Chocolate Lovers’ Festival: Special Edition Walking Tour, Sunday 3/12

Ocean Grove, NJ’s annual Chocolate Lovers’ Festival is coming up and Tiny Tours will be leading a special edition of our walking tour “A Stroll Down 19th Century Main Avenue” with bonus “sweet stops”! Tour takes place Sunday, March 12th at 11:00 AM. Meets in front of Burbelmaier’s, 69 Main Avenue. Reservations required. Tickets $15. Reserve your spot here or call (732) 305-8677.

If you were visiting Ocean Grove in the 19th century, chances are Main Avenue would be the first thing you’d see. What would it look like? On this relaxed walk along Ocean Grove’s main thoroughfare, discover what early travelers noticed and wrote about Ocean Grove, hear stories about some of the town’s early merchants, and learn the surprising reasons why many people came to Ocean Grove in the Victorian era. Along the way, take in beautiful examples of the Victorian architecture of homes, shops and offices. This special edition tour runs approximately 75 minutes.

Tickets $15. Reserve your spot here or call (732) 305-8677.


Another “Peek Under the Petticoat” in Monmouth County

I attended a unique event at the Monmouth County Historical Association in Freehold, New Jersey. It was called “A Peek Under the Petticoat” and it allowed a small group of historical fashion enthusiasts to watch and even assist guest curator Bernadette Rogoff in the dressing of a mannequin in an 1868 dress.

The dress belonged to Julia Norton Hartshorne, a lively woman who died tragically at the age of 30, most likely from smallpox. The mannequin is part of the museum’s current exhibition, Hartshorne: Eight Generations and ­Their Highlands Estate Called Portland. 

It was time for Julia to change her outfit, so the Historical Association held another “Peek” event. This time, attendees got a demonstration in how to properly wrap and store an antique garment and got a sneak peek at the next two dresses Julia will wear in the coming months.

At this “Peek” Julia changed into a stunning electric blue and black striped dress that is in remarkably good condition. Julia had a new wardrobe made in 1868 but fell sick soon after. It’s likely that she never got to wear the striped dress in public. After she died, her husband packed away her wardrobe in storage chests where it remained for generations. As a result, this dress still provides the stunning visual impact it would have in 1868.

The Association says it will be having at least two more “Peek” events, offering you the opportunity to see Julia dressed in springtime silk lavender or a gauzy summer eggshell gown with a floral print (see photos).

Meanwhile, you can see Julia in her electric blue glory at the Hartshorne exhibition. The museum is located at 70 Court Street in Freehold, NJ. For more information, give them a buzz at 732-462-1466.

Introducing: Tiny Tours Gift Cards

gift card walking tours of ocean grove njThis holiday season, give the gift of a walking tour of Ocean Grove!

Tiny Tours now offers gift cards. They’re redeemable for any activity we organize including walking tours of Ocean Grove, bus excursions, and special events. Cards are delivered directly to the recipient via email.

Buy a gift card in any amount, or in pre-set denominations of $25, $50, $100, $150 or $200.


High Tea, Hotel Tour & A History Presentation: “Christmas Shopping in 19th Century Ocean Grove”

ocean grove walking tours christmas historyEvery now and then I take a break from giving walking tours of Ocean Grove to actually stand still in a room and share some history.

I’d love to see you on Sunday, December 11, 2016 at 1:00 PM for a 6-course high tea at the Lillagaard Hotel in Ocean Grove, New Jersey. I’ll be doing a presentation on “Christmas Shopping in 19th Century Ocean Grove”. Plus, guests will enjoy a tour of the hotel. The event is part of the Victorian Holiday Festival presented by the Ocean Grove Chamber of Commerce. Tickets are $40. Call the Lillagaard to purchase at (732) 988-1216. Let’s get merry!

