Spotlight: Stepping back in time
Pat Schneider, left, and Dorothy Davidson, co-directors of the West End Fair’s museum, organize photographs at the “Arnold’s Store” display. Scan this picture with the Prindeo app to see a video walk-through of the museum and a photo gallery of the displays.
The “children’s bedroom” section features a collection of vintage dolls, storybooks and other toys. BRIAN W. MYSZKOWSKI/TIMES NEWS
Dorothy Davidson shows the old-time kitchen, featuring a stove from the 1930s, and her own mother’s canning pot from the 1940s.
The parlor features an eclectic collection of antiques from the 1920s and onward, including rocking chairs, an organ and working lamps.
The original kitchen setup features a spinning wheel, a dry sink and a refrigerator from the 1940s — one of the few items that were purchased instead of donated. BRIAN W. MYSZKOWSKI/TIMES NEWS
Visitors will have an opportunity to take a stroll through history at the West End Fair museum this month.
After years and years of acquiring a rich tapestry of antique items from the county — almost all of which were donated — curators Dorothy Davidson and Pat Schneider have constructed an incredible spread of displays crafted to look like rooms in a home. Bedrooms, living rooms, kitchens and wash rooms are meticulously arranged to appear as natural as possible.
“It’s been a lot of collecting for the past 22 years. You can see why it takes so long to put together,” Davidson said as she walks through the displays with Schneider.
It takes a few days to move most of the relics out, and then Davidson and Schneider begin organizing the setups. Davidson said that she alone tends to the glass cases, as they require her special attention.
Once upon a time, the museum was relegated to the small building adjacent to the current setup. You could easily place the entire room within the confines of the current Arnold’s Store display if you wanted. That space now houses a collection of classic fair memorabilia and an homage to the armed forces.
Those old-fashioned fair signs drum up pleasant memories for the women, who reminisce about when the fair was quite a bit different.
Growing up, the fair was just one day, and we were happy to just get a hamburger, a hot dog or an ice cream cone,” Davidson said.
“And a grab bag. And pick a duck, you had to do that,” Schneider pointed out.
“The prizes weren’t worth much, but we were happy to just have something,” Davidson said.
Each year, Davidson and Schneider select a theme to highlight a particular collection.
This year’s highlight display is “Children As They Grow,” which includes a collection of photographs showing students from their young’un years up to high school, along with board games, toys and comics spanning the 20th century. Sitting just across from the store’s checkout, rows after rows of relics fill the display cases — a Connect 4 game here, a Scrooge McDuck comic there — all impeccably preserved.
The house tour
A hallmark of the fair attractions for the past 22 years, the museum features thousands of unique antiquities set up in the guise of the rooms of a home, along with a special exhibit for the old-fashioned country store.
Atop the store displays, custom-built by Davidson’s husband, Carl, visitors can find a variety of packaged foods and home goods.
“All of the drawers were from Arnold’s Store, and he built the framework for us to put the drawers in,” Schneider said.
Sitting on the edge of the countertop is a vintage scale, and at the other end of the room is a real molasses barrel from Arnold’s. The highlight of the display, though, is the reconstructed storefront.
“These doors and screen doors are the original doors from Arnold’s store. We had them taken out, and my husband built the frame around them,” Davidson said.
Right next to the store sits an old-fashioned telephone booth, a favorite stop for a generation that generally isn’t familiar with landlines.
“All they know is that Superman changes in one!” Schneider said with a laugh.
Davidson said that children love to hop in the booth and take photos of themselves making pretend phone calls.
The children’s bedroom comes with a collection of dolls ranging from the early 20th century up to the advent of the Cabbage Patch Kids, an antique crib and a preserved rope bed, which would support a mattress with a series of ropes across the frame. The rope bed, Davidson explained, is the inspiration behind an old saying you may have heard.
“This is what they meant when they said ‘sleep tight.’ The ropes in time would loosen up, so they would have to tighten them up,” she said.
Next door, the bathroom features a claw foot tub along with a small bathroom table covered in vintage toiletries.
Stop by at the kitchen to see one of Davidson’s family heirlooms, a canning pot that once belonged to her mother that dates back to the 1940s, resting on top of a stove from the 1930s.
“She used it until she died. We did a lot of lot canning, with eight kids,” Davidson said. “We had a garden, and we canned everything.”
The old-time washroom serves as a reminder to how easy we have it nowadays, with a manual washing tub — once a major advance in the realm of cleaning your clothes — and a mangle, a device that allowed for quick ironing.
Off in the far corner of the building, a collection of farm equipment takes up a sizable stretch of floor space. While Davidson and Schneider would love to put it all out for display, there just isn’t enough room at the moment. However, most of antiques are easily visible, if a little jam-packed.
A new entry to the oddities at the museum, the Amish Village display is composed of detailed figurines of farmers and animals that were once capable of movement. The electric setup for the display no longer works, though Davidson and Schneider hope to have it back up and running in the future.
“These things were all electrified, and they would all move. It needs a lot of work, and I’m not certain who could do it. All of the wiring underneath needs to be redone,” Davidson said.
A few feet away, the parlor is beautifully decked out in an eclectic array of furniture and decorations spanning the early to mid-20th century. The collection looks like it could have been lifted straight out of a grandparents’ home, with the old organ, rocking chairs, a tea table and a radio.
In the room sits a display filled with a collection of mementos and prizes from West End Fairs past.
Nearby, you can find a few classic television sets as well.
“I really think that old 1947 television is the neatest thing,” Schneider said.
In the corner opposite Arnold’s Store, you can find one of the very first displays for the museum, the original kitchen. Some highlights of this classic setup include the vintage refrigerator — one of the very few items the curators paid for — and a table set up with a set of jadeite dinnerware. One standout element is the dry sink, a setup that lacked any running water.
Love for the fair
When it comes to the reason why the curators annually embark on such a monumental mission to organize the museum, it all comes down to a love for the fair.
“I guess we like old things,” Davidson said.
“I love the fair. There’s just something about the fair …” Schneider said. “It gets in your blood. My grandfather was the treasurer of the fair way back in the ’50s. My family was always with the fair, and I was always here, from age 1. It’s something special about those fairs past, a wonderful, warm feeling,” Schneider said.
At the end of the day, it’s that sentimental attachment and appreciation for the past that lends itself to such an engaging and creative setup that the fair museum offers. Parents and grandparents can wax fondly over the old days, and the children can learn a little something about the past.
“It’s a fun place to be, a fun place to work,” Davidson said. “The people are nice, friendly and inquisitive, and they really enjoy looking at all the things. It gives people an appreciation of how things used to be, and where they are now.”