In 1996, Nancy 3. Hoffman opened the Umbrella Cover Museum. There were firecrackers and cupcakes and 80 covers in the collection.
(For the uninitiated, umbrella covers – also known as slipcovers or sheathes – are the sleeves new umbrellas come in. If you have any, they’re likely at the bottom of your bag or closet.)
Since ’96, Ms. Hoffman has amassed over 1,000 covers. Along the way, she also secured the Guinness World Record for Largest Collection of Umbrella Covers (730). The record, she’ll tell you, remains unchallenged.
Ms. Hoffman – who changed her middle name to ‘3.’ because she liked the number – is a professional accordion player. She has big green eyes, short reddish hair, an appreciation for mundane stuff. And an untiring sense of wonder.
The umbrella covers began for Ms. Hoffman one day in 1992.
She was cleaning her cottage on Peaks Island, Maine. Found a few umbrella covers. Didn’t know why she kept them. Wondered if others kept them, too.
Turns out others did keep them. And others were happy to give them to her. She pinned the discarded covers up in her kitchen. Along with the donor’s story: “From Becky Smith, salmon is her favorite color, she had duck-handled umbrellas because she is a bird watcher.”
Over time, people heard about Ms. Hoffman’s collection. Began to notice covers. Sent them to her with their story. And when the collection outgrew Ms. Hoffman’s kitchen, she moved it to a little house on Peaks Island.
You can visit. It’s free. Ms. Hoffman gives you a tour. Highlights include the stories behind a cover found on Italy’s Court of Miracles and a cover made of bulletproof Kevlar.
And during the tour, Ms. Hoffman points out the Museum’s mission. It’s typed up, thumbtacked to the wall:
“Dedicated to the appreciation of the mundane in everyday life. It is about finding wonder and beauty in the simplest of things, and about knowing that there is always a story behind the cover.”
When the tour’s over, Ms. Hoffman plays you the Museum’s theme song, “Let a Smile Be Your Umbrella,” on her accordion. You can sing along and/or play the maracas.
When it’s all done, Nancy 3. Hoffman shows you out. And stands on the stoop with her accordion. Serenading you as you walk – perhaps with a little more wonder – back into your everyday life.