. It was 1965. They were sending more troops into the war.

Karen: Did the parade cost you money?

Parade Lady: I took $45 out of the cookie jar and bought a can of coffee and a box of chocolate and some candies. We served the band kids hot chocolate and the firemen coffee and handed out wrapped penny candies. We had some small contributions. Everyone had a wonderful time. Would you believe our generator died on Washington Street, and our float was unable to finish the parade? Right away people started calling me The Parade Lady, and wanted to know if we were going to have a parade down Broadway again next year.

Karen: Have you always lived on Broadway here in West Cape May?


Charlotte dressed as a Lily Sprite for a Cape May children’s parade in 1937.

Parade Lady: For many years I have. My husband H. Gene Daily and I got married on Coast Guard Day August 4, 1950. We met at the Coast Guard canteen where I volunteered. I sold my boat and saxophone to help buy our first house. We bought this house in 1952 for $5,000. I loved the picket fence, the pathway, and how it sits way back from Broadway, in the garden. My husband died Saint Patrick’s Day, 1974. I have lived in Cape May for all my 75 years. I am a 4th generation native.

Karen: Where did you grow up? Did that shape who you are?

Parade Lady: By Schellenger’s Landing by the Thoroughfare Bridge that doesn’t open anymore. My house was at 1293 Lafayette Street. (A condominium is located there now, at Lafayette and Texas Avenue.) My father was Ray Warner, the manager of the food market on Washington Street, before it was a mall. I lived next door to my grandmother Rebecca Mills. She ran Becky Mill’s candy and ice cream store. She sold penny candies and Abbott’s ice cream. I was an only child, a spoiled brat. I spent most of my time with her, and my uncle, who ran a boat repair business right next to the guy who opened the bridge. I had my own little boat. Catty-cornered from my house was Matty’s Bar. I would sit in my window and listen to the musicians at the bar. I wanted to go on over and join in. I always loved being around people, wanted to see people happy.

Charlotte in clown costume, dancing with Greater Kensington String Band captain Scott Moyer in 2002.

Charlotte in clown costume, dancing with Greater Kensington String Band captain Scott Moyer in 2002.

Karen: Was it in your childhood environment that set the stage for becoming a parade producer?

Parade Lady: I always wanted to be in show business. But I love Cape May so much I never wanted to leave town. I’ve been in parades all my life. When I was a child, my mother made me costumes for the parades. When I was seven, she dressed me as The Lily Sprite in my own personal float. I love music. I played the saxophone all through school and marched in many parades. I sang in the Methodist Church choir with adults when I was a child. I took dance lessons with Jerry Love. To this day, I still do the Lily Sprite dance. Life makes me happy. When it rains and there are puddles in the garden, I just run out there and sing and dance (to) “Just Singing in the Rain…” Then I go into a comedy routine, and hunker down like a duck, “Quack, quack, quack.” People think I am crazy. I am just happy.

Karen: What do you love about Cape May?

Parade Lady: I like everything about it. Mostly I love it because it’s a small town. I liked it better the way it was when I knew everyone, when outside West Cape May was country with cows, dairies, horses. The 4-H kids used to march their horses and goats in the parade. Now I am lucky if I see two people I know.The development is taking it away…taking it all away. It was really wonderful when I was a kid. I knew every shop owner and I greeted every person I met on the street. It felt so secure, just heaven on earth. I liked it the way it was. I cannot say I like it the way it is coming to be. Part of that is my fault. I’m the one who wanted everyone to come see my wonderful town, and drew hundreds, thousands to my Christmas parades. Maybe it was all a mistake.

Third Annual West Cape May Christmas Parade, 1967. Dot Burton, co-chair, left; the Parade Lady, Charlotte Daily, right.

Third Annual West Cape May Christmas Parade, 1967. Dot Burton, co-chair, left; the Parade Lady, Charlotte Daily, center.

Karen: At 79 years of age now, do you ever think about calling it quits?

