Joseph and Berna Heyman loved the spot: a small historic house near a covered wooden bridge along the western bank of Fox Creek just outside the village of Schoharie. Then, they heard about the eggs, nearly 5,000 of them.
“What was paramount to us was being near our daughter, our son-in-law and our grandson,” said Joseph Heyman, a retired research scientist for NASA and a Williamsburg, Va., resident who now also owns a home in Schoharie. “The eggs? Well, as we got closer to buying the property, we thought it’d be nice to be able to share them with the community. They haven’t seen them for a decade.”
It was 2004 when Mildred Vrooman’s Easter Egg Exhibit, housed in a small, narrow building next to what was her home at the corner of Route 30 and Route 443, was last open to the public. Vrooman, a direct descendent of Revolutionary War veteran Peter Vroman, died on Dec. 12, 2012 at the age of 103, but had been forced to close her egg museum 10 years ago due to ill health. Now, the Heymans are opening up the exhibit again over the first three weekends in April. All proceeds will go to the Schoharie Free Library, which is still rebuilding after the devastation caused by Hurricane Irene during the late summer of 2011.
“We just couldn’t pass up this house,” said Heyman. “We bought the property in May of last year and we’ve spent the last nine months getting the house in the type of condition that is appropriate for someone living in it today. My grandson can now literally go over the bridge and through the wood to grandmother’s house.”
‘Easter Egg Exhibit’
WHERE: Peter Vroman House, 112 Covered Bridge St., Schoharie
WHEN: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Friday through Sunday, and April 11-13 and 18-20
HOW MUCH: $5, $10 per family
MORE INFO: 295-7127, email@example.com
Mildred Vrooman probably would have enjoyed Heyman’s reference to Lydia Maria Child’s poem from 1844. It was another children’s author, Kate Milhous, who got Vrooman and a friend, Elizabeth Warner, started on the Easter Egg Exhibit back in 1953. When they read Milhous’s book, “The Egg Tree,” which won the Caldecott Medal in 1951 for best picture book illustration, Vrooman and Warner were inspired to begin painting their own Easter eggs. By 1964, they had enough to create an exhibit in the Schoharie Free Library where Vrooman had started working a few years earlier.
A library link
Berna Heyman also happens to be a librarian, having recently retired as Associate Dean of the Swem Library at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va. She admits that looking into Mildred’s past has been great fun.
“I love doing research, so I’ve enjoyed digging into the Vrooman family history,” she said. “The house is the one that Peter Vroman built after the Revolution in 1785. The first one had been attacked and burned, and as far as we know Mildred lived there her whole life. I also found out that she was the librarian in Schoharie for 33 years.”
According to those who knew her, Vrooman, while cordial, could also be stern and businesslike when it came to running the library.
“She was, mostly, a very sweet lady,” said Carle Kopecky, director of the Old Schoharie Stone Fort Museum which sits just across Fox Creek from the Peter Vroman House. “When she got her back up, however, look out. But she was very enthusiastic about history, and she had a complete 18th century Dutch costume that she would wear for special occasions.”
According to Kopecky, you didn’t address Vrooman as Mildred or Millie. Instead, it was “Miss Vrooman.” Cathy Caiazzo, currently director of the Schoharie Free Library, agreed with Kopecky’s assessment of her predecessor.
“She was, well, how do I say this, very old-school, very proper,” said Caiazzo. “But she really cared about the library and her eggs. It was her mother, Cora, and Miss Vrooman that started the library.”
‘Thousands of them’
Caiazzo isn’t a life-long Schoharie resident, but she’s been there long enough to have seen the Easter Egg Exhibit.
“It is fascinating to see, and there are thousands of them everywhere,” she said. “They’re all painted differently, and some have little cut-out figures glued on to the shell. It’s a real hodgepodge of eggs; chicken eggs, ostrich, goose and duck. The variety of things she did with them is amazing.”
The eggs have been on display throughout the Schoharie area. Initially they were at what was called the Mary Beatrice Cushing Memorial Library (now the Schoharie Free Library), and also had homes in the town of West Berne and at the Depot Lane property of the Schoharie Colonial Heritage Association. In April of 2001, the collection went on display in its current quarters, a building Vrooman had built specifically to house her egg collection
“We bought four acres of property, and the house is in one corner and the Easter egg house is in the other corner,” said Joe Heyman. “Miss Vrooman had been ill for years but it had been lovingly taken care of by the caretaker [Schenectady native Edward W. Keyser] before he died. We understand and appreciate the community’s connection to the eggs, and we will certainly reflect on that when we think about the future.”
Opening up the exhibit as a fund-raiser for the library was obviously a good idea, according to Berna Heyman.
“We never met Mildred, but this exhibit and the library were her life’s work,” she said. “She spent a tremendous amount of time throughout the year preparing the eggs differently so people would have something new and different to look at each year. She did a lot for her community, and the people we’ve encountered so far and worked with seem like wonderful people. We’re happy to help the library rebuild its collection.”
Exhibit book published
The Heymans also teamed up to produce a book about the exhibit titled, “The Mildred Vrooman Easter Egg Exhibit.” Available for $20 at next month’s festivities, the book includes text by Berna Heyman and photographs by her husband.
While doing her research, Heyman noticed that Mildred’s last name was often spelled with one O and at other times two were used. According to Kopecky, that back-and-forth has been going on for nearly four centuries now.
“Peter was known to have spelled his name with both a single and double O’s,” said Kopecky. “I was always under the impression that Mildred spelled it with two, but when I asked our curator to verify that for me he came across some old pieces of advertising about the Easter Egg Exhibit in which her name is listed with a single O. We also have a brochure from the exhibit that lists her name with two. So, it’s a well-known historical fact in Schoharie that different branches of the family spelled their names differently, and that members within those families often went back and forth. All that was very common.”