– Kim Brittingham

Woolworth’s Lives On in Paradise, PA

I recently took a break from giving walking tours of Ocean Grove to pay a visit to the National Christmas Center in Paradise, PA in the heart of Amish country. Open March through December, the National Christmas Center is essentially a museum of Christmas. Colorful displays illustrate the historic origins of the holiday and how its traditions have differed between cultures. There’s a robust collection of Christmas memorabilia and decor, a village of animatronic woodland creatures for the kids, an impressive train room and a walk through ancient Bethlehem to Nazareth.

But without a doubt, my favorite part was the Woolworth’s exhibit. One room of the museum has been transformed into a fully-stocked circa 1950s five and dime — so authentic that signs throughout the exhibit remind visitors that the items are not for sale. I’ve shared my photos below. It’s a must for anyone who loves history, Christmas, and vintage Americana.

– Kim Brittingham

The Romance of Halloween in Turn-of-the-Century Ocean Grove, NJ

We tend to think of Halloween primarily as the “scary” holiday, a time to laugh in the faces of fearful icons like witches, zombies and vampires. If I were to ask you which is the most romantic of all holidays, you might answer with “Valentine’s Day” or even “Christmas”, but probably not “Halloween”. However, in the minds of many Americans at the turn of the 19th century, Halloween was synonymous with romantic pairings.

Between roughly the 1880s and the 1920s, hopeful hearts would look to October 31st to bring the promise of new love. Hey, why wait ’til February 14th?

Harkening back hundreds of years to Pagan celebrations in the British Isles and on the European continent, autumn was considered the time of year when the veil separating the worlds of the dead and the living was temporarily lifted. Conditions were thought to be optimal for communicating with the dead, and for those with certain gifts, like fortune tellers, entities from “the other side” were believed to assist in manifesting visions of the future. Fortune telling became a common aspect of Halloween that persisted for generations.

By the time these ancient practices were passed down to the Victorians and made their way across the ocean to America, they’d morphed into an annual tradition that had as much to do with Cupid’s arrow as it did with carving jack-o-lanterns and shouting “Boo!”.

Lesley Bannatyne is a Halloween historian and the author of several books on the holiday, including Halloween: An American Holiday, An American History. Bannatyne has this to say about turn-of-the-century Halloween and its distinct shades of romance: “Halloween celebrations in the Victorian age seem to be made of one part romantic inspiration, one part reconstructed history, and one part Victorian marketing. Halloween stories became almost operatic with regard to passion, and less concerned with actual ghosts.”

In celebrating Halloween, Victorians threw parties at which they played divination parlor games, and many were designed to reveal the identity of one’s future spouse. This was often reflected in short stories published in magazines and newspapers of the day. Writes Bannatyne, “The historical divination games of Halloween were often used by Victorian storytellers as devices to shuffle their lovers together…Heroines ate apples at midnight on Halloween while looking in a mirror for the face of a future husband. They followed balls of unwound yarn to dark barns and cellars, falling helplessly into the arms of some gallant hero. They cooked dumb suppers, attended raging, romantic bonfires, put nuts on grates and even bobbed for apples.”

I did some research on Victorian divination games a few years ago when I was planning a Halloween dinner party. My guests and I re-created several 19th century Halloween games, including this one:

On Halloween, carve an apple in one long, spiral peel. Throw the peel over your left shoulder. When you turn around, you will find the peel on the floor in the shape of a letter. It will be the first letter of the last name of your future husband/wife.

At my gathering, I served a strawberry shortcake for dessert. Ahead of time, I’d arranged to have a charm baked into the cake. According to Victorian Halloween custom, the guest who receives the slice of cake containing the charm (or ring) would meet the love of his or her life in the following year. (Alas, my poor friend Bill is still waiting.)

Bannatyne adds, “Young Victorians tried to bite of bags of candy hung by threads from chandeliers or doorways…They carved initials on pumpkins, blindfolded each other and tried to stick a pin in an initial to determine the name of their future mate. They set tiny walnut-shell candle boats afloat in a tub of water and predicted the course of their lives based on the movements of the fragile vessels.”

