Wednesday, December 2, 2015

All My Darling Daughters

So my new office, now that the good people of Golden Handcuffs Amalgamated International have moved our exiguous little unit up closer to the mother ship, as it were, is rather centrally located. Because we are in Our Nation's Capital, it's come as no surprise that one thing that means is that we are near museums.

I must say, however, that the sheer range and almost whimsical breadth of the institutions has truly startled me. Did you know that the FDIC has a free-to-the-public exhibition, presumably on the wonders of financial protections for your checking account? Well, neither did I.

I've decided, therefore, to try and expand my horizons by devoting the occasional lunch hour to a trip to a hitherto-unvisited cultural attraction. I accordingly walked a few blocks toward the Mall yesterday and found myself in front of the half-welcoming, half-monitory lady above; she is the presiding angel of a memorial to the Daughters of the American Revolution, from the Daughters of the American Revolution, located next to the administrative headquarters of - you guessed it - the Daughters of the American Revolution. Which has a museum, and a little peach it is, too.

The centerpiece of the edifice, actually, is a library devoted to genealogical history, one presumably of use to those seeking to prove their eligibility to join the DAR (and, I wouldn't be surprised to learn, possibly to those seeking to keep out those annoying upstarts from the Bridge Club who think they might have some flighty distant ancestor who could qualify them as a Daughter, as if we didn't know better). The library, rising the full height of the building and with a splendid glass ceiling, was clearly originally a theatre or auditorium; it's a rather lovely conversion, though, and almost worth a visit just for its silent air of solemn research.

Round about the library's edges, the Daughters have set up a really rather nice little attraction, one consisting of a minuscule gift shop, a small exhibition gallery, and a series of period rooms, some 30 all told, provided by the good ladies of the organization's member states.

These are clearly a labor of love and of excellent intentions (rather than, say, academic rigor or advanced tastes in interior décor). Many look as if they were first installed a good 60 years ago and haven't seen much updating since, and on the whole they portray a vision of the past filtered through a sensibility located somewhere between the Truman and Ford administrations. More than a few also look as if they relied more or less entirely on the member ladies' attics for their furnishings.

With the exception of one or two - a colonial kitchen, or New Jersey's rather startling Steamboat Gothic dining room - the rooms tend to look surprisingly like the parlors of my grandmother's friends. I suppose that makes sense, as it they were created by very similar ladies. You'll note the tree, as yet undecorated; Christmas is coming even at the DAR Museum, and the were decorations going up all around me.  One long gallery - and the building really is lovely, a little Beaux Arts gem - even featured this creation:

In case you can't tell (the light was recalcitrant, and my phone can be woefully inadequate at times), those are owls. The effect was, in nearly equal parts, both charming and alarming.

Down at the far end of the same room, that tree there is entirely covered with peacock feathers. I don't know about you, but to me that seems a little ... much, somehow, for the DAR, no?

In addition to the state-themed rooms, there is also a focus on what might be considered the Childhood of Yesteryear.  Up at the very top of the building is an attic room done up as a Victorian nursery, one littered with well-worn toys and little scenes of dolls engaged in the usual predictable activities - tea, lessons, and such.

Here, for example, a teddy and a rag doll share a light afternoon repast with a baby carriage and an elephant. As one does.

As I find is so often the case in the nineteenth century, the more expensive and fancy the toy, the greater the likelihood that they will strike the modern eye as grim at best.  This dubious plaything, for example, looked far more likely to inspire unpleasant dreams than to enchant the lucky young miss who received her all those years ago...

But really, what most drew me in at the DAR Museum were the dollhouses scattered around, perhaps half a dozen all told. I suppose they were donations over the years, and they seem a little forlorn and ignored, but I was entranced.  They're almost impossible to photograph, as they're in hallways, barely lit, and fronted with glass of a singular level of reflectivity (is that a word? It ought to be.).  I found, however, that if I held the lens right up against the glass, I could catch little moments of drama, as the cluttered and ornate interiors tend to feature large assemblies of family members and retainers.

The upstairs housemaids, I fear, are having words. It's Bridget's turn to brush out the fireplace, and Jean is having none of her nonsense.

Meanwhile, in the library, Cora has had a life-changing realization.

While in the drawing room, the lady of the house regards her cluttered sofa with disfavor (shortly, I'm sure, the butler, seen entering, will be sent upstairs to fetch one of the battling housemaids who have so woefully neglected their duties).

So I greatly enjoyed my little jaunt, and on my way back out into a gray and unpromising Tuesday afternoon, I even had a surprise encounter with an old friend, one whom a few discerning longtime Café regulars may even remember.

How nice to know that the friends of dear Mrs. Roscoe O'Byrne thought fit to honor her in this practical way. One wonders if her pals Bess Kidney and Leota Stout were there for the dedication. And if they ever persuaded Bess to head back to Brookville after she'd seen the big city.

These days, when museums so often feel the need to be painfully hip (resulting mostly in exhibitions that are far more painful than hip), it's nice to know that there are still places like the DAR Museum, more or less lost in time and left to themselves.  It appeared, yesterday, that I was the only visitor, and it was amusing to click on the timer-regulated lights as I visited each period room in turn.  I may have my issues with the organization (one that dear Grandmother Muscato deserted in the wake of the Marian Anderson controversy), but I'm rather glad they carry on. If nothing else, what would happen to all those down-at-heel settees and woeful family portraits if ever the period rooms were broken up and scattered to the four winds?


  1. I bet those are called "period rooms" because they wound up there after someone announced something like "I refuse to live with my mother-in-law's breakfront. Period."

    It looks like a totally charming place. God knows it's closed off to the likes of me, who is more destined for the Daughters of White Trash (DOWT.)

    1. I think your theory is sound and I would like to subscribe to your newsletter.

      Oh, wait - I already do!

      In our case, it's the DAR-eligible strain that have for two centuries been the thoroughgoing no-gooders. Give me the mutts and mongrels any day...