By David A. Farrell, Item Staff Writer
The Picayune Item
It all began 20 years ago when Marie Whitman’s daughter gave her a set of ponies decorated for the Christmas season. It was the first miniatures, based on the Christmas motif, that she had ever received. Her daughter purchased the miniatures from Wal-Mart, when it was located at 750 Memorial Boulevard where Resurrection Life now is, before it moved on the east side of I-59.
“It started then. I got another one, and another one, and another one. And my friends saw I was interested in such things, and they got me some, and my daughter continued to give me different items,” Whitman said while directing a tour of the display at the depot on South Harvey Avenue.
“I did not plan, or set out intentionally to do this,” she continued, while observing her display, which has now grown into thousands of pieces. “It just happened, appeared, somehow out of my mind.”
It takes days to set it up, it’s so large.
“And you turn down the lights, and turn on the lights in the village, and get real close, and you are in another universe, a make-believe place, away from the troubles of planet Earth, a winter wonderland,” she said. “You can’t fully explain the feeling you get from visiting this village.” The village is named, appropriately, Whitmanville.
“I guess that’s why I got obsessed with it: Whitmanville, with its Christmases of ages past, and snow, is another world of make-believe where all our dreams come true. There’s no work, just fun and play in a winter wonderland all the time,” she said.
As Whitman’s collection grew over the years, it grew into her living room, her bedrooms and began consuming large portions of her house.
And putting it up each Christmas became a major chore that stretched over days. Her husband, Bill, said he tried to help, but “it sort of got out of hand. It is very meticulous work putting these displays together and grouping them in an orderly manner that looks natural.”
Marie’s collection grew so large that she began assembling it on her front porch at her home in Northwest Picayune. She also began telling friends about the collection, and they told other friends, and pretty soon people began calling, wanting to know how to get to Whitmanville.
Eventually, a reporter from the Item heard about it, and called the Whitmans, who allowed a story to be done on Whitmanville. That was it. Word was out.
Diane Miller, who works for the city, was looking for displays to spruce up the Intermodal Transportation and Tourism Center during the Christmas season. The center is always decorated in some of the most beautiful Christmas displays in town, and is becoming a tourist attraction, and an attraction to residents who want to see a beautiful Christmas display, especially the city Christmas tree.
Miller called Whitman and asked if she would set up the display at the depot for a Christmas presentation. Whitman had been looking for a place to do that and a place that would draw more people and had enough space.
The situation was ideal for both Miller and Whitman. Hence, the display is now all laid out at the depot, and residents can see it for the first time from 7 a.m. until 6 p.m. daily. It will remain up until after January 1st, when it will be dismantled until next year. Whitman has more displays and expects the presentation to be larger next year.
The display is in the conference room.
It must be seen in low room lighting, with village lights on, for best effect.
And you must bend over and look closely to get the full effect of the settings, said Whitman.
City officials are urging residents to come see it, and you might be lucky and meet the collector who put it all together, Whitman, who will be there rearranging and tweaking the display.
“I still don’t understand why I had to do this, but for some mysterious reason it just happened,” she said.
And that’s what most passionate collectors say about their collections.