Photos Jason Huynh
In 1981, Mary Holcomb’s husband, Jim, told her to find a hobby.
“I think I was just listening to my stereo too loud, as music is my hobby, so I told her, ‘Mary, you just need to go and get a hobby!’
Little did Jim know, his seemingly small push would open up their lives (and future homes) to hundreds of thousands of collectible items, all tastefully displayed for years and years to come.
Jim chuckles when acknowledging his oversight but is accepting of the hobby his wife elected.“That very next weekend, there was a doll show at the old Riverbend Mall here in Rome and she came home and said, ‘I’ve got my hobby, I’ve got my dolls!’”
This husband and wife invited V3 to their beautiful home off of Horseleg Creek Rd. to view their collection, and it definitely did not disappoint.
Upon pulling into the driveway, every guest is greeted by the soft sound of classical music before opening the car door to exit. That welcoming sound beckons visitors up the concrete steps to their front door. The Holcombs have music piped throughout the entirety of the house, but right now, it serves as a magical entrance to a house that is just as enchanted past the doorbell.
Mary welcomes each and every guest with a smile and a big hug before she begins the grand tour. You see, Mary refers to herself as an “organized hoarder,” because she manages a house full of 11,000-plus dolls, over 1,000 collectible Santa Clauses and Christmas trees of all shapes and sizes that remain fully dressed, all year long.
But before you ask why, it is important to note that Mary’s house is not one of the homes you find on A&E’s show “Hoarders,” but rather a beautifully curated masterpiece of museum-like sectors that house some of her family’s most prized possessions.
“I’m a collector. I just love collecting. That is one thing about my personality, is that I love to collect many different things,” says Mary as she dials in on giving us a special tour of each individual room in the house.
Beginning in the den, Mary explains the plethora of Santa’s sensibly lined along the floor to ceiling bookshelf; some are riding in cars, some are donning sleighs and others take different modes of transportation.
“My family loves Christmas, so when I started collecting these Santa figures, I decided that we were just going to have Christmas every day!” smiles Mary.
And Christmas everyday is just what she has created in what has to be the happiest house on the block.
Alongside the Santa figurines, Mary also has decorated multiple themed Christmas trees in every room of their home. Some of the themes on each Christmas tree are elements from the State of Georgia, like magnolia blooms and peaches, to the 12 Days of Christmas. There is a tree dedicated to world travel, one to the art of ballet, a Victorian tree, three tiny Christmas sweater trees, a tree filled with wilderness animals, a nutcracker tree and many more.
“Yeah, I have to be very careful when I walk around at night,” snickers Jim, “because if I break something, I’ll hear about it.”
Mary laughs, “It’s so funny, we do a lot of entertaining, so I am always showing people around the house. Where everyone loves it, most people are afraid to relax. They all call it a museum and they are afraid they will break something. But let me tell you the truth… half the stuff in this house has been broken! I mean, my wise men have their heads glued back on! That’s what glue is made for.”
According to Mary, there is no one thing she owns that is more important than friends and family they often invite in to share their space. “It’s just stuff,” she repeats as we move along to the next room in the house.
The Holcombs built their picturesque home in 1993, equipped with plenty of space for them to expand upon their chosen hobbies.
“We made the house plans and designed every aspect of this house for our needs. I mean, it’s basically a non-saleable house… who’s going to buy a house with a doll museum and a huge theater in it?” chuckles Mary.
You heard her right.
Alongside the beautiful rooms of displayed Christmas attire, Mary has a special room dedicated to her most favorite collection, her dolls.
“I outgrew that doll museum about the third year we were living in this house,” explains Mary, “so, there are just dolls positioned all throughout the house that go with the theme that is in their room as well. Essentially, the entire house is a doll museum, too.”
Now, one may think that 11,000 dolls is too many to keep track of, but Mary has her dolls carefully catalogued, and she knows where each individual doll is located within her home.
“I’ve been collecting dolls pretty much my whole life. When I was little, my family didn’t have a lot of money, so we only got one doll a year at Christmas. Because of this, I cherished every doll I was gifted and saved them all,” recalls Mary.
What started with Barbie morphed into dolls of all kinds, all of which Mary is sure to point out during her tours of the doll museum.
“I grew up with Barbie. She was born when I was five years old, so I have collected them since then,” says Mary. “I now have all of the Barbie’s ever made (until about ten years ago, when I quit collecting them), along with all of her friends.”
Mary’s strong love for dolls prompted her to form a doll club here in Rome in 1981, so she could share her adoration with others. The doll club has been integral in her success of gaining more and more pieces for her collection throughout the years.
