UNION — Just days after its highly-anticipated season premiere was watched by a record 7.9 million people in the United States, the wildly popular British television series and cultural phenomenon Downton Abbey continues to inspire a passionate appetite for all things Edwardian on both sides of “The Pond.”
With the desire for vintage and reproduction fashions, period books and films at a fever pitch, Liberty Hall Museum invites Downton Abbey fans to experience something even more satisfying: a day in the life of real early-20th century servants at Liberty Hall. From now until Aug. 24, Liberty Hall at Kean University presents the fascinating exhibit, Ring for Service: The Role of Servants in a Country House.
As most fans of Downton Abbey will agree, the real stars of the show are the servants, whose lives and work offer an insider’s glimpse of English country life during the first quarter of the 20th century. In that vein, Ring for Service will examine the lives of the servants who worked in the Kean mansion more than a century ago.
“In 1900, the needs of the Kean family who lived at Liberty Hall were met by the simple ringing of the servant’s bell,” said William Schroh, Jr., Director of Museum Operations at Liberty Hall. “The bell summoned servants, who were expected to respond quickly. Who were the people who answered that call? For the first time ever, Liberty Hall will take a look at these people whose stories are very important to the history of this great home.”
Tours of the museum will now show a typical day in the life of the servants, with the museum reinterpreted to highlight the places where the servants worked, slept and spent their leisure time. Throughout the museum, visitors will “meet” servants dressed in their livery, doing their work in various rooms; the butler might greet guests at the front door, or a parlor maid might serve them tea in the parlor. Two servants’ rooms in the attic will be opened to the public for the very first time.
Visitors will also see a mock 1900s kitchen in the gallery space, complete with a sink, stove and various appliances. As they walk to the next room, visitors will see where the servants ate their meals. The wine cellar will be re-opened for this exhibit, with the Kean family’s impressive wine collection from 1900 on full display. “The exhibit will remind visitors of another side of life in a country house,” Schroh said.
In preparation for the exhibit, museum staff uncovered family account books, ledgers, newspapers, census data and other documents which contained vital information about the servants and their lives. The museum’s gallery space currently features an examination of the different immigrant groups that served as the backbone of Liberty Hall’s servant staff. This examination also notes the presence of slaves owned by William Livingston, New Jersey’s first governor, who built Liberty Hall in 1772.
Additionally, on Saturday, Jan. 19 from noon to 3 p.m., Liberty Hall will host a magnificent Downton Abbey New Year’s Brunch. Guests will step back in time and dine like the Crawleys themselves as they celebrate the advent of 2013 and the third season of their beloved show. Tickets are $60 per couple, and reservations are required; admission includes a buffet brunch, elegant party favors, and a champagne toast.
Liberty Hall Museum at Kean University chronicles more than 240 years of American history. The museum also houses extensive collections of furniture, ceramics, textiles, tools and toys owned by seven generations of the Livingston and Kean families. The Firehouse Museum, built in 2004, houses three antique fire engines, including a rare 1911 American LaFrance Metropolitan Steam Engine. The Museum is currently open for group tours (10 or more guests), private events, and scheduled seasonal activities such as those outlined above; public tours resume on Monday, April 1.
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