January 18, 2022

Caretakers taking leave of late diva’s home

FARMINGTON – The couple that spent the last decade caring for the home of the late opera star Lillian Nordica and providing tours for visitors are moving on.

The Nordica Homestead Association, which has worked since 1928 to restore the farmhouse with original furnishings and to preserve pieces of the singer’s life, will seek replacements for Bob and Joan Dunham.

The couple were forced to leave their positions because of Bob Dunham’s heart condition.

“It really breaks my heart to have to leave here,” Dunham, 65, said. “It’s so peaceful, so serene, so enjoyable. It’s a world of its own, actually. I just wish I could get a new heart to stay here, but that’s not feasible.”

Dunham has maintained the acres of yard, planted flowers and taken care of the homestead on Holley Road where Nordica was born and raised. Joan Dunham, 74, has given hundreds of tours of the museum dedicated to the Yankee diva’s life.

It breaks her heart, too, she said. But her husband felt that if he couldn’t do the job, it’s only fair for members of the association to get someone who can, she said.

Neither Joan nor Bob Dunham knew anything about Nordica when they answered the ad for caretakers. She read about the diva and learned from people around the world visiting the museum.

“Madame Nordica was a people lover,” Joan Dunham said. “She always took care of people. She was family-orientated.”

As she leads visitors through the home, she stops in each room to explain the soprano’s life. The diva was born in 1858 in the house and died in 1914 in the Dutch East Indies.

A miniature opera house, a combination of three opera houses where Nordica performed her music, sits on a table. It’s complete with box seats with gold chairs, a platform for the diva to perform, two pianos, chandeliers and velvet curtains.

In one room, there is a life-size portrait of Nordica among the heavy, jeweled gowns she wore during performances. The bed where she was born still sits in a room along with a child-size rocker. A throne-like chair, a gift to Nordica from Diamond Jim Brady, sits in another room.

Although Nordica’s ashes are buried in an unmarked grave in New Jersey, Joan Dunham said the woman’s spirit lives on in the homestead.

“She never forgot Farmington,” she said.

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