Like a lot of children her age, Skylar Kagan, 5, loves to dress up.
She owns five tiaras and a handful of superhero outfits. She and her twin brother, Matthew, so enjoy disguises that their parents, Jonathan and Marnie Kagan of Annapolis, keep two trunks stuffed with costumes. She went as Wonder Woman last Halloween.
"Skylar just never misses an opportunity to become somebody else," Marnie Kagan says.
This weekend, the kindergartener will have a chance to blend the magic of make-believe with U.S. history when she and other girls don gowns and crowns, visit the William Paca House, and share curtsies, tea and table talk with Queen Anne, the British monarch for whom Skylar's hometown was named 317 years ago.
Well, not Queen Anne exactly. A living-history actress, Mary Ann Jung, will impersonate the ruler at the first Queen Anne Birthday and Princess Tea Party on Sunday, Feb. 6, a dress-up gala the Historic Annapolis Foundation is staging to mark a chapter of local history it calls underappreciated.
"Most people have no idea about [Anne's] reign, but she's very important to the origins of this area," says Heather Ersts, the organization's vice president for collections and interpretation. "We hope to bring her to the forefront over the next few years. This will be a fun first step."
The event is open to 40 girls between ages 3 and 10 (and one accompanying adult each), and the foundation invites them to dress as a favorite princess. To them, the main appeal will likely be the magic they associate with such Disney characters as Aurora (better known as Sleeping Beauty) and Jasmine of the film "Aladdin."
To Carrie Kiewitt, a colleague of Ersts' at the foundation, the allure is the larger mission.
"We love to make the past accessible by bringing it to life," she says. "But it's also our goal to educate the next generation of people who might turn out to be as enthusiastic about history as we are."
Fairest of them all
The Disney Co., of course, has never lost money playing up the glamor of princesses, whether bringing to life "the fairest of them all," Snow White, in 1937, or celebrating the pluck of Tiana 72 years later in the animated film "The Princess and the Frog."
Jung, who has performed shows as Queen Elizabeth I for three decades, knows well the value of rocking the royal glitz, especially where little girls are concerned.
"Little girls love the sparkle," says Jung, who also portrays historical figures like Clara Barton, founder of the Red Cross, and chef Julia Child for schoolchildren and other audiences. "I think it's genetic. When I'm [dressed as Elizabeth], they come up and hug me. They want to touch the gown and feel the ostrich feathers in my hat. They ask, 'Are you a real queen?'"
Jung tells them she is — she's a living historian, after all — but she's nonetheless careful to tailor her performances toward the needs of any given audience.
She plans to be exceedingly kind to Anne, a woman who, truth be told, possessed few of the qualities that bring stars to the eyes of modern little girls.
She was born 346 years ago — on Feb. 6, 1665 — to James, the Duke of York, who would eventually become King James II of England, and his wife, Lady Anne Hyde.
Anne was one of 10 children and one of just two who made it out of childhood. Princess Anne assumed the throne in 1702, at the age of 37, and ruled until her death in 1714.
Her reign was important, mostly due to an act of Parliament in 1707 that merged England and Scotland into one political entity.
"Most people don't realize she was the last official Queen of England," Ersts says. "[The Acts] also made her the first Queen of the Kingdom of Great Britain."
But to little girls weaned on heroines with sparkling tiaras and hourglass figures, "poor Anne," as one historian called her, would have proved disappointing.
"People who know Anne know she was no trendsetter," says Jung, a history buff who spends months researching each of her characters. "She was no great orator like, say, Elizabeth. She squinted, thanks to an eye infection she had as a kid. And she had 18 pregnancies — only one of her children survived past age 10 — so she was pretty much always pregnant. She was huge, dumpy and overweight."
An author at Historic-UK.com is less kind, calling Anne "shy, conscientious, stout, shortsighted, gouty and very small," adding that when the queen died, "her body was so swollen and large it had to be borne in a vast, almost-square coffin" to the gravesite at Westminster Abbey.
When Jung, a slender sort, has tea and cakes with the little princesses, she'll wear a big green brocade dress with cream underskirt, silk sleeves with pearls, a gold chain of office and a white fur cape, all more or less typical of British royalty at the time.
But she won't be padding with any pillows. "I wouldn't fit in my costume if I did that," she says with a laugh. "I'd have to buy a new one. They're expensive!"
A thistle and a rose
Few towns are as drenched in early American history as Annapolis — a fact that makes it fascinating, at least in Ersts' view, that relatively few locals seem to know much about how it got its name.
"I hadn't read about [Queen] Anne for years" before coming up with the idea for the birthday tea, she says. "I honestly had to do some studying."
Kiewitt, the foundation's vice president for advancement, says she, too, knew little about Anne, one of the less-heralded occupants of the British throne.
"It's one of the pleasures of this job, learning new chapters of our history," she says.
One key thing to know is that even though her reign was significant — the battle between Protestants and Catholics for political power in Great Britain was especially fevered — the princess-turned-monarch never set foot in Annapolis, let alone in the colonies.
