Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Road Trip to Downton Abbey

Thought we had finished our road trips for the year until an invitation came to preview "Dressing Downton: Changing Fashion for Changing Times" at the Lightner Museum in St. Augustine, Florida.

You don't have to invite the Good Girls twice so we hopped in our bucket seats, Debi heading north, Judy aiming south until we met in the nation's Oldest City.

It's the last stop in the U. S. this blockbuster exhibit of authentic period costumes and accessories from the addictive PBS series Downton Abbey.

Jessica Fellowes
At the press conference we met Jessica Fellowes, niece of scriptwriter and Downton creator Julian Fellowes and an expert on all things Downton, and Nancy Lawson, curator of the exhibit of 36 authentic Victorian era outfits.

Nancy was particularly interesting. For the first three seasons, the actors were clad in historic attire from British collections of antique garments .

"These were real clothes," she said. "Very fragile; over 100 years old. By the fourth season, everything was made by the costume team. The craftsmanship will appeal to you even if you don't give a fig about the clothes." 

Interesting, but we wanted to see those clothes!

None too soon we were ushered up to the ballroom where they were displayed and wow, the nobility not only lived well, they dressed superbly. By themselves they were worth the trip but as Lightner curator Barry Myers and his staff have displayed them, the result is spectacular.

The late Otto Lightner was a collector of just about everything, from cigar bands to music boxes and the art and furnishings that surrounded them from what we've come to know as the "Gilded Age." The museum's attic was scoured, appropriate period pieces were pulled out and polished then arranged into "rooms" to suit the attire.

The result is a rich array, visually dense dense and satisfying as it sets off what the characters living there would have been wearing. After all, the museum is the former Alcazar Hotel, built by magnate Henry Flagler in the Gilded Age to accommodate the younger set who found his elegant Ponce de Leon Hotel across the street too stuffy.

As Debi remarked, "The dining room table setting is so inviting I wanted to jump across the ropes and sit down."

Alas, neither of us were wearing anything as elegant as the chic gown on display, one of our favorites.

As we circled the tableaux, we came across curator Nancy again who summed up the experience perfectly.

"The camera focuses on the face. Now you can see the whole ensemble."

Curator Nancy Lawson.
"Dressing Downton" is on display now through January 7, 2018. We strongly suggest you see it.

Tickets are $19.99 per person for the exhibit and the museum; reservations are advised as this will likely be a sellout. Group tours an be arranged for a service fee; 844-426-4088,

Many special events accompany the show.

High Tea at Cafe Alcazar.  Set in what was the hotel's enormous indoor swimming pool, it includes  sweets and savories , 3-5 p.m., Sunday through Thursday, 2-3 p.m. Friday and Saturday. For reservations contact Cafe Alcazar (lunch can be had there throughout the week), 904-825-9948 or the museum.

Upstairs/Downstairs at the Alcazar. Learn what life was like for guests and staff during the Gilded Age in a one-hour tour for groups of 10 adults; $45;

One-time Events.
Unless otherwise noted, contact the Museum for reservations,

Nov. 4: Nicholas Dawes, "The Treasures of Downton: An Appraiser's View," 10 a.m., Casa Monica Hotel. The Antiques Roadshow appraiser and member of the Heritage Auctions team speaks on decorative items found in the great English homes of the 19th century.
Nov. 4: Nicholas Dawes Appraisal Clinic,:11 a.m., Flagler Room, Flagler College.  Dawes will appraise one small item for each special ticket holder.

December 12-14: Dining at Highclere with Francine Segan, James Beard-nominated author and Italian cuisine expert, talks of elaborate etiquette, entertainment and the dishes Mrs. Patmore would have sent to table.
Munch, Mingle and Matriculate, ay history of chocolates.
American Food Fads - Gilded Age to Today.

Dec. 31: New Year's Eve Soiree and Anniversary Party, Lightner Museum Historic Pool Area.

Bed and Breakfast "Dressing Downton" promotion.
Reserve a two-night, three-day stay Sunday through Thursday for two at the St. Francis Inn or Casa de Suenos, ask for the Dressing Downton special and receive
• Two Golden Admission tickets to the exhibition and museum at any time during the admission date.
• A keepsake tin of Downton Abbey tea
• Fine chocolate from Cadbury
In all, a $60 value.
Now through Jan. 7, 2018 excluding Dec. 26-29, 2017.

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