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Perambulator Pride - By Rich Warren
From t he outside it appears to be just an ordinary split-level house - complete with a basketball hoop - at the end of a dead end street. Step inside the door, however, and you're instantly transported in time to a Victorian wonderland filled with objects of intricate beauty.

You easily might find yourself surprised at what you're marveling over. The Victorian Perambulator Museum in Jefferson is filled with - well, baby buggies. But what baby buggies! More than 200 exquisitely crafted 19th-century perambulators as they were called then, fill every room of this modest house, and the sheer magnificence of these wicker wonders truly raises them to an art form You'll see perambulators with tulips and cornucopia designs, swans, sea horses, gondolas - there even are baby carriages in the shapes of Model Ts and a Harley Davidson. Additionally, the peramhulators are filled and surrounded with beautiful Victorian toys and dolls with hand-painted faces and ornate dresses, as well as other fanciful creations from bygone eras, such as carousel horses, dollhouses, even the stage for a Punch and Judy show. Each room is densely packed with objects lovingly and artfully arranged, but the artistry of the wicker carriages is what will first draw your eye and drop your jaw.

Running the show at this one-of-a kind museum are twin sisters Judith Kaminski and Janet Pallo, who began collecting the baby carriages 30 years ago and have been operating the museum for 15. Part of the allure of this museum is being shown through it by one of the two sisters, whose passion is obvious and whose knowledge of the subject is encyclopedic. They point out charming tidbits you might not otherwise discover -- a little compartment for diapers inside one carriage, a cap worn by Tom Thumb of the Bamum and Bailey Circus, a doll sporting their grandmother's own hair.

The sisters are natural-born storytellers, and they make it their quest to instill their love for these beautiful objects in each of their visitors. As proof of their persuasive powers, and of the perambulators' sheer beauty, many of their visitors are people who come back - and bring their friends. "Even the men are knocked out by what they see here;" laughs Judith. "Their wives might have dragged them here, but they end up being just as impressed as the ladies."

The sisters are proud of their latest acquisition, "The Royal Mail Coach,a miniature coach once ridden in by Queen Elizabeth and Princess Margaret when they were children. Although other museums may own a few pieces similar to the ones seen here, there's no other place anywhere with this concentration of perambulators. People from all over approach the sisters with questions or with tips on possible future acquisitions. Even the illustrious Smithsonian Institution has called them up asking them to lend objects for an exhibit.

The sisters' collection now has grown so large they can focus on acquiring only truly unique objects that are not just merely beautiful but also one-of-a-kind. The sisters are looking to move their burgeoning collection into bigger, and more historically appropriate quarters. They would like to remain in their native Ashtabula County but will move it to whatever city makes them the best offer - and some out-of-state venues are wooing them. At present, their small familyrun operation is open only during limited hours. Their aim is to increase their marketing efforts to put themselves more on the map of tourist destinations so others can share their love of what they've spent three decades collecting.

But why this passion for baby buggies'? In a word, because they're beautiful. "They are works of art, not just a mode of transportation," says Judith, who feels the Victorians had much more of a sense of style than we do today. Just as antique and vintage cars have created a following across the nation, so can these beautiful perambulators, insists Judith. "That's our mission;" she said. "We think if we can get the word out, we can keep this art form alive. We're going to make it happen. We haven't come this far to see it die."

The Victorian Perambulator Museum is located at 26E. Cedar Street in Jefferson in Astabula County- Ohio

Hrs. from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m on Saturdays but the sisters will open the museum at any time by appointment. cal 440-576-9588  Admission is $3 for adults and $2.50 for children.

(Country Living 2003)