“We had about 32 members in the doll club back in 1981… we have seven now. No one has dropped out, they’ve all simply passed away,” says Mary. “As doll collectors are dying, their kids are not wanting their collections. That is why I go to doll shows, because that is where I find these dolls that the collectors once owned.”
Mary currently attends four or five doll shows a year, which includes traveling to Huntsville, Ala., Marietta and Fort Oglethorpe. Here, she has gained some of her favorite dolls, including one particular doll she had been searching out for years.
“In 1981, Mattel made two porcelain ballerina dolls and issued them for $300 each. Now, I like the hunt and I want a good deal, so I waited before buying them,” explains Mary. “Around 19 years ago, I found one of them at a doll show. This guy had her and said she was his mothers, so I snagged her there. I looked for the second doll for a very long time. And, don’t get me wrong, I could go on the internet and get this doll for $350, but that is not how I wanted to find her. If I am meant to have this doll, I will find her one day.”
Mary continues, “So, one day while visiting a doll show in Marietta, I was digging through a stack of porcelain dolls and just so happened to see a little pink tutu sticking out from the bottom of the pile. I thought for sure she was broken, but when I finally freed her from the stack, she was perfect! I almost had a heart attack; I couldn’t believe I had finally found her! When I asked the lady how much she wanted for the doll, she told me ten dollars. I was really about to have a heart attack then, and I guess she figured I thought the price was too much, so she sold her to me for eight dollars.”
It is moments like this that make collecting so worth it for Mary, and her hope is to one day be able to share her collection with the world, or at least the people here in Rome who she loves so much.
Mary has called Rome her home since she was six weeks old.
After graduating from Coosa High School, Mary’s love of her hometown urged her to stay and complete her undergraduate degree at Berry College. She furthered her education by gaining her master’s degree at the University of West Georgia, securing her Specialist’s degree at Jacksonville State University and did other additional work at Georgia State University.
“I started teaching when I was 20 years old at East Rome High School, and I taught there until they closed East Rome,” she explains. “I then transferred over to Rome High School where I taught until 2018.”
Mary currently teaches advanced math at Unity Christian School, totaling to a whopping 46 years of dedicating her life to the children of Rome. But even after 46 years, she is still loving every minute of it. “People always ask me when I’m going to finally retire and I always tell them that as long as my brain is working, I can physically do all of the things needed and the Lord lets me, I will continue to teach.”
Aside from being a teacher, Mary is also a very successful realtor and has been for 32 years.
In her spare time (which is not as spare as one would think), Mary travels to Atlanta to perform with her dance team of ten years, the Silver Classix Crew, during the Atlanta Hawks’ basketball games. She has been in music videos, on television and more.
“We dance at the Hawks games regularly, we dance at the Braves games, we have danced at Atlanta United games, in New York, in Las Vegas and more. We’ve been in a bunch of music videos and we have filmed for TV before,” smiles Mary. “I love to dance! I have danced for forever; I have danced on the stage at the City Auditorium for 63 years, as well as performing in all of the Junior Service League Follies shows since 1981.”
In true Mary Holcomb style, she hopes to eventually add “museum curator” to her resume as well. “It is my dream and my desire for us to have a fabulous museum in Rome, Georgia,” says Mary.
“I mean, I would donate my entire house to it, all of my Santa’s, all of my nativity scenes, all of my dolls… everything. And I’m not talking about a little bitty building on Broad Street; I want a museum on the level of the Smithsonian in Washington D.C.”
Mary was given the idea for a museum from Henry DuPont in Delaware. “He’s got a museum of fine collections. My thought is, if he can do it, we can do it,” she smiles.
“I have already drawn up the plans for the museum I envision. I want someone who has the finances to build this museum that I have been dreaming of for 40 years, literally. And it is not just for me. There are people all over who would donate their collections, visit the museum and enjoy the collections of generations past.
“There are so many people who have collections of all types, and I feel like Rome would prosper with a museum of this caliber. Cartersville has two great museums; Cedartown has a great civic center… Rome needs a fabulous museum to house its many collections, historical artifacts and fabulous artwork from our local artists!”
This woman-on-the-go seems to always get what she wants, and she has given so much of herself to better the lives of others. Betting against her one day opening the doors to a museum that would display Rome’s treasures would be a bad idea and heaven knows she deserves a place to see her collection forever serve its purpose: to make the world smile.
Most who know Mary can tell you that she often talks about the great loves in her life. She loves God, she loves her family, she loves her students, she loves to dance, and she loves anyone who can comprehend calculus.
And to know her is to know you will always have a friend, one whose life is like Christmas all year long.