Catonsville Historical Society all dolled up for open house Dec. 1-2

Jane Byers will bring the Shirley Temple doll that reminds her of childhood.

Lynda Bell plans to show about a dozen of her dolls, including several she made herself.


Several First Lady dolls from the 19th century, collected by Nancy Slowak, will be on display as well.

In fact, every room of the Catonsville Historical Society's headquarters at 1824 Frederick Road will be decorated with dolls — antique, handmade, collectible and well-loved.


The occasion is the society's annual open house, "Babes in Toyland: Dolls of Christmas Past."

This year, all doll aficionados are invited to bring their own favorites on Saturday, Dec. 1, for the Community Show and Tell at 3 p.m.

This weekend's event will be open from 1 to 5 p.m., Dec. 1, and Sunday, Dec. 2. Admission is free. Parking is available in the Five Oaks Pool parking lot.

"It's a nice way to start off the holidays and stay in the neighborhood," said Barbara Beem, open house chairwoman.

Beem will also participate in the display with her collection of Madame Alexander Little Women dolls.

Not a doll-lover? Holiday decorations will be everywhere.

In the adjacent Pullen Museum, white elephant items, costume jewelry and Secret Santa items will be for sale. Historical society members are baking cookies for the refreshment table.

Antique model trains will be running in the basement train garden throughout the event. Trains of various gauges chug around scenery and houses, including a number of items made by firefighters who used to have a train garden in the Catonsville Firehouse.

"People come here just for this," Beem noted.

Saturday tends to draw more women visitors who are out with their friends for a fun afternoon.

"Last year, a lot of women came out with their girlfriends and spent the afternoon," Beem said. "We really liked that."

With that in mind, the committee has scheduled the show-and-tell, as well as a wine reception at 4 p.m. with holiday music playing on the antique Victrola.

For the first time, the group has made arrangements with two Frederick Road restaurants, Dimitri's International Grille and the Candlelight Inn, to make donations to the historical society for every diner who brings a coupon from the open house.

Sunday's focus is on families. Santa will be making an appearance from 1 to 3 p.m. to visit with children and pose for photos. There will also be holiday music by the Salem Brass from 2 to 4 p.m.

"Bring your camera to take pictures," Beem said.

Members of Catonsville organizations decorate the rooms of the 1941 colonial style house every year. Look for some regulars, including Friends of the Catonsville Library, the Salem Stitchcrafters, the Salem Knitters, Historic Old Salem and the Bent Twig Garden Club. Although the Women's Club of Catonsville has shuttered its clubhouse, its silver tea sets will be on display.

The Gateway Club is new this year. They will decorate the smallest room, the Morning Room.

Jane Byers, usually known for her artwork, is taking part with the club she helped organize 45 years ago. She's bringing from her own collection two American Indian dolls, a Pilgrim doll and two rag dolls dressed in Colonial garb.

She found a Shirley Temple doll that reminded her of one she had as a child at a Historical Society sale several years ago. "I'm just returning it for display," she quipped.

Lynda Bell plans to bring several of her early 20th century dolls, as well as porcelain dolls she has made herself since the 1990s.

Using her own kiln, she produces the heads of her elegant, curly-headed, elaborately dressed dolls.

"It takes, depending on the doll, three or four firings to make a doll," she said on the process.

After the mold is made, it is fired, cleaned, painted at least once and fired in the kiln after each step.

After the dolls are made, Bell gets out needle and thread to dress them. "Ninety-nine-point-nine percent of the clothes that are on them I've made," she said.

Doll collectors may recognize her dolls' faces resemble those of famous European doll makers, Jumeau and Kesner.

"I've always liked dolls," Bell said, recalling how she asked her mother to be sure she — not Santa — chose her dolls. She lost all of them, she reported sadly, in a house fire when she and her husband lived in Albuquerque, N.M.

Once a small Friday night event, the Catonsville Historical Society's open house now stretches over two afternoons and draws about 350 people, according to Sharon Stanton, the organization's president. "We are trying to have the society open to the community," she said. "There's so much going on here."

Although the society tries to bring something new to each year's open house, some things remain the same. That includes the trays of cookies made in residents' kitchens, including Margaret Milleker's.

"I spend a lot of time baking my cookies," she said. "I've already started baking."

Before Christmas, she usually bakes about 20 kinds, everything from toll house to sugar cookies.

Although admission is free, visitors are asked to bring canned goods to help restock the shelves of the Catonsville Emergency Food Ministry.