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Downton Abbey Tea draws crowd to Hartwood

| Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014, 9:01 p.m.
Deborah Deasy | Hampton Journal
Downton Abbey Tea guests included Betty Batie and Suk Hernandez of the Marys and Marthas, a womens guild at the First Baptist Church of Pittsburgh in Oakland.
Deborah Deasy | Hampton Journal
Pianist Janelle Garoff played the 'Downton Abbey' soundtrack on a piano that belonged to the late Mary Flinn Lawrence.
Deborah Deasy | Hampton Journal
Deborah Deasy | Hampton Journal
Julie Dancison, of Shaler, enjoyed the tea.
Deborah Deasy | Hampton Journal

Sold-out seating and plenty of vintage fashions marked the first Downton Abbey Tea at Hartwood Mansion in Indiana Township.

Nearly 60 people attended the event, including mothers and daughters, aunts and cousins, girlfriends and neighbors, plus, members of a church women's guild.

Nearly all confessed to faithfully watching “Downton Abbey,” the hit British TV series that has been airing in the U.S. at 9 p.m. Sundays as part of the PBS program “Masterpiece.”

The series follows a clan of aristocrats and their servants at a country estate in early 20th-century England. “There are no car chases, no explosions,” Kathy Nicklas of Hampton said about the TV show. “It's like a trip to England.”

Each week, characters confront life's timeless challenges with perfect diction.

“I like the multiple story lines,” said Marie Fechik-Kirk of McCandless. “It's really well packaged — the music, the attention to detail.”

Joanne Hildenbrand of West Deer likes the show's serial style.

“It's a soap opera, but it's all dressed up and fancy, and it has Maggie Smith,” Hildebrand said. “So you don't feel guilty about watching a soap opera. It's not like watching ‘Days of Our Lives.'”

Dressed as Cora Crawley — also known as the Countess of Grantham and Lady Grantham — Carol Vivaldi of Shaler welcomed everybody to Hartwood Mansion for the Feb. 8 tea.

Vivaldi also spoke at the tea about Hartwood's storied family — the late John and Mary Flinn Lawrence, and their two sons, also now deceased.

Decorations in the mansion's Great Hall included a 3-foot-tall flower arrangements and a life-size, life-like cutout of Mr. Carson, the stone-faced butler on “Downton Abbey.”

“I don't watch it,” said Betty Batie of Pittsburgh's Highland Park neighborhood. “I just like the vintage clothing.”

Batie confessed to buying her pearls at Goodwill to attend the Downton Abbey Tea with other members of the Marys and Marthas, a women's guild at the First Baptist Church of Pittsburgh in Oakland.

“I'm channeling the Dowager Countess,” guild member Margot Quirin said about the all-black ensemble she wore to portray Smith's character, Lady Violet.

Beverly Attenberger of Hempfield Township attended the tea with daughter Beth Forejt, also of Hempfield.

“I like the story of the family and the different characters and how they interact,” Attenberger said. “I think the period is fascinating.”

“I'm an Anglophile,” Forejt said. “I watch everything British.”

To set the proper mood, pianist Janelle Garoff of Fox Chapel played selections from the “Downton Abbey” soundtrack on Mary Flinn Lawrence's very own piano.

A Fare to Remember @ Home in Shoppers Plaza, Hampton, catered the tea and supplied all the finger foods, including “fruited chicken salad on silver dollar rolls” and “goat cheese bruschetta with dollop of orange marmalade.”

Guests also dined on scones with strawberry jam and clotted tea, spiced praline pecans and chocolate fudge squares after a “Downton Abbey” trivia contest and another contest to guess what character said what line from the TV show.

“Who would have said, ‘What is a weekend?'” quizzed Hartwood Mansion docent Renae Breskovich, dressed as a “Downton Abbey” maid. The answer was Lady Violet.

Patti Benaglio, office manager at Hartwood Mansion expects to soon schedule another Downtown Abbey Tea at Hartwood Mansion.

“We had 30 people on a waiting list that couldn't get in,” Benaglio told guests. “We'll be doing another (tea) toward the end of April.”

Deborah Deasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6369 or ddeasy@tribweb.com.

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