With the approach of Valentine’s Day, a time to honor and proclaim one’s love, affection and loyalty to another, there may be those who consider Reality TV a particularly unfortunate construct, where the formerly, currently or hopefully famous get to hawk their emotions, whether real or imagined.
So for those folks who pine — even for a day — for a gentler time when courtship was more subtle and covert, the Hower House presents it monthlong “Romantic Notions” through Feb. 28.
“Notions is the idea of having a notion of being romantic, sentimental … and a notion in the way of sewing, a hankie as a gift to show affection …,” said Linda Bussey, assistant director at Hower House.
And of course it wouldn’t be Valentine’s without something sugary, which will play out on Sweet Saturdays (Feb. 9, 16 and 23) from 12:30 to 4 p.m., when guests can enjoy in Hower’s exquisite, formal dining room fresh gingerbread and hot tea after touring the mansion.
And unlike new visitors to Hower House during Victorian times, who were typically served tea on the low table, modern-day guests will take their sips at the high table, which meant “they got to stay longer and take off their hat,” Bussey said.
“The teas are very elegant,” Bussey added. “And the food is always pretty as it is tasty.”
Notions exhibits a varied, colorful collection of vintage Valentine-themed items popular during the Victorian Age, including ornate pop-up cards, love letters, beautiful handmade handkerchiefs and even miniature sewing machines on display near the third floor ballroom.
Some may consider the Victorians as rather prudish and stifling. Not quite.
They were romantic and affectionate, indeed; they just used props and other customs of the day with which to convey their desire.
“There’s so many levels of meaning during the Victoria Era,” Bussey said. “The way you folded a calling card, or held a hankie, gloves or a fan, all sent a message. You could either accept or deflect someone’s attention.”
The Valentine cards of the time were rife with symbolism: cherubs, doves, hearts, all of which imparted a particular meaning, such as a forget-me-not flower.
Earlier on, Valentine cards took shape in the form of handwritten letters, Bussey said. One such love letter is on display and was written to Blanche Bruot Hower from her husband Milton Otis Hower, middle son of John Henry Hower, who built the home.
Dated Feb. 14, 1882 and written with a flourishing penmanship, the letter reads:
My sweetest Blanche
The violet loves a sunny bank,
The cowslip loves the lea,
The scarlet creeper loves the elm,
But I love Thee
The oriole weds his mottled mate,
The lily weds the bee,
Heaven’s marriage ring is round the earth,
Let mine bind Thee.
Many of the Victorian pop-up cards had a special message from a potential suitor discreetly written or printed on the bottom of the card, unseen to a casual observer once the card was displayed upright.
Bussey told of more elaborate greeting cards with movable parts called “trick” Valentines, which seems salacious by its very name.
“A hopeful young lady could measure the true emotional involvement of her suitor by a trick card,” Bussey said. “The more complicated the card, the more serious he must have been.”
Perhaps this mechanical card was today’s equivalent of bestowing yet another rose to signal the status of a particular bachelorette.
“It was very non-verbal,” Bussey said. “So you could say a lot of things without saying anything, sort of like, ‘Come on, come closer.'”
Sweet Saturdays cost $8 for adults, $6 for folks 65 and older, and $2 for students. Group rates apply to 10 more. Call (330) 972-6909 or visit www.uakron.edu/howerhse.
“You meet the nicest people at these teas; you really do!”