The Victorians.

Welcome back to the Voyage of DH! It has been almost a month since the last post, and I thought what better way to get this blog back on the road (pardon the pun) than with another trip to Cape May, New Jersey. Indeed, this blog could probably be renamed “The Voyage of DH: One Man’s Travel Guide to the New Jersey Shore.”This week we will go back in time to the Victorian era, so named for the years that occurred during the reign of Queen Victoria of England, from 1837-1901. Coming of age during the Victorian era, Cape May is filled with many buildings and homes that exemplify Victorian architecture, none more so than the museum I toured this morning.

I drove down to the shore on Saturday afternoon to meet my family for a long-overdue birthday dinner. Yes, my birthday was at the end of August, but due to a comedy of errors, we did not celebrate it until yesterday. Of course, what we lack in timing, we make up for with a great choice of restaurants, returning to Menz Restaurant, a family favorite.

Menz Restaurant on a cloudy, soggy October afternoon.
The restaurant is decorated for its annual “Haunted Dining” experience.
Dessert: A chocolate peanut butter torte. It tastes like a giant Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. Probably 5,000 calories per slice. And yes, my family insisted on putting a candle in my dessert and having the entire restaurant sing to me. Sigh.

Sunday morning I drove into Cape May to visit the Emlen Physick Estate, perhaps the preeminent example of Victorian architecture in Cape May, and indeed the entire state. Designed by Frank Furness, a renowned architect who created many buildings in Philadelphia, the house was built in 1879 for Dr. Emlen Physick. Dr. Physick’s grandfather was Philip Syng Physick, a man considered “the father of American surgery.” Among other inventions, Dr. Philip Physick created the stomach pump, his design is still the basis for stomach pumps used today. Dr. Emlen Physick, who inherited the family fortune at 21, commissioned the house which I visited today. He lived there with his mother and his widowed aunt until his passing.

The Emlen Physick Estate was sold to several private families after Emlen passed away (he never married and had no children), and then fell into disrepair, nearly being condemned in the early 1970’s. Instead of being knocked down for a new housing development, as some real estate developers had planned, the city of Cape May purchased the estate and now rents it to the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts and Humanities (MAC), which has restored the house to its former glory. The 45-minute long tours are led by a guide, and reservations are strongly encouraged.

Starting my day with a run on the beach to burn off that chocolate peanut butter torte.
Arrived, with about ten minutes to spare.
The Emlen Physick Estate. Do you see the white braces on the porch? They were designed to look like a dog’s bone. Also, the chimneys are wider at the top than at the base where they meet the house. There is no functional reason for this- it just struck Dr.Physick as a cool thing to do.
The carriage house, which is actually older than the mansion. It now houses a gift shop and a small cafe.
Dr. Physick owned the first car in Cape May- a 1915 Model T Ford. He also, several weeks later, had the first recorded car accident in Cape May.
The “formal parlor,” where the family would receive guests. During the Victorian era, lives were strongly governed by strict rules of propriety. How, when, and in what fashion you would receive guests were laid forth in specific protocols.
The music room. The chandelier had been sold off by a previous owner- the MAC managed to track it down and returned it to its place in the home.
The dining room. Which brings me to my favorite thing…
…which is this. Celery was very rare, and very expensive in the late 19th century. If you were fortunate enough to buy celery, you would display it in a Celery Vase. True story.
The kitchen. All of the furnishing are either original to the house or are period-accurate reproductions.
The original stove. This stove was a fairly new invention when the house was built- before the creation of such stoves, most cooking was done over an open flame.
Dr. Physick’s mother’s room. The sofa on the left is a “Fainting Couch,” so when a woman during the Victorian era would feel the need to faint, she would use this piece of furniture. The Victorians were an odd lot.
The billiard room. Middle class and wealthy homes during the Victorian era all had such a place. This was the room to which the men of the house would retire after dinner to smoke cigars, drink brandy, play pool, and discuss politics, money, and business. Women were strictly forbidden from the room.
A woman’s dressing room, offering more space than a closet.
The main staircase, heading back to the foyer.

Of course, with Halloween arriving soon, I would be remiss if I did not mention a cool footnote about the house: many people claim that it has several ghosts that reside there still. Indeed, Cape May is a hotspot for hauntings, with many of the old homes, business, and hotels claiming that spirits live there. At the Physick Estate, among the ghosts that are claimed to live there are Dr. Physick’s aunt, his mother, and several of his dogs (via the MAC website). Boo!

Taking a stroll along the beach after departing the Physick Estate.
After several weekends of staying local, DH was happy to be back to the shore. And so was I!
Home. The miles continue to accrue, the car continuing on its journey without a hitch. 70,000 miles is fast approaching!

The visit to the Emlen Physick Estate was informative and fun. My tour group had a great guide who was very knowledgeable and funny. At only $12 per person, it is also very affordable. Should you find yourself down the New Jersey shore, the estate is definitely worth a visit.

‘Til next time.

8 thoughts on “The Victorians.

  1. Look at that architecture! Is that place for sale? Because I’m moving in! Haha. Especially love that carriage house. Weird about the chimneys being wider at the top than at the base. And the ‘dog bone’ trim pieces around the patio. Cool architectural features. Thanks for the tour!

    Liked by 1 person

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