Evidence of the parlor games Victorians played can also be found on the Halloween postcards they mailed, as seen throughout this story.

If you could step into a time machine and direct it to take you to Ocean Grove, New Jersey on October 31, 1900, you, too, could experience the mystery and matchmaking of a real Victorian Halloween party. It would be happening at 116 Heck Avenue, where super-hostess Miss E. Blanche Bennett was welcoming guests to her elaborate Halloween celebration. This girl was known for her parties, and she had this one planned to the utmost detail. She was probably inspired by women’s periodicals of the time like Godey’s Lady’s Magazine which recommended games, food, and décor for Halloween soirees.

No doubt she wanted to make aparticularly good impression on that handsome devil Harry G. Shreve.

Miss Bennett’s Halloween party was a front-page story in the November 3, 1900 edition of theOcean Grove Times newspaper. Her guests arrived in costume, dressed as phantoms, gypsies, Red Cross nurses, costermongers, fairies, and what the paper described as “sisters of charity”, “ladies of color” and “campaign paraders”. They all wore masks to heighten the sense of mystery, which were not removed until 9:00 p.m.

Let’s step inside, shall we?

Upon entering Miss Bennett’s living room, you are greeted by a recreated gypsy camp in one corner of the room. There, Miss Bennett’s good friend Miss Eugenia Pfeiffer is posing as a gypsy fortune teller, huddled beside a cooking pot that’s suspended over a “camp fire”.  The “gypsy” tells your fortune, and as it’s customary to pay for this privilege, you might be tempted to reach into your pocket for a coin. But Miss Pfeiffer gestures for you to stop. Instead, she has something foryou. She reaches inside her cooking pot and pulls out a souvenir, which she extends to you. It is a doll-sized farm hoe, symbolic of the autumn harvest.

Next, the excited Miss Bennett gathers her guests together for games. She hands out little toy pipes filled with soap water, and challenges everyone to blow the biggest bubbles they can. “If your bubble floats in the air without breaking, you will enjoy good luck,” she explains, “but should your bubble burst before it’s loosened from the pipe, bad luck will follow you all the year.”

There is bobbing for apples — that is, a large tub of water is brought into the living room on a rolling table, filled with floating apples. The challenge? To remove an apple from the tub without using your hands. Hilarity ensues as the guests hold their hands behind their backs as though tied, and clumsily attempt to catch a slippery apple between their teeth (and without drowning).

Once the apples have all been “caught” and enjoyed, Miss Bennett leaves the room and re-enters carrying a tray. On it sits a collection of what appear to be tiny boats. Upon closer inspection, you see that they’re made of walnut shell halves, with toothpicks and slips of paper for sails. Everyone gathers around Miss Bennett. She explains that each guest should take one boat and pencil the initials of their “lover” on its sail. “You will each take turns floating your craft in the water. If your little boat upsets when the water is agitated, you are doomed forever to single-blessedness.” Later she will laugh and say, “Notice how good at this game themarried players seem to be!”

Throughout the evening’s gaming, you enjoy an endless supply of coffee, and sample freely from dishes of cheese, sandwiches, ginger wafers, salted peanuts, dates and fruit. The fruit is cleverly served up from inside the hollow half of a pumpkin, centered on the table.

What other games do you play with Miss Bennett and company this Halloween night in 1900? As the Ocean Grove Times reported, “The ladies also tested their fate by choosing, from a basin of water, a little package containing a slip of paper upon which was written a numbered question, the answer being read off by the gentlemen holding the corresponding number.” Ah, a little sanctioned flirtation! And, “At the conclusion of this diversion, the guests were given a lighted candle and invited to the dining-room, where beside each plate was found a card. The candles were placed on the table, and upon taking up a card and holding it over the candle a question test and answer were discernible.”

