Hanukkah case in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation.
Legends and stories surround the origin of Hanukkah, whose name means “dedication” in Hebrew. Hanukkah celebrates the 165 B.C.E. victory over the Jews’ Syrian-Greek oppressors, who had seized the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. According to Rabbinic tradition, the Jewish victors—a rebel army known as the Maccabees—set out to purify and rededicate the defiled temple but could only find one day’s worth of ritual oil. Miraculously, the small amount of purifying oil burned in the temple’s lamp stand, or menorah, for eight days.
For centuries, Hanukkah was a modest occasion, a minor holiday. Jewish law and custom only required the lighting of candles for eight nights, with one candle to be used as the shamash (“guard” or “servant” in Hebrew) to light the others. The lighted candles were to be kept by a window where they could be seen by passers-by. In Eastern Europe, the celebration included eating latkes (potato pancakes), distributing small amounts of Hanukkah gelt (coins) to children, playing games with a dreidel (a spinning top), and playing cards.
In America, Hanukkah continued to be celebrated in this modest way, if at all. After the Civil War—as the American Christmas began to transform itself into a holiday of decorations, parties, shