The Mad Hatter Purge
The Mad Hatter Costume Shop and the House of Magic closed their doors years ago, and this weekend, the contents of these businesses are being liquidated. In an unassuming building on Wayne Avenue, just north of I-35, the public has access to purchase the thousands of costumes, antique furniture, vintage clothing, books, records and other knick knacks occupying over a dozen rooms in this old furniture building.
Most prevalent upon entry were Halloween costumes. I couldn’t help but be impressed by the full sized cigarette pack which was sure to be a hit at most parties these days (or not), The Wind in the Willows frog, politicians from the past couple decades, Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula (my fave, above), and countless other masks from popular culture over the past 40 years.
Walking through a maze of nooks and crannies, it was a treat to find spaces dedicated to singular collections: a hat room, a shoe room, and several vintage clothing and costume rooms. Betty and Fred Lemke (Betty is now in her late 80s, Fred passed away in the early 1990s) owned the shops, which ran from the 1970s to the early 2000s on Brown Street in Dayton. When the businesses finally closed, the inventory was moved to the Norman Miller Furniture store on Wayne Avenue, where it merged with Betty’s huge collection of vintage clothing, antiques, and various other objects.
Strewn about or filling up countless shelves, the density of the collection makes the visit an experience to remember, as associations and intrigue dominate each space. It’s like being in a room full of characters, with varying charm and attractiveness.
Being a bit sentimental when it comes to a collection as interesting and invested as this one, with countless hours of thought and energy dedicated by Betty and Fred over several decades, the idea of keeping it preserved and intact (based on a model like Elsewhere in North Carolina) would have been an amazing feat in keeping the stories of these objects alive and creating new relationships with the public.
To those objects with new homes, a history may be scattered, but new stories will emerge. My Russian bolshevik costume from the 1940s, for example, will undoubtably have several more moments in the spotlight…