"She really had almost nothing to do with this area at all," Jung says.
But in the way of empires, that didn't matter much. Even when Anne was mere heir to the throne, settlers hereabouts named all kinds of things after her, including Princess Anne County in Virginia (which merged with the city of Virginia Beach in 1963) and Princess Anne Street, a main artery in Fredericksburg, Va.
In 1694 the seventh royal governor of Maryland, a British army officer named Sir Francis Nicholson, decided to rechristen a small seaport in the colony in Princess Anne's honor.
That was when Anne Arundel's Towne — named for a different Anne, the wife of Lord Calvert of Baltimore — became Princess Anne's namesake: Annapolis.
In 1708, Queen Anne chartered the village as a city.
At the time, the town's population numbered in the hundreds; today it's closer to 40,000. Nothing about Anne reflected Annapolis then or now, historians say, and nothing about Annapolis reflected her.
The renaming was simply the sort of thing that happens.
"Remember, people around here saw themselves as full-fledged subjects of the British Empire," Ersts says. "It was only natural to name places after those in the seat of power."
Queen Anne's County on the Eastern Shore is named for her. Annapolis' Duke of Gloucester Street memorializes her son, a boy who died at age 11.
But Ersts draws special attention to the city's flag, which will play a part in Sunday's festivities. It, too, memorializes Anne. It displays a crown above a hybrid-looking plant — a purple thistle and a red rose, each growing from the same stem.
Nicholson took the image from Anne's heraldic badge. The thistle represents Scotland; the rose, Tudor England. The image symbolizes the political merger that happened on Anne's watch.
The princesses will learn the story and get to design a family crest of their own. But grownups might well benefit, too.
"How many people have looked at the flag and thought, 'A crown? Flowers? What's that?'" Ersts says. "Every community has its visual codes, and until you can decode those symbols, it's harder to grasp what that community is all about."
Rare and special
Ersts got the germ of the idea for the party from a group of Annapolitans who have been celebrating Anne every Feb. 6 for the past several years.
It started in 2005, when David Fogle, an emeritus professor of history who lives in Annapolis, decided it would be fun to commemorate Anne with an annual "birthday" dinner at the Reynolds Tavern on Church Circle.
Backed by the City of Annapolis and a private donor, the evening has always been for a few dozen well-connected grownups — and by invitation only.
The Historic Annapolis Foundation took the event over in 2009 and soon began brainstorming ways of including more people.
Ersts and Kiewitt — well aware of the huge popularity of princess-themed events at places like Disney World in Florida — dreamed up the Princess Tea Party several months ago.
"We thought, ' Why not do this with real kids and a real queen?'" Kiewitt says.
The idea drew interest. There's room for 40 princesses at the Paca house, and as of the week before the event, 25 had signed up.
What will they get for their $20 (and two hours)? For most, it will be a first chance to shine at a gowns-and-tiara affair. In her rarefied British accent, the queen will speak of manners, proper curtsies and ways of dressing. (The girls will probably be surprised to learn that in the queen's day, they could have been jailed for wearing pants, and that only royals were allowed to wear purple.) They'll share tea, tarts and other cakes, and try out dances popular at the time.
And, with elegant Anne's encouragement, they'll design crests and create new tiaras of their own.
The day will be surprising and silly as well as high-toned, says Jung, who promises the girls will learn things about royal life they've never been told. Some of the very foods they'll have on their plates (chocolate, for instance) would have been unavailable to the general public.
"I'll be letting them know how new and rare this kind of opportunity was," she says. "I'll let them know how special they are — you know, treating them like royalty."
Royals and Ravens
Skylar Kagan decided her own dress-up tiaras weren't sufficient for the tea — she'll be wearing a brand-new one Sunday, her mom says — and she plans to don a red velvet dress with sequins.
As much as she's looking forward to the party, it was a bit of a tough sell in the Kagan family.
She and Matthew tend to do things together, especially when it comes to dressing up, and boys weren't encouraged to come.
Matthew and his father will be attending a Super Bowl party instead — after visiting a sporting-goods store.
"He's getting a new Ravens jersey," says Marnie Kagan.
As for the Historic Annapolis Foundation, the event has already proved popular enough that they're looking for a bigger hall to rent for next year's affair.
Beyond that, Ersts has plans to bring Queen Anne to an even wider audience, perhaps including contests and celebrations each Feb. 6 that include the whole city.
To Kiewitt, that's a majestic idea.
"History isn't just battles and dates," she says. "This city was named for Anne. That's just the kind of thing we'd like people to be able to relate to their own lives."
If you go
What: Queen Anne Birthday and Princess Tea Party
When: 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 6
Where: William Paca House and Garden, 186 Prince George St., Annapolis
Admission: By reservation only, space permitting (maximum of 40 children this year). Tickets are $15 for museum members, $20 for the general public.
Each child must be accompanied by an adult. Recommended for girls between 3 and 10 years old.
Reservations and information: 410-990-4543 or annapolis.org
Like a lot of children her age, Skylar Kagan, 5, loves to dress up.