And what party would be complete without music? Miss Bennett didn’t miss a trick or a treat. Miss Annie Orr and Mr. Henry Welsford sang “The Gypsy Maiden” (listen here). Three gentlemen — Dey, Wainwright and Wilgus — sang back-up for Miss Bennett for “The Mysterious Ideal”. (Did Blanche — that is, Miss Bennett — steal a special glance at Harry Shreve as she was singing? He couldn’t help but be impressed by her remarkably beautiful singing voice, which she inherited from her parents, both talented vocalists.) Additionally, as the newspaper article tells us, “Misses Hoffman, Pfeiffer and Sutton gave a character delineation of ‘The Witches’ Revel’ fromMacbeth in such a realistic manner as to produce that ‘creepy’ sensation supposed to follow in the wake of all weird incantations.” (Watch a version here.)

Given the romantic nature of Halloween in 1900, it’s no surprise that Miss Bennett invited a mix of singles to her party, in addition to several married couples. There was ample opportunity for matchmaking, although some would inevitably go home disappointed. She invited eleven hopeful bachelorettes, but only five eligible bachelors — and she had an eye on one of them for herself.

Miss E. Blanche Bennett married Harry G. Shreve on February 19, 1902 at St. Paul’s M.E. Church in Ocean Grove. The wedding made the front page of theOcean Grove Times of February 22, 1902, which called the bride and groom “two of the Grove’s most popular young people.”

You can go back in time in Ocean Grove whenever you like by using the Historical Society’s searchable database of local newspapers dating from the 1870s. Access it here, on the Society’s website, for free. Pull up the November 3, 1900 edition of the Ocean Grove Times to read the full story of Miss Bennett’s “Unique Hallowe’en Party”.

Jolly Halloween greetings from Ocean Grove, New Jersey!

– Kim Brittingham

Where to Shop for Victorian Accessories in Ocean Grove, NJ

Wondering what you should wear on the Victorian Tea Party Bus? You’re not required to dress in 19th century-inspired finery, but it’s definitely encouraged.

If you’re looking for places online that sell Victorian clothing and accessories, I’ve assembled a list here.

Another idea is to come to Ocean Grove early on the day of the trip. There are several shops in town that can provide you with a touch of Victorian flair. Look below to see what goodies I found right here in town.

At the April Cornell store at 70 Main Avenue, you can buy a fancy collar or cuffs that automatically “Victorianize” whatever you’re already wearing.

The Historical Society of Ocean Grove has a museum gift shop at 50 Pitman Avenue. They sell these lovely rice paper parasols.

At Gingerbread’s at 49 Main Avenue they offer a pretty variety of shawls/scarves as well as Victorian style hat pins.

Finally, The Emporium at 63 Main Avenue has a fantastic selection of fascinators right now. Here’s one in deep purple (my favorite) and one with feathers.

Getting “A Peek Under the Petticoat” from the Monmouth County Historical Association

I’m still excited about what happened this past Friday, September 30, 2016.

I was one of ten enthusiastic ladies who got “A Peek Under the Petticoat” at the museum of the Monmouth County Historical Association in Freehold, New Jersey.

Photo by Marianne Sweet

Sounds racy, doesn’t it? Well, my heart did race, because I had a rare opportunity to watch a mannequin being dressed layer-by-layer in beautifully surviving clothes from 1869. I got to do what I never get to do in places like the museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, or downstairs in the Costume Institute galleries at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, or at the lovely Fashion Museum in Bath, England: I got to look at the garments close up. It interested me as both a history buff and a sewing enthusiast. I got to scrutinize the stitching, study the embroidery, and recognize the ultra-fine red-on-blue pinstripe in a dress silk that from a safe museum patron’s distance would appear to be flat navy.

