BACK TO DOWNTON

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Who didn’t love “Downton Abbey?”  

This award winning television series ran from January 2011 until December, 2015. Mr. Wonderful and I never missed an episode. Nearly every Sunday evening we joined pals Sandy and Ken Janes to have dinner and watch the British period drama on Masterpiece Theater. 

Our standard fare was slightly less than de rigueur Downton. No crystal finger bowls were needed for cheeseburgers and chips. We did, however, sip the slightly-less-than-vintage wine from Waterford goblets while immersing ourselves in the trials and tribulations of Mr. Bates, Lady Sybil and Tom, and that nasty Mr. Barrows.

When “Downton” went off the air, I felt like I’d lost a group of close friends. So what a treat it was last week to visit St. Augustine’s Lightner Museum and immerse myself in an exhibit entitled “Dressing Downton.” 

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Housed in the former Alcazar Hotel, which was built by railroad tycoon Henry Flagler in 1888, the exhibit showcases outfits worn by various members of the Crawley family and their domestic servants. “The costumes you see came right off the actors,” a docent told us. 

Each of those 36 costumes and accessories “paired to perfection” depict the day and evening attire favored in post-Edwardian Britain. A museum staff member admitted, “This is undoubtedly the most popular exhibit we’ve ever staged.” 

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As my friends and I walked into the Lightner’s magnificent entrance hall, a harpist sat and played beneath sparkling crystal chandeliers. Sunlight streamed through gracious Palladian windows. The mood was distinctly Downton.

 Friends Sandy Janes and Judy Beman have a word with Carson.

Friends Sandy Janes and Judy Beman have a word with Carson.

From there we walked into the hotel’s original high-ceilinged ballroom, staged with vintage Oriental rugs and Victorian furniture -- the perfect setting for these magnificent costumes. We admired the lilac-hued afternoon tea dress, complete with bustle, worn by Violet, the Dowager Countess of Grantham. We noticed the keys hanging from the belt of the utilitarian grey dress worn by head housekeeper Mrs. Hughes. 

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Memorable moments and phrases popped to mind as we strolled through the exhibit. I can’t remember what I had for dinner two days ago, but easily recall many of the bon mots uttered by the Dowager Countess, played to perfection by actress Maggie Smith.

                                                “What is a weekend?”

                                And when Cora told her, “I take that as a compliment,” 

                                the Dowager replied, “Then I must have said it wrong.”

What was it about “Downton Abbey” that stays with me? Why did I find this memorable exhibit so special? 

Winning 12 Emmys and three Golden Globes, among numerous other awards, confirm the cast’s excellence. Being a nosy soul, I also enjoy peeking behind the curtain at lifestyles I’ll never experience. But I also treasured each and every character and spent four years of my life with them!

Plain and simple, I miss those folks. As the Dowager Countess said,“You’ll find there’s never a dull moment in this house.”  Indeed, there wasn't.

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