Constable: Pandemic brings us 'Honey, I shrunk the Holiday Housewalk'
With the 2020 pandemic scuttling the Mount Prospect Historical Society's 33rd Annual Holiday Housewalk, the group is using a new idea and toys from the past to save its biggest fundraiser of the year.
"It was my first idea, right out of the gate," says Emily Dattilo, 27, a Mount Prospect native hired in July as the society's new director. Forced to scrap the idea of hordes of strangers paying $28 to take a December walking tour through historically significant homes in the village, she turned to the society's collection of antique dollhouses.
"What if we did a tour of the dollhouses?" she thought.
"Virtual tours have become the norm for now," says Ed Johnson, 42, a 14-year board member who happens to be a professional videographer. His DroNation production company does virtual tours of houses for real estate agents. But how do you do a "walk-through" of a dollhouse?
"I have this tiny little camera," Johnson says of his OSMO Pocket video camera. "It's literally the size of the dolls in the dollhouses. I can get different angles other than what a human can see. It's as if you shrunk yourself and little you was taking a tour."
Placing the camera in any room of a dollhouse, Johnson can use his cellphone to control the camera's gimbal and change the view as if he were turning his head.
"It feels like you're stepping into the dollhouse. You can see their Christmas trees. You can see the pictures on the wall," Dattilo says. "It's amazing."
The view of the only private dollhouse among the six in this year's tour is one original owner Judy Hasenjaeger never envisioned when she caught the dollhouse bug as a 10-year-old girl during a 1945 trip to Chicago with her parents, Joe and Alice Connelly. The elaborate Fairy Castle dollhouse, created by actress Colleen Moore and now a permanent attraction at the Museum of Science and Industry, was on display in the windows of Marshall Field's, and led to a dollhouse under the family tree.
"I had five good years," says Hasenjaeger, who was an only child. "Then it stayed packed up for a long time until my girls were 10 and played with it."
She and her husband, Bob, let daughters Julie and Nancy play with the dollhouse, and sometimes repel assaults from their brother John's G.I. Joe, until they outgrew it and packed it away. When Julie and Joel Michalik's daughter Magen turned 10, the house came out of wraps again until Magen grew older and the house went into storage. Now, Magen Pignataro's daughters Holly, 12, and Leah, 9, can occupy the dollhouse.
"Each time it comes out, it's pretty cool," says Hasenjaeger, now 85. "I really never thought I'd be seeing it again."
As is the case for many full-size houses in Mount Prospect, every generation made changes, such as painting the walls a different color, adding carpeting or updating the furniture, Julie Michalik says. The 1924 English Tudor house where she and her husband live was part of the Holiday Housewalk in 2018 and retains its original look. The couple worked to restore the dollhouse to the way it looked 75 years ago.
"I learned more than I thought I would about miniaturists," Julie Michalik says.
She made tiny copies of photographs of her grandparents and parents to hang above the dollhouse's fireplace. There is a plate of tiny cookies waiting for Santa, a 1940s-era desk with an old telephone and elaborate Christmas decorations, including a Christmas tree sporting a tiny paper chain that took Michalik eight hours to make.
Another dollhouse on the virtual tour is the Atwood Manor built by the late Margie Atwood as a replica of the Mount Prospect house where she had lived since 1942. It includes an elaborate staircase, wood molding, wallpaper, electric lighting, and a hand-sewn, pink silk bedspread.
A dollhouse built in 1932 features plenty of wood, including an unusual red living-room set in Art Deco style.
The 21st Century House, donated in 2000 by Shirley and Bud Budris, wasn't meant as a toy but as a work of art.
The Chalet House, donated by the Walgreens on the southeast corner of Kensington and Wolf roads, is a stylish, brightly colored mid-20th-century toy that required parents to assemble the fiberboard house with included nuts and bolts.
The oldest house in the collection is the Edwardian Eclectic Dollhouse built out of mahogany in 1905 by Charles Semft as a Christmas present for his granddaughter Erns Keller, with intricate furnishings crafted by hand. But it also has a twist from the 1970s, with rainbow wallpaper and dolls and accessories from "The Sunshine Family" dollhouse by Mattel.
"The last kid to play with it left the Sunshine Family in there," Dattilo says. "That's what's so cool about this. The dollhouses span the century. The dollhouses are very distinct."
The tour is sponsored by local Realtors Bill Farrell of ReMax Suburban, Jim Regan of ReMax Suburban, Judith Muniz of Habloft, Laura Parisi and Kelly Janowiak of @Properties, Mary O'Malley of @Properties, and Tom and Mary Zander of Picket Fence Realty. Johnson shot all the footage and spent another 20 hours editing it into a show that includes old photographs and stories about the times when the houses were built, and their unique features.
For $10, a household can view the dollhouses online from Dec. 15 to Feb. 15. For information and tickets, visit the mtphist.org website.
It's a tour that might prove as fascinating as the regular house tours, especially given that you can watch it anywhere, without having to wear a mask, stand in line, or fight the cold and nasty weather. Seeing the video tour of the dollhouse she played with 75 years ago is a thrill for Hasenjaeger, who still lives in Mount Prospect with her husband.
"I really never thought I'd be seeing it again," she says. "I hope it goes on for more generations. We love it."