Photo by Carole Grabowski

What was the occasion, you may wonder? Joseph Hammond, Curator of Museum Collections, called the event “an experiment”. Preparations were underway for their forthcoming exhibition, Hartshorne: Eight Generations and ­Their Highlands Estate Called Portland. Among the objects to appear in the exhibition is a mannequin representing Julia Norton Hartshorne, a lively woman who died tragically at the age of 30, most likely from smallpox. Her complete wardrobe from the time of her death has been well-preserved by her descendants, giving the Monmouth County Historical Association the ability to dress “Julia” in her own clothing, from petticoats to bonnet (the latter still bearing its tag from a Paris boutique!).

The “experiment” was in opening up the dressing of the mannequin to a small audience of ten. The announcement from the museum landed in my inbox at about 6:00 AM. By 6:20, I was registered.

We, the lucky audience, got to witness the dressing of Julia by guest curator Bernadette Rogoff who is an expert in the care and display of antique textiles and who “loves this stuff”. Some attendees even got to assist Rogoff. She was generous with her time and know-how and answered, oh, about a billion questions with grace and enthusiasm.

Hammond chuckled when I said “You should do this every month.” Hey, who’s kidding?

Interested in the Hartshorne exhibition? A preview reception to celebrate the opening will be held on Thursday, October 6 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. The reception is open to the public at no charge and refreshments will be served. The exhibition runs from October 7, 2016 through April 29, 2017. The museum is located at 70 Court Street in Freehold, NJ. For more information, give them a buzz at 732-462-1466.

Special thanks to Carole Grabowski and Marianne Sweet for sharing their event photos.

– Kim Brittingham

Coming November 5, 2016: Victorian Tea Party Bus to Merchant’s House Museum, NYC

Join us November 5, 2016 on the

Victorian Tea Party Bus to the Merchant’s House Museum in NYC!

Co-organized by Kim Brittingham of Tiny Tours of Ocean Grove and the Historical Society of Ocean Grove

Do you ever wish you could go back in time to the 19th century? On this bus excursion, you can — at least for a little while.

Click here to book now!

Here are the details:

The Bus. A luxury bus with restroom facilities will pick up travelers from Fireman’s Park in beautiful Ocean Grove, New Jersey on Saturday, November 5, 2016. (By the way, Ocean Grove has the highest concentration of Victorian architecture in the state! You may want to come early and enjoy a stroll. You can also book a walking tour with me.)
Departure. Bus departs promptly at 12:00 PM.
The Destination. The stunning Merchant’s House Museum in New York City. Considered one of the finest surviving examples of domestic architecture from the period, the 1832 late-Federal and Greek Revival Merchant’s House is a designated landmark on the federal, state, and city level. It is furnished with over 3,000 items comprising the possessions of the Tredwells, the wealthy merchant-class family who lived in the House from 1835 to 1933. Our group will enjoy a guided tour.


Dining. On the bus you will enjoy a 19th century style savory pie lunch catered by Burbelmaier’s of Ocean Grove with your choice of hot or cold tea, or water. Vegetarian and gluten-free options are available.
On-Board Entertainment. Also on the ride we will view a film that some say was inspired by the 19th century love story of Gertrude Tredwell who lived in the Merchant’s House. [Actually, the film was inspired by the Henry James novel Washington Square  which in turn inspired a stage play and then two film versions: The Heiress (1949) and Washington Square (1997).] Which one will we watch? You get to vote when you make your reservation. Majority rules!


Return Trip. We will return to Fireman’s Park in Ocean Grove at approximately 6:00 PM. We will enjoy dessert on the ride home.
Accessibility. Please note that the Merchant’s House Museum does not have an elevator. The tour involves climbing several sets of stairs.

Ready to Go? Click here to reserve your spot. $119 ticket includes lunch, dessert, museum tour and round-trip bus transportation between Ocean Grove and New York.

Life’s too short not to have little adventures that make our hearts sing! I hope you’ll join me for history, beauty, fun and friendship on Saturday, November 5, 2016.

Click here to book now!