Hail, Victoria!

Long after the sea has reclaimed the last few sandcastles left by summer beach-lovers, the fall season comes alive in Cape May, N. J., with one of the most entertaining celebrations in the country: the 34th annual Victorian Week.

For 10 days — from Oct. 6 through Oct. 15 — exciting activities glorify the unique heritage of America's first seashore resort with an astonishing variety of house tours, murder-mystery dinners, glass-blowing demonstrations, boat tours, fashion shows … and more.

Particularly at this time of year, tranquil Cape May may be the perfect getaway to soften the reminder of the horrific events of 9/11. Although we cannot escape the memories of that traumatic day, we can realize that there are still places and experiences like this very pleasant seaside town that bring us back to the reality of how life can and should be enjoyed.

During the 10 days a wide range of events highlight the late 19th-century architectural heritage, as well as the lifestyle of this Victorian period. As summer vacationers have drifted back to their homes, it's a quieter time in the cozy town by the sea, where residents and visitors enjoy cool ocean breezes, stroll the boardwalk, view the charming mansions and gingerbread cottages lined with picket fences — and savor the number of fine and acclaimed restaurants.

Feeling hearty? Climb the steps of the 1849-vintage Cape May Lighthouse for a stunning view of the Jersey Cape, where the Delaware Bay meets the Atlantic.

Surprisingly, there is an eclectic mix of people who choose to live in this harmonious community. Most everyone is from somewhere else.

Meet Harry Hirsch, a Holocaust survivor who emigrated from Poland to Philadelphia, and then moved to Vineland, N.J., where he operated a poultry farm. His next venture was into the frozen food business with distribution in Wildwood and Cape May; he liked the area and moved his family to Corin City in Atlantic County.

One day in 1965, his wife, Sophie, without his knowledge, went to an auction, and bid and bought a Cape May beachfront public property for $11,400. "No one knew if the land was for commercial or residential use," said Larry Hirsch, the son who now manages the 70-room inn with his semi-retired father.

When the land was finally rezoned to commercial, many interested buyers tried to purchase it from the Hirsch family, but they would not sell. Larry explained: "My father thought this was a prime location, so he began to construct a brand-new hotel. In 1966, the Montreal Inn opened for business with 27 rooms — he knew Canadian vacationers liked this area, and the Canadian dollar was strong at that time."

This year, the Montreal Inn celebrates its 40th anniversary.

The nation's first seaside resort, Cape May was first found to be a delightful spot in which to vacation more than 100 years ago. Presidents, dignitaries, and other prominent men and women flocked here.

After two disastrous fires (in 1856 and 1878) destroyed 320 acres and the entire hotel district in town, the area was rebuilt in the ornate style of the past few decades of the century. But the seaside resort was virtually ignored for many years. As some urban-renewal specialists noticed the resurgence of Jersey seashore towns, they began tearing down the Victorian wooden structures in Cape May.

Hold on! said the new breed of preservationists in the 1960s. A cease-and-desist order virtually stopped the bulldozers, and remaining Victorian homes took on new life. With the introduction of bed-and-breakfasts and inns, plus gracious guest houses and some motels in the 1970s, Cape May again has become a popular destination for travelers.

Vacationers can also stay in hotels reminiscent of yesteryear's Old World grandeur, like Congress Hall, the Inn at Cape May and the Chalfonte Hotel.

Victorian Week has been named "A Top 100 Event in North America." Here's why:

Oct. 6:

· Temperance Tantrums Dinner: With music and boisterous bar-room comedy, this amusing dinner is rudely interrupted by the Eternal Sword Temperance Union.

Oct. 7 and Oct. 8:

· Vintage Dance Weekend: Three workshops feature instructors in 19th-century dance steps, while the Vintage Ball will be held from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m., at Convention Hall.

· Wheaton Village Glass-Blowers Demonstration/Sale: Glassblowers set up their kiln on the grounds of the Physick Estate, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Oct. 6 to Oct. 16:

· Around Cape Island: A daily tour on the Cape May Whaler starts at 10 a.m. Dolphins and whales can be spotted and visitors enjoy the birds as they come to your hands for snacks.

Oct. 8:

· Antiques for Victorian Week: Regional vendors exhibit and sell their wares at Convention Hall from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. · Champagne and Brunch Walk: A walking tour of Cape May's Historic District concludes with a Southern-style breakfast buffet at the Chalfonte.

Oct. 11:

· Cape May Style House Tours: Visit the town's most beautiful homes for tips on interior design.


Oct. 12:

· Victorian Week Chef's Dine-Around: At 6 p.m., a five-course traveling gourmet feast, with wine for each course, is served at five restaurants.


Oct. 15:

· Chocolate Fantasy Buffet: A delectable smorgasbord featuring the Washington Inn's chocolate desserts, beginning at 2 p.m.

For information about tours, festivals and special events, call 1-800-275-4278; 609-884-5404 or log on to: www.capemaymac. org.



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