One of Henry’s favorite things in the world is when he thinks he has some semblance of an itinerary in his head and then I breeze on by and trample all over his pre-planned travel route with my ridiculous tourist attractions.
We had just left Conneaut Lake Park and, if you were to have asked Henry right then, he would have told you that we were en route to Erie, where we would be checking into our hotel before he tried to drown me in the lake.
However, I had heard about this Victorian baby carriage museum a few months ago and when I eagerly looked it up in my Roadside America app, I was delighted to see that it was only about 30 miles away from Conneaut. Henry squinted at the map on my phone and barked, “Yeah, but it’s the opposite direction!” which made me start chirping about it being my BIRTHDAY WEEKENDTM and god forbid I should ever have the audacity to suggest going to some obscure museum to see a collection of Victorian wonderment.
“Goddammit, Erin,” Henry sighed as he turned the car in the complete reverse direction from where it was headed, and thus began our hour-long trek to a dead end street in Small Town, Ohio, peppered with arguments over the radio (“I am NOT listening to a hockey game from 2003!” – Henry J. Robbins, anti-NHLite).
The museum was easy enough to locate using just the map on my iPhone, and I think I heard Henry quietly curse God for fucking his life as we rolled up to what turned out to be someone’s house. I had no sooner snapped a picture of Chooch with a carousel horse on the porch, when the front door flung open and a diminuitive middle-aged woman in a lime green romper beckoned us inside, her hunger for tourists obvious and slightly off-putting.
Inside the foyer, she introduced herself as Janet and gave us a quick rundown of rules. There were only two: No cameras AND NO TOUCHING ANYTHING. Her eyes lingered unsmilingly on Chooch for that one and I could tell she was pissed that we had the audacity to bring some snot-nosed six-year-old boy into her lovingly curated stroller abode. However, I had groomed Chooch for this excursion by telling him that all of the baby strollers were haunted, so not only was he quiet and respectful for the entire 45 minute tour, he was downright frightened. So what’s up now, Buggy Broad.
The tour started off kind of rocky, with me trying not to laugh; Janet bracing herself for Chooch to pull a slingshot out of his back pocket and go to town; and Henry looking intensely uncomfortable and agitated, like a big dumb bulldozer amongst fragile wicker and porcelain. Janet dove right into her spiel, pointing out various pieces of antique prams with a delicate Vanna White flourish and giving us brief history lessons. Did you know that in Victorian times, some strollers were actually pulled down the street by goats?
WELL I DID NOT.
We were still in the first room when Janet’s twin sister Judy appeared with her own tour group: a grandma and granddaughter pair. The granddaughter was wearing a Sleeping With Sirens shirt and I kept trying to get Henry’s attention but he shrugged me off.
Did I mention that this place is curated by twin sisters? And that they’re so obsessed with baby carriages, they even wrote a childrens book about it?
At times, it was hard to concentrate on what Janet was telling us because there were never less than 15 sets of deadened doll eyeballs boring into our souls in all ten of the rooms of the house.
Hummel collection, get Bavarian!
Even with the No Camera policy, I tried to snag a few “from the hip” shots because this place was absolutely fantastic.
My favorites were the prams that bore a likeness to various animals, like peacocks. “Can you tell what that one is supposed to be?” Janet asked Chooch, and I was turning blue in the face waiting for him to say, “I don’t know, daddy’s furry weener?” Instead, his guess was a very age-appropriate, “Um…Cookie Monster?” I didn’t even know he watched Sesame Street.
It was actually an owl, so we all got a laugh at Chooch’s expense, a mere hour after his bumper car snafu at Conneaut Lake Park, where he was stuck in one place the whole time because he couldn’t actually reach the gas pedal and everyone laughed at him each time he got lapped. Or maybe that was just me.
In the gutted bathroom, Janet pointed out a wicker childrens’ wheelchair. Henry and I made eye contact and he gave me a very slight “don’t do it” head shake, but come on. I couldn’t pass up this photo op, so I waited for Janet to guide Chooch into the next room before stopping abruptly and snapping a picture, causing Henry to crash into me.
Janet was wise and focused all of her attention on Chooch, even draping her arm across his shoulders at various points throughout the house and pointing out Shirley Temple dolls and, once she learned of his obsession, weathered-paged cat books and handmade plush cat toys. This was the key to corking his douche whistle and keeping him interested. The kid was completely enrapt by every room.
I think he was also intimidated.
Haunted. It’s all fucking haunted.
In addition to the 200+ perambulators (there are so many, that some of them have been strung from the ceiling like carcasses), their house also boasts an impressive collection of 1800s tchotchkes, dollhouses, paintings, music boxes & organs (Andrea would have hated this place!), dresses from the period, and copies of Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Little Black Sambo, which Janet interestingly said was her favorite.
I’m not exactly sure how one gets into collecting baby carriages, but these ladies have accumulated an impressive fleet over the last 30+ years; I can only hope my future with wheelchairs is even marginally that impressive. Not only do they have in their acquisition the oldest carriage in existence (they were exactly one week quicker than the Smithsonian in procuring this one), but they also have a majestic fire engine red carriage called The Regent which was used at one time to transport a baby Queen Elizabeth II around London. Oh, it was so hard not to touch that one. Janet admitted that this was their prized possession and she hoped to someday encase it in glass once they find a bigger location for the museum.
If you can believe it, I was being completely respectful through the whole tour, but I don’t think Janet fully believed my intentions were pure until she pointed out a Victorian funerary wreath made of thread, and I asked, “Weren’t those often made of hair, too?” She stopped and looked at me curiously before confirming, and I could tell she was pleased to see my interest in her antiquated livelihood was legit.
The tour concluded back in the main room, where the small gift shop was located (basically a desk piled with copies of the twins’ children’s book, post cards, and their gilded miniature carriage ornaments). Janet was so impressed with Chooch’s (uncharacteristic) attentive demeanor that she let him pick a post card for a souvenir. I didn’t see Judith doing that for the Sleeping With Sirens fan on the other tour.
(I’m convinced he was only so well-behaved because he was scared stupid at the thought of ghosts.)
And of course I bought a copy of their children’s book.
On their website, the twins say, “Some of the many words that our visitors have used to describe their experience are: awesome, fabulous, beautiful, overwhelming.” After we left, I asked Chooch what he thought.
Well ladies, you can now add “creepy as shit” to that list.
[If you ever find yourself near Jefferson, OH, you owe it to yourself to stop by the Victorian Perambulator Museum. 45 minutes of ogling a compulsive curation of Victorian niche will only set you back $5, and it is so goddamn worth it. Even Henry said, “That was pretty cool.” HENRY SAID THAT!]