Nancy 3 Hoffman is anxiously awaiting final word from the Guinness Book of World Records. Within a month or two she will know if her dream has come true: Nancy wants to hold the world record for the largest collection of unique umbrella sleeves in the world.
Umbrella covers? You ask. Yes. Umbrella covers—the fabric sleeves new umbrellas come in. “Some people call them umbrella condoms,” says Nancy.
The museum makes total sense if you know Nancy 3. Her middle initial—based on a typo on a form years ago—is a number. She makes up for her tiny 5’ stature by wearing psychedelic-patterned balloon pants. She plays in an all-accordion band called The Maine Squeeze. (She once frightened my friend Carol by whipping out her accordion on the deck of the ferry and leading the crowd in a spontaneous chorus of “Roll Out The Barrel.”)
And, Nancy curates the Umbrella Cover Museum.
Elsewhere in the world, Nancy might be one of those people you pass with a wide berth. The wacky woman you point at from across the street, try not to engage.
But here on Peaks Island she is a celebrity, one of Peaks Island’s treasures. She sings and plays piano at concerts on the island all summer long. She is a true friend, quick to volunteer whenever a neighbor needs help.
If Peaks Island were Seinfeld, Nancy 3 would be our Kramer. Wacky, outlandish—but most of all—beloved
(BTW—Michael Richards, who played Kramer stepped into the museum for about ten seconds when he visited Peaks Island summer before last.)
That’s why dozens of people showed up to support Nancy on July 7—for the official Umbrella Cover Count for the Guinness Book of World Records. Nancy is one of us. Part of the Peaks Island community. We want Nancy to succeed.
On the day of the official count, volunteers carried strings of umbrella covers and laid them in rows across the lawn.
Solid covers were grouped by color.
Patterns were grouped together. Geometrics. Plaids.
Animal prints—or as Nancy calls them “Sexy Covers.”
There were snacks and beverages. The Maine Squeeze performed.
Everyone got an “I Counted” sticker.
Nancy procured judges who had been previously approved by Guinness for their suitability to perform these official tasks. They were Dorothy Schwartz, former director of the Maine Humanities Council for 21 years and Paula Work, registrar of the Maine State Museum. Kim MacIsaac, director of the 5th Maine Museum served as steward.
The entire event was video taped for official Guinness Book review.
Scribe Elizabeth Nolan kept a detailed inventory to facilitate verification by Guinness. Every umbrella cover was matched against an inventory list. Any and all discrepancies were reconciled. Slow going at times—it took nearly three hours to complete the count. Guinness World Record counts are very serious events.
Prior to the counting the judges evaluated each cover to make sure it was unique. Color, size, fabric, stitching and decoration were all appraised. A handful of covers were eliminated that the judges deemed too similar to other covers.
After the covers were arranged and organized on the lawn, Nancy led the crowd in her official theme song. “Let a Smile Be Your Umbrella,” she sang.
Then the counting began. 10, 25, 50, 100 covers…
The crowd cheered.
Nancy has been collecting umbrella covers for 20 years now. It started when she was cleaning out her house a found a few orphaned umbrella covers. Intrigued by this phenomenon, Nancy began to ask people if they too had orphaned umbrella covers. And if they did—what had happened to the umbrellas?
People began giving Nancy their covers. The first was a golden one from a friend in Miami. The friend, an Audubon member, had purchased an umbrella with a duck head for a handle. The umbrella was accidentally left on a bench when the friend boarded a boat to Bermuda. But the cover, which had never made it out of the closet, remained.
At first, Nancy pinned the umbrella covers to the wall of her kitchen. Each cover was accompanied with a note documenting who had donated it and an anecdote chronicling the cover’s story. “It’s about elevating something that is nothing and raising it up and making it into something,” says Nancy.
Nancy, who obviously loves performing, thrilled at peoples’ responses to her collection. She wanted to share it with as many people as she could. After three or four years she moved her collection to the front room of a house near the ferry and turned it into a museum.
The Guinness record attempt count continued. People cheered at the big milestones: 150, 200, 250…
In 2008 Nancy first approached Guinness and asked them to create a new category for umbrella covers. Understandably they the just didn’t get it.
Nancy persisted. And explained. And persisted and explained again—before she finally convinced Guiness. “It took them awhile to wrap their heads around it,” she says.
The counting continued. 300, 400, 500…
Nancy told stories about some of her favorites. “This cover was found by the Hanley family in Ireland—while Hilary Clinton was passing by. We have no idea if it has any actual connection to Hilary or not,” she said.
As the count continued, a few people left. But the core group of Nancy’s supporters remained. 600, 700, 715 covers…
Nancy saved her specialty covers until the end. There were ultra-large covers made for patio umbrellas. And a paper cover from a Japanese paper umbrella.
Another unique specimen was donated by Marissa MacIsaac, who works in the U.S Foreign Service. It was cylindrical, black and felt like rubber. “This one is an old one from Czechoslovakia. In the old Soviet Union, they had one standard-issue style of umbrella and this was the cover,” said Nancy.
720, 725, 729…
The final umbrella cover was a plastic case. Nancy held it up, whipped the umbrella out of the cover and opened the umbrella.
The crowd cheered and Nancy joy-dove right into the middle of her beloved covers.
Soon Nancy will hear whether 730 umbrella covers is enough. Frankly, she’s a shoo-in since there is no existing record to beat. But she’s taking it as seriously as if she had dozens of rivals.
All of Peaks Island is behind her.
Regardless of the outcome, in my opinion, Nancy 3 has won big. She’s built something that has brought her great joy. And she’s found a community that supports her in all of her quirky, accordion-playing, umbrella condom-collecting glory.
Does it even matter what the Guinness people say?