Parade Lady: I am going to do this until the parade celebrates its 50th anniversary. That sounds like a good round number to me. I will be 85. The parade is my stress test for the year. I run here and hop there, up and down the parade route. I dance with the Mummers’ captain, and get out in front of the fire truck that drives too fast. If I don’t pass out or drop dead, I am good for another year.

Karen: What motivates you to get up the energy for the parade every year?

Parade Lady: It’s the look on the children’s faces. I go down the route and look into hundreds of faces. It is a very, very happy time. I have five children of my own, three girls and two boys, all grown now. For them, especially my daughter Jeanette and all the big kids her age, we invite Sally Starr, the TV personality of the 50s and 60s to ride in her cowgirl outfit. I have 29 grandchildren and 6 great-grandchildren and most of them are in the parade every year. When my Becky wanted to be in the parade at age 3, I had no float for her. I took an old lawn mower, made a chimney from a box, and put on a sign: “Looking for Santa Claus.” It was a hit.

Karen: Do you decorate for the holidays, cook a family meal?

Charlotte and ?

Charlotte and Dot Burton

Parade Lady: I don’t cook a big meal anymore. I used to, the turkey and all the trimmings like my mother did. We cut a cedar tree out in any field, and Mother and Dad installed a train that went all around the tree, all around the room. Sometimes I don’t decorate until the day after Christmas. The parade work begins Labor Day and doesn’t end until New Year’s Day. On New Year’s, no one bothers me. No one. I have the day to myself and the Mummers Parade on TV. I love the Mummers. If I didn’t do the parade, I would be the Mummers P.R. lady and make them famous all over the world.

Karen: Producing a parade involves a lot of people, a lot of politics – have you had problems?

Parade Lady: You know I love the Mummers. The first time I invited a band, I paid $500. They were awful. There were only about 15. They were not dressed in costume. They played the same song, “Golden Slippers”, the whole route. They got fired. I didn’t pay them. I learned a lesson, and the Mummers have been wonderful ever since in full dress, and full band. One year I had to bail out the parade with $800 of my own money. There was the year there was a dispute with the fire companies because the parade was the same night as their benefit bingo game. The fire companies boycotted. It was headlines in all the papers. It was a mess. But the show must go on. So we went ahead with the parade, and a few fire companies participated anyway.

Karen: What was your favorite parade?

Charlotte and ? at the 40th

Charlotte and Dot Burton on their own float at the 40th Annual West Cape May Christmas Parade in 2005.

Parade Lady: [2005] Our 40th anniversary. About 60 units participated. We had about 20 fire companies, and most of the trucks decorated. I’m a real stickler about that. I want the trucks all decked out. We had a dozen marching bands and four Mummers bands and about 20 floats. Dot Burton and I had our own 40th anniversary float. Dot said that was her last parade. She is 81 now. She was a school crossing guard, and always did the line up at the starting gate. The weather last year was good, cold but Christmasy, and the audience was very appreciative. The parade cost about $14,000. I am $2,000 in the hole starting this year, but we will make it up with my letter-writing campaign and fund raisers. I want to say that neither the city governments of Cape May or West Cape May contribute money. Services yes, but money no.

Karen: How do you want to be remembered?

Parade Lady: As the Parade Lady. I want that on my tombstone: The Parade Lady, and an American flag. I just love my country. It’s my little place, my parade, and I do the best I can with my little place, West Cape May. I can’t do big things; big things upset me when people start talking big wars and big money; I don’t know where to put the decimal point. I think if everyone would do their best in their own small place, their community, the whole wide world would be a better place rather than trying to do something to another place that you really can’t do anything about.


Help save the West Cape May Christmas Parade by sending your donations to 732 Broadway, West Cape May, NJ 08204.

Hollies: A Jolly South Jersey Winter Favorite

holly berriesIt is time to write about one of my favorite trees, the Holly. They are so glorious this time of the year and they grow so well in our area they deserve a yearly applause.

There are many types of Hollies and most are evergreen. A few even lose their leaves – spot lighting their brilliant berries in winter. All hollies have the common name Ilex. One of the natives found growing here is the towering American holly whose botanical name is Ilex opaca. Most Hollies like a well drained, but moist, soil with lots of woodsy humus. They do fine in acid soil and will grow in full sun or light shade. Large groupings of Holly are often found deep in South Jersey swamps. In yards, mulch will simulate a woodland environment and keep these woodlanders’ roots cool.

One lesser-known Holly that is just becoming popular in our area is the awesome Foster Holly. It is glossy and shiny with tons of red berries. One good thing about it for most homeowners is that it does not get as large and bulky as the huge American Holly.

These winterberry  hollies often stump folks who think all hollies have sticky evergreen foliage.

Leaves yellow and fall when there is frost. These Winter Berry Hollies often stump folks who think all Hollies have sticky evergreen foliage. These swamp dwellers grow every where in southern N J . You might have to venture off the couch and into the swamp to find them!

Foster Holly is a hybrid that occurred between a narrow-leafed form of the Dahoon Holly as the female parent and American Holly as the male in the union. The trees grow 25 to 30 feet tall with a spread of 6 to 8 feet, giving them a narrow, conical form. The thin leaves have very soft spines so they do not pinch like the American holly. The female produces an abundance of red, pea-sized fruit even on young plants. The male pollinator can be either a Foster or a more common American Holly.

Foster holly is an excellent plant for planting near an entry or off the corner of the house to provide vertical accent. Like most plants with this strikingly conical form, it can be grown as a freestanding specimen or massed together. It also makes an excellent tall evergreen screen.

Like most Hollies, Foster Holly does best in a reasonably good garden soil where it can receive some water during dry periods. The soil pH should be on the acid side. While best in full sun, it will do well in medium shade.

All Holly trees can be sheared as needed or left to their own devices. If plants ever get too large, they can be stubbed back severely in the spring just before new growth starts. Many Hollies will even come back from the root if cut off.

Yellow Holly

Yellow Holly

A Deciduous Holly, like the Winter Berry (Ilex verticillata) loses its leaves to reveal outrageously beautiful red berries. The most handsome stand of Winter Berry is across the creek and only accessible by canoe, so now we planted them along this side of the stream. (For years when our sons were growing up they would take turns on wintry days paddling a canoe so I could precariously lean over into the shrubs and cut branches! Luckily we never capsized!) These are one of my favorite winter plants as the colorful berries last long into late winter, giving beautiful color to the garden.

Most Hollies are dioecious, which means that that the male and female flowers are born on separate plants. Thus you will need at least one male for every five female plants for a good show of berries

When the leaves have all fallen and the landscape becomes bleak, Hollies really stand out and commandeer our appreciation. As I write I look out of my window and notice the glossy holly now filled with songbirds. The leaves act as little umbrellas and protect birds from rain and snow and the berries provide food. More distant are huge Pines, Spruce and Hollies around the perimeter of the property, as well as a native Cedar covered with blue berries these all give color and life to the garden in wreathsnowwinter. My Dad and my Uncle Ed, who both loved Hollies, planted many of these more than 40 years ago.

As a child I spent many summer hours watering hundreds of Hollies. Dad collected Hollies. He would find small ones in the woods and move them to our yard. He would also buy unusual ones wherever he could find them. He always took great care of them. The summer he moved the trees the block or two from our old house to our new house, my brother and I spent our days watering them. We would have a pile of comic books and a sturdy milk box that we moved around the perimeter of the large property as we waited for the hose to thoroughly soak each large American Holly. We did a thorough job and every Holly lived, still majestically gracing the property. It was then that I realized that even though he found many of his American Hollies in local fields and woods, because of the bees and genetic variety, they all had their own unique characteristics. The coloring of both the leaves and the berries often differs from one American Holly to another. Today many of theses same Hollies are lofty giants all around both my mother’s and our home.

There are still many other Hollies to highlight in years to come, so we are not finished with them yet. Plant a Holly and enjoy this Southern New Jersey treasure this holiday season.

lorraine-kieferLorraine Kiefer has gardened all of her life. She is a garden writer, floral designer and professional horticulturist. Lorraine teaches many classes at Triple Oaks nursery and Herb Garden in Franklinville, NJ. Email for garden help or leave your questions below!