History has gotten a bad rap. I’ll be the first to admit that I was not a model history student in my school years. All those dates! Was there ever a point to it? I didn’t think so at the time, but since coming to work at Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts & Humanities (MAC) in Cape May, I’ve gone from accepting to appreciative where history is concerned.
Maybe I was such a lackluster history student because none of it seemed to touch me. The stuff I read about and studied was somewhere else, both in time and geography. The nice thing about Cape May is that the history is all around us.
Cape May has grown and built on its Victorian heritage, an era that can seem stifling in more ways than one. The recent heat wave is a reminder of how many layers of clothing those Victorian ladies wore. Bleah! But just like many young ladies today are slaves to fashion and can’t go out without their Coach bags, so too were the Victorians, with fashion influenced by not only what everyone else, including the Queen, was wearing, but also by standards of modesty and decorum that were certainly stifling by today’s standards.
What brought this to mind was a recent walk through Mrs. Ralston’s bedroom and seeing the multitude of garment laid out that would have any of us today blessing our shorts and tank tops. Of course, it’s entirely appropriate to wear those same shorts and beat the heat today on a tour of the air-conditioned mansion and listen to our guides talk about the way the lady of the house dressed for the day.
How about the Cape May Lighthouse? Who would have thought I’d be living one day with a lighthouse practically in my back yard, and I confess that, like so many other locals, I tend to take it for granted. But every time I go out there for something as mundane as restocking copies of This Week in Cape May, I marvel at the fact that this tower has stood here since 1859. Sure, it’s fun for families to climb and the view from the top makes it worthwhile (not to mention all those calories you burn doing it), but the historic significance is monumental.
Then there’s the World War II Lookout Tower, a major player in homeland defense during the war years and a reminder that the threat of invasion was very real right here at home.
The best part is that these places are all here, in our own back yard. Visitors come from all over to see what we can see any day of the week. Of course, we take it all for granted, just as everyone does with the special things in their back yard. Why not make this the summer you take advantage of the wonderful history here at home? There’s more to soak up here than just salt water and sunshine.
-- Jean Barraclough is manager of Publications & Web Site at MAC