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Winterthur mansion in Delaware displays 'Downton Abbey' costumes through Jan. 4

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"Costumes of Downton Abbey", with 40 designs and objects from the beloved award-winning PBS TV series, is drawing huge crowds at the du Pont mansion Winterthur in Delaware through Jan. 4 -- the day Series 5 begins. Avoid withdrawal at Winterthur.

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(This just in -- "Downton Abbey" received 24 nominations for Emmys®, to be awarded on Aug. 25.)

Lady Sybil's harem pants, Lady Mary's engagement dress, Lady Edith's wedding dress, among other exquisite gowns and tuxedos, as well as servants' livery (uniforms) from "Downton Abbey" are just a few highlights.

"The response is overwhelming in wonderful ways, far more than our expectations, which were very high," one of the exhibit's three curators, Jeff Groff, told me during my visit in April. "Visits to Winterthur are up over 400 percent this year, compared to the same time last year."

The setting is a real-life American version of the fictional Downton Abbey (Highclere Castle). Winterthur, a 175-room mansion on a 1,000-acre estate, was established by the du Pont family, whose fortune began with their 1802 gunpowder manufacturing company, E. I. du Pont de Nemours & Co.

The family's 1874 Tiffany silver tea service, Henry Francis du Pont's Saville Row evening jacket, and their servants' call system are in the exhibit. The du Ponts did not call their servants "servants". Instead, the family used the more nearly egalitarian term "staff" or "help".

Wealthy American families like theirs married into British aristocratic families, saving many a Downton Abbey and gaining a title, as did Lady Cora. So many American heiresses did this in the early 20th century that they earned a nickname, "The Buccaneers", the title of Edith Wharton's last book (unfinished), and its TV mini-series.

But back to the Downton Abbey costume exhibit and what is now Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library. It hosts lectures, workshops, and other events, including some focusing on country estate life in Britain and the United States.

Winterthur (pronounced "winter-tour"), a museum since 1941, is one of the country's premier museums of American decorative arts, with almost 90,000 objects dating back to about 1640. The mansion itself dates back almost 200 years.

Looking forward, it's so terribly difficult to wait until Season 5 of "Downton Abbey", but at least we don't have to wait to see "Costumes of Downton Abbey" at the glorious Winterthur. It continues until Jan. 4.

Meanwhile, you can see the actual Downton Abbey -- Highclere Castle. A grand way to do that is offered by the series' sponsors, Viking River Cruises. Its excursion to Oxford & Highclere Castle is an optional pre- or post-trip experience on Viking's Cities of Light or Paris & the Heart of Normandy itineraries.

For more info: Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library, http://www.winterthur.org, 5105 Kennett Pike (Route 52), Winterthur, Del. 800-448-3883 or 302-888-4600. "Costumes of Downton Abbey" on view March 1 through Jan. 4. "Downton Abbey", http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/masterpiece/downtonabbey. Costumes by Cosprop, a London firm specializ(s)ing in making and renting out (hiring) period costumes for professional productions. Where to stay: English-style manor house, 15 miles from Winterthur, Hamanassett Bed & Breakfast, www.hamanassett.com, 115 Indian Springs Drive, Chester Heights, Penn. Reservations: 877-836-8212. "Downton Abbey" sponsors, Viking River Cruises, offers optional excursions to Oxford & Highclere Castle, the setting of the series, as a pre- or post-trip experience on Viking's Cities of Light or Paris & the Heart of Normandy itineraries.

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