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Yule Tea at the Castle adds Rosa to tell her history

December 04, 2006|by TRISH RUDDER

BERKELEY SPRINGS, W.Va. - The fourth annual Yule Tea, the tea party at the Berkeley Castle, had something new this year.

Rosa Pelham Suit, for whom the castle was built in the late 1800s as a wedding present by her husband, Samuel Taylor Suit, was portrayed by local actress and musician Jill Klein Rone.

As the guests took in the beauty of the castle's entrance hall and the burgundy and gold Christmas decorations, Klein Rone as Rosa swept down the wide center staircase and told the audience about her life in Berkeley Springs in the "gay '90s."

Klein Rone based her story on the 1988 booklet, "Berkeley Castle," by Fred Newbraugh, and Jeanne Mozier's research about Berkeley Springs in the 1880s, "Booming the Town."

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Speaking with a slight southern accent, since Suit was born in Alabama, Klein Rone wore a red-and-white Victorian-style costume and entertained guests with tales about Rosa, her parties and the social life in Berkeley Springs.

Klein Rone later said that in the winter of 1990 she portrayed Rosa with her New World Theatre Company when a mystery theater was held on the weekends at the castle.

"I love being Rosa," she said.

The event, hosted by the Museum of the Berkeley Springs, was sold out, said Mozier, the museum's secretary. Sixty people attended two seatings.

The funds raised by the event will be used for remodeling the museum and exhibit development, said Dave Milburn, the museum's president.

"We will remodel the geology exhibit and expand a hotel exhibit," he said.

Local businesses donated money for the event and local inns and restaurants donated food, said Tamme Marggraf, the museum's executive director.

Local artist Pat Marggraf, Tamme Marggraf's mother, donated nine old world Santa Claus characters for display during the Yule Tea.

The soft sculptures are handmade and handpainted, Pat Marggraf said. All wear different costumes and are different heights up to five feet. They are Marggraf's private collection, she said.

The Museum of the Berkeley Springs was opened by local residents in 1984 on the second floor of the Roman Bath House in Berkeley Springs State Park, said Betty Lou Harmison, the museum's vice president and one of its founders.

"Each year we do this, and each year it's a sellout. They come back, and they love it," she said.

Louise Koppe, a Berkeley Springs resident, and her sister Arlene Gutierrez, from York, Pa., got the first two tickets for this year's event, Koppe said. This is their first tea at the castle.

Gutierrez said "the grand entrance is magnificent."

Jane Diemicke of Smyrna, Del., heard about the annual event from friends that have a vacation home in Berkeley Springs. "This is very nice," she said, "and Rosa was very entertaining."

Light classical music was provided by the Warm Springs Chamber Ensemble while guests sipped tea and ate food, "which was elegant," said Koppe, "as were the decorations."

Andrew Gosline, who has owned the castle since 2003 and lives there with his family, said he enjoys the yearly event.

"It starts the holiday season for Berkeley Springs," he said.

According to the Berkeley Castle Web site, Rosa Suit spent her way through two fortunes by hosting gala events at the castle after her husband's death.

The castle sits high on Warm Springs Ridge overlooking the town and is the only English Norman Castle in the United States. It is a half-scale replica of Berkeley Castle near Bath, England.

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