Carriage Museum: a ride to the past

As status symbols go, the Bugatti Veyron ($1.7 million), Ferrari Enzo ($1 million) or even the Lamborghini Murcielago (only $279,900) work well in the 21st century.

The wealthy at the turn of the 20th century had status symbols, too: the large house in the city, the mansion in the country and the coachman-driven horse and carriage.

A visit to the Northwest Carriage Museum in Raymond is a chance to see examples of these wealthy transportation symbols.

Gary and Cecelia Dennis started collecting antique farm equipment about 20 years ago.

“While they were at auctions, they graduated to buggies and then to carriages. They fell in love with the luxury carriages,” museum director Amy Dennis said.

More than 3,000 people a year visit the collection, which is in a classy building with high ceilings and wood floors that opened in 2002. The carriages were built in the 1890s and early 1900s; a few are reproductions.

The C-Spring Victoria is one of the 23 exhibits, an elegant carriage popular with upper-class women, designed without a door for easy entry and to show off the occupant’s fine clothes. The vehicle’s suspension was the latest technology.

Another favorite is the “Gone With the Wind” carriage, the Shelburne Landau, with its two folding tops that locked together in the center.

The museum also has a black coach with red wheels used to transport mail, and a four-horse hearse with glass sides to allow those on foot a glimpse at the casket.

Each carriage has a story. Dennis’ favorite is about the Brewster carriage. John Masury of New York was a wealthy paint manufacturer who held the patent on the paint can lid. When he died, his young second wife, Grace, became a wealthy widow.

He had brought her over from Ireland to be a servant (and had a long-running affair with her that produced a son and a daughter).

The extravagant widow bought the carriage in 1908 for $1,200 from the same company that catered to the Astors and Vanderbilts.

Although the carriages are the don’t-touch variety, there are child-friendly opportunities: a reproduction of a pioneer schoolhouse with a hands-on activity area, a reproduction of a wheelwright shop, and a zoetrope, the grand-daddy of motion pictures.

A zoetrope produces the illusion of motion. Children can spin the open-ended cylinder that has a series of still photographs inside. Looking through slits, it appears that a horse pulling a surrey is trotting.

The zoetrope proved in 1892 that, with the help of some of the earliest sequential still photographs, at times a trotting horse has all four hooves off the ground.

In the case of carriages, it’s better to have all four wheels on the ground.

If you go: Northwest Carriage Museum, 314 Alder St. Winter hours are 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays. It’s open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. the rest of the year, with Sunday hours in summer. Cost is $3 for adults, $1 ages 6 to 18, age 5 and under are free; families pay only $7. Call 360-942-4150 or www.nwcarriagemuseum.org, or call the Willapa Harbor Chamber of Commerce, 360-942-5419.

Before the rush: Get some Whistler skiing in before the Olympics. Recent significant snow led the ski resort to open Whistler Mountain on Nov. 14, 12 days earlier than planned. Check out the ski packages at www.whistler.com/getaway.

On the bookshelf: Peter Stekel’s “Best Hikes Near Seattle” ($19) includes seven hikes in the Skykomish Valley; four along the Mountain Loop Highway, and the rest in the Snoqualmie and White River valleys.

The book covers easy family hikes as well. The maps, photographs, descriptions, tips and comments hit the mark in these slick pages.

Columnist Sharon Wootton is co-author of “Off the Beaten Path: Washington” and can be reached at 360-468-3964 or songandword@rockisland.com.

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