Cigar boxes and Cape May Christmas Candlelight House Tours

Cigar boxes would fly out of Hill House under the arms of volunteers and be distributed to dozens of B&Bs, inns and private homes during the early years of MAC’s Christmas Candlelight House Tours

MAC is over 46 years old, so early on in the organization’s beginnings — “When God created MAC” as Director Michael Zuckerman’s assistant Anna Leeper likes to say— we didn’t use computers to keep track of sales, we used ledger books.

“We had a big binder, and we would break them down with pages by day, and write down the people’s names for each ticket,” said Barbara Hubmaster, now Volunteer Coordinator, who over a dozen years ago worked in Hill House office taking orders over the phone. “And the same for trolley tours. There were pages for each day with the number of seats available for each tour, and it was filled up one-by-one as people called.

“I don’t even think we had tickets,” she said. “I think we just put their name in a book and gave the pages to the Tour Department.”

Mary Stewart, now Chief Outreach Officer, recalls her early days as a MAC employee, over two decades ago, when cash and checks were the only payment accepted for a MAC tour or event, and cigar boxes held ticket proceeds that were reconciled at the end of very long days and nights after big events like the Christmas Candlelight House Tours. Christmas Candlelight House Tours, one of MAC’s most popular annual events, are in their 43rd year in 2016, set for Saturdays, Dec. 3, 10 and 17, from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Property owners decorate their gorgeous Victorian properties and open them to thousands of visitors to tour.

“At the end of the night — it was incredible — we would have cigar boxes piled up dozens high on the desks in Hill House,” Stewart said.

During the early days of the Christmas Candlelight House Tours, the cigar boxes were distributed with $25 in cash to make change and carried by one of an army of volunteers to each historic home or inn that was participating that night.

Now you must purchase tickets in advance; see the end of this story for more information about that.

MAC began in 1970 and Zuckerman began his decades-long tenure as director in 1983. MAC is an integral and important part of the amazing historic preservation story of Cape May, N.J. This blog will aim to tell that story, and more.

He recalls his early days as director.

“Both of us full-time employees, myself and a secretary, had desks on the first floor of Hill House … A third full-time staffer, our first Tour Director, Carol Boyd, was added midway through the year. We didn’t need staff meetings, since everyone knew everyone else’s business. To have a private conversation, we moved to “conference room A” — the great outdoors.

“It was a full year before I purchased MAC’s first desk computer (a Tandy that we nicknamed ‘cupcake’), so everything was typed on a machine called a ‘typewriter’.”

MAC publications — brochures, TWICM (“This Week in Cape May”), etc. — had to be typeset, designed and proofed and were often done at Inkwell, a local print shop.

“We never heard of a fax machine, so anything urgent had to be hand-delivered or mailed overnight. Nor was there such a thing as telephone voicemail, so we were constantly taking messages for each other on pads of pink message slips. We did, however, have the luxury of a Canon copier, which chugged out one copy about every 5 seconds, with no collating or stapling or two-sided printing function.”

The office had ample heat, Zuckerman recalls, but there was no air conditioning. Then, one day a young woman part-timer fainted during a heat wave. At that point, the Board relented and MAC purchased its first window air-conditioner.

Hill House was the center of things and housed all staff functions back then. Since then, MAC staff have expanded into other areas of the historic Emlen Physick Estate, into office areas in the Physick Estate museum, into the second floor of the Carriage House, into the Maintenance Barn, with Visitor Services and other staff, still, in Hill House.

Now, of course, credit cards are accepted, tickets are still sold by phone but exceedingly online, visitors can now upload a map of their Christmas Candlelight House Tour onto their Smart Phones, and the cigar boxes are long gone. And for the 43rd year, thousands will come to Cape May to enjoy its inspiring ambience during the holidays.

Susan Krysiak is Communications Coordinator for the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts & Humanities (MAC) in Cape May, N.J. For information on Cape May’s holiday season tours and events, visit www.capemaymac.org.