Help Wanted: The Summer Servants’ Tour
A backstairs tour shows the Driehaus Museum from a servant’s eyes.
“You’re taaardy. The Nick’sons don’t allow tardiness.”
A couple of minutes late to my tour, I receive this verbal lashing from my guide—the Nickerson Mansion’s cockney British housekeeper. It’s all part of “Help Wanted: The Summer Servants’ Tour” at the Driehaus Museum, née the historic Nickerson Mansion, an immaculately preserved 1879 house that offers a peek into Chicago history. Our tour-guide housekeeper is looking to hire domestics—a cook, housemaid, ladies maid, valet (pronounced with a strong t), butler and others—and we, the tourgoers, are her applicants. Without breaking character, she hastily leads us from room to room, her stiff black crepe dress making a soft crunching noise in her wake.
Traversing the manse via back staircases, I, the potential laundry maid, learn that my job depends on the precise handling of Mrs. Nickerson’s pricey dresses—a new one for every day, of course. I also learn to make plum pudding, freshen walnuts, set a table using a ruler for exact measurements, polish mirrors, heat toiletries to the correct temperature and call other servants through hidden electric buttons.
Our guide, taking a page from Downton Abbey, uses ol’ timey British phrases (“Don’t dillydally!”) to shuffle us through the house in about an hour. The few awkward moments become the most entertaining: Passing through the historic kitchen, now the museum office, our guide points to the computer. “I believe Mr. Nickerson says that’s from his travels in China. He’s very modern.”
Experience “Help Wanted” through September 14.