After Thanksgiving, save room for Sunnyside


Wednesday, 11/21/2012 12:26pm

Visitors to our Thanksgiving Weekend festivities at Washington Irving’s Sunnyside are in for a host of treats. Not the least of which is a chance to meet a resident VIP.

Her name is Belinda. Not to be confused with Ms. Carlisle of the Go-Go’s, but a celebrity in her own right: At 160 years old, she exudes a preternaturally ageless glow, stands a mere two feet tall, and boasts a trunk full of high-fashion garments to rival many a clotheshorse.

Belinda is one of the special toy dolls found scattered throughout Washington Irving’s cottage at Sunnyside. While Irving had no children of his own, his home was often filled with visiting youngsters—neighbors and extended family members—whom he doted on like a loving uncle. Holidays were an especially festive occasion at Sunnyside, with Irving and his guests savoring a traditional feast, singing carols, and opening presents. Dolls like Belinda were a favored children’s gift, especially among girls, as were popular games like Solitaire, The Mansion of Happiness, and dominos. 

Although Belinda never lived at Sunnyside during Irving’s time, she is just the kind of doll a young girl in the mid-19th century would have coveted. She has a porcelain head and shoulders, a stuffed cotton body, and leather arms and hands. It’s likely that she was “born” in Germany, at one of the noted doll manufactories of the period, where thousands of dolls were produced for the international market. What makes Belinda truly special, however, is her extensive wardrobe, which features complete seasonal outfits, from undergarments to elegant dresses to accessories like tiny shoes made of black wool—all at the height of late 1850s style. Visitors take note: Belinda’s hoopskirt is a scaled-down version of those worn by Sunnyside’s female costumed interpreters!

Belinda is related to the Irving family by marriage. The doll was a beloved companion to Theresa Romeyn Beck, who grew up to marry Irving’s great-nephew, Cortlandt Irving. Gifted to Historic Hudson Valley in the 1980s, Belinda has since become a mini-celebrity on the special occasions when she is on view at Sunnyside.

Despite her age, Belinda—like many popular dolls that came before and after—possesses a timeless, transcendent appeal.

“Girls today love Polyvore and they love their American Girl dolls, so they can relate to Belinda easily,” says Dina Friedman, Site Director for Sunnyside and one of Belinda’s caretakers. Taking it one step further, she notes: “Barbie and Belinda both represent their time periods. But, instead of the leggy blonde of the 1960s and 70s, Belinda has all the hallmarks of an 1850s beauty. Her alabaster skin, hairstyle, symmetrical features, and rosebud mouth represent the feminine ideal for that time.”

Even to this day, Belinda (and her wardrobe) never fails to charm admirers of all ages. She will be accepting visitors this Thanksgiving Weekend at Sunnyside, where a whole chest of toys will be on display: a tin cart, a boy doll, checkers, doll furniture, and a miniature cast iron stove, among many others. Come join the holiday fun!

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