A Closet History at the Eastman House

Hat Boxes and the Past in Rochester, N.Y.

Hat boxes on display in a closet at the George Eastman House in Rochester, N.Y. Photo credit: M. Ciavardini

Hat boxes on display in a closet at the George Eastman House in Rochester, N.Y.
Photo credit: M. Ciavardini

 

Should visitors to Kodak founder George Eastman’s house in Rochester, N.Y. feel nosy upon peeking into closets at the old place? What would someone find if she were to glance into mine? Unfolded laundry, racks packed with too many clothes, wire hangers.

Looking into George’s mother’s closet yields some nostalgia for old Rochester department stores now gone. Remember when shopping was not a generic experience, not one that could be had in any mall in America? Remember hats and hat boxes? Remember hangers neatly spaced and dresses pressed before storing?

Neatly arrayed clothing at the George Eastman House in Rochester, N.Y.  Photo credit: M. Ciavardini

Neatly arrayed clothing at the George Eastman House in Rochester, N.Y.
Photo credit: M. Ciavardini

Okay, I’ve never ironed my clothes before hanging them up and am too young to have had much of a hat collection, but I do remember Sibley’s and Forman’s and shopping for special occasions in Rochester, N.Y. I appreciate George’s mother’s intimate space even as I feel like a busy body as I peer in. Would she like her hat boxes on display? Would I like mine? Could I bear to have strangers inspect my hair brush and my perfume bottles and my canisters of pills?

I wonder how accurate displays at historical houses are. Was Mrs. Eastman really that neat? How I would love to see hat boxes tumbled and socks unmatched in a pile and shoes strewn all about, perfume bottles tipped over, balms without caps. History surely was a little more messy even with all kinds of household help. I’d love to go to an historic home and see a few of its owner’s—or his mother’s—flaws.

—Lori Tripoli

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Planning to visit Rochester, N.Y.? You might like these posts:

Are the bedrooms of historical figures really this neat? A bedroom in the George Eastman House in Rochester, N.Y.  Photo credit: M. Ciavardini

Are the bedrooms of historical figures really this neat? A bedroom in the George Eastman House in Rochester, N.Y.
Photo credit: M. Ciavardini

 

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