Prince George's house museums ready for holidays
County attractions offer special holiday treats
Both gift shops in the cellar at the Riversdale House Museum in Riverdale sell jewelry, coffee mugs, books and other trinkets one would expect to see at a museum gift store. But while one shop sells cups and saucer sets costing as much as $20, the other shop, called the Secret Santa Shop, sells nothing for more than $4.
Renee Kidd, 81, developed the idea for the Secret Santa Shop a few years ago. She sat behind the cash register of the museum's regular gift store one day as a little girl scoured the shop in hopes of buying ornamental plates, bracelets and other relatively high-priced items as holiday gifts for her family.
When the girl came to the cash register to pay, Kidd asked her if she enough cash.
"She said, Yeah, I have a lot of money.' And then she gave me $5."
Kidd, painfully, had to turn the little girl away.
"She was crushed," Kidd said.
So Kidd solicited donations from friends, members of the Riversdale Historical Society members and others in the community and began amassing a collection of items that could fill a store with baubles and keepsakes at children-friendly prices. The idea is to offer a place where children can afford to take care of a little holiday shopping for everyone on their list, and maybe even have something left over.
All of the proceeds go to the museum.
"It's specially priced and really reasonable," Museum Director Edward Day said of the seasonal shop. "Typically, kids go in looking for presents for their brothers, sisters, grandmothers and grandfathers and a lot of times they come out with something for themselves."
The shop is open during the holiday season every Friday and Sunday from noon to 4 p.m. The last shopping day of the season is Sunday. The Riversdale museum is a restored brick plantation home built between 1801 and 1807 by a Flemish aristocrat and completed by his daughter, Rosalie, and her husband George Calvert.
A perfect time to shop could be after attending one of the house's many seasonal events like the Calverts by Candlelight tour or the breakfast with Sint Niklaas, which drew about 80 attendees on Dec. 4.
After eating Belgian waffles and asking Sint Nik, the Flemish forerunner to the modern Santa Claus, what they wanted for Christmas, many children headed down to the basement to check out the special gift shop. That group included 8-year-old University Park Elementary students Jonah Hurtt and MaCleod Drury included.
"Can we get this? It's only $4," MaCleod pleaded to mom. "That's only 400 cents!"
Jonah was after a pencil sharpener in the shape of a cannon.
"I just like it, and it doesn't cost that much," Jonah said.
The shop has separate tables for grandma and grandpa and sells puppy mugs, Teddy-bear salt and pepper shakers, change purses, flower-lined picture frames, history books and more.
Kidd also sells reticules replicas, change purses from the 1800s that Rosalie Calvert used.
"Kids want to be able to buy presents for their family," Kidd said. "This store is designed so $5 can go a long way."
Riversdale isn't the only house museum in Prince George's County geared up for the holidays.
Helen "Babs" Bailey, 78, first became interested in the Montpelier Mansion in Laurel more than 30 years ago when she read about it in a book. Today, Bailey has her own room in the mansion. Well, sort of.
Bailey first visited the Montpelier Mansion in the mid 1970s with her mother on a cold, dark and rainy evening.
"I was getting a little nervous," Bailey said. "Then my mother turned to me and said, I think I hear voices.' "
Bailey was thinking ghosts and was ready to run, but they went inside and found the Friends of the Montpelier Mansion meeting.
"It turns out everyone was laughing and having a good time."
So Bailey got involved with the group and today she is president.
"It's kind of like a sentence," she joked.
One part of the organization's responsibilities is to decorate the home for the winter holidays, especially for the annual candlelight tours.
About 15 years ago, Bailey was walking through the decked halls when she came to the room between the library and the central passage and thought it looked a little drab.
That's when Bailey sort of adopted it.
"It was the orphan of the house, and she said this poor little room, you need some love," said Mary Jurkiewicz, the museum's manager.
Every year since, Bailey has taken it upon herself to decorate the room for the holidays. Her specialty is turning the cabinet in the corner into a doll house-like display fit for the holiday season. She picks out the theme for the cabinet a year in advance and starts planning the intricate design as early as the summer.
This year's theme was "The night before Christmas." The display included tiny stockings hung (with fishing line and care) by the tiny chimney and tiny sugar plums dancing above the children's heads.
Two hundred years ago, when the mansion's first owners, Major Thomas Snowden and his wife, Anne, occupied the home, the only holiday decorations were likely a few holiday greens, Bailey said. The decorations are simply to capture the feeling of the modern holiday season.
"This is for people to come and enjoy. But it's for us, for the fun of it, and it's about the spirit of Christmas," Bailey said, explaining the holidays are about dinner with family and friends, not shopping. "That's what I like is the spirit of Christmas."
For the staff at Montpelier, Bailey's room is as much a part of annual tradition as everything else.
"Every year we can't wait to see what she's going to come up with," Holly Burnham, them museum's director of education, said. Past displays include the 12 days of Christmas complete with mini pears and a partridge in a small tree and holiday tea kettles.
"It's Babs' room," Burnham said.
It's not clear how Bailey's room was originally used. It might have been a study, a sitting room or even a small dining room, Bailey said.
But now, it's hers, even though she brushes aside that notion.
"It's a real compliment, but I don't look at it that way," Bailey said.
The mansions decorations will be up until Jan. 3.