Dressed in Victorian outfits, singers and storytellers Jan and John Haigis entertain at the Sea Isle City Historical Society and Museum's open house.

By Donald Wittkowski

Chase Little-McDonald was getting his face painted Saturday during an open house at the Sea Isle City Historical Society and Museum. He was also getting a history lesson.

“Do you know how many stars are on the American flag?” face painter Laura Galvin asked 7-year-old Chase.

After Chase said no, Galvin told him the flag has 50 stars.

“Each star represents each state in the United States,” Galvin explained.

If Chase needs a reminder, all he has to do is look in the mirror. He had Galvin paint an American flag on his face after hearing the patriotic song “Yankee Doodle Dandy.”

For Chase and other children, the museum’s open house proved to be both an educational and entertaining outing.

Laura Galvin paints an American flag on the face of 7-year-old Chase Little-McDonald.

Abby Powell, president of the historical society, said the museum decided to have an open house for the first time during the summer to take advantage of the big vacation crowds and generate more exposure for itself.

“We never really had anything in the summer,” Powell said. “We thought by having a summer event, we could attract more visitors and locals. There are some people who don’t even know we exist.”

The museum is tucked inside the Sea Isle City Library at 4800 Central Avenue. Powell noted that the open house was combined with an art show to attract more families and children to the museum.

“It’s great,” she said, pronouncing the event a success.

The museum is a repository of Sea Isle City’s 137-year history. It has an array of artifacts on display, ranging from a 100-year-old trolley bell to a jet pilot’s flight suit from the 1970s, according to the museum’s website. One new exhibit commemorates the 100th anniversary of the Sea Isle City Beach Patrol.

Research material in the museum includes thousands of photographs, maps, books, pamphlets, and personal remembrances, plus collections on specialized subjects such as the huge coastal storm of 1962 and the history of Sea Isle’s railroads, which played a critical role in the development of the city, the website says.

Jan and John Haigis sing an old-fashioned song for museum member Lynne Shirk, center, and museum president Abby Powell.

To recreate a vintage feel for the open house, the museum invited in entertainers Jan and John Haigis, who dress in Victorian clothes while performing poems, songs and stories from the 18th and 19th centuries.

While entertaining the crowds, the married couple from Darby, Pa., interspersed their songs and stories with mini history lessons about the United States from Colonial times onward.

“We call it stealth education,” Jan Haigis said. “We try to be entertaining while we are educating people, because they learn more while they’re being entertained.”

Chase Little-McDonald, who lives in Sea Isle, was inspired to have his face painted as an American flag after hearing Jan and John Haigis sing a version of “Yankee Doodle Dandy.”

Chase’s 69-year-old grandfather, Pat McDonald, also a Sea Isle resident, recalled his fond childhood memories of vacationing in the beach town while he was browsing through the historic photos and artifacts housed in the museum.

McDonald remembered some of the city’s most treasured former landmarks, including the old Cronecker’s Hotel & Restaurant and the old Busch’s Seafood Restaurant, where he worked as a dishwasher as a teenager.

Museum visitor Pat McDonald looks at a photo collage of a former Sea Isle landmark.

McDonald marveled over some of the pictures in the museum showing the old buildings in their heyday, decades before they were torn down to make room for new development. At the same time, he lamented their loss.

“With a lot of things, I can understand when they take them down and put up something new. But you also have to preserve some things, otherwise you’ll never know what came before,” McDonald said of Sea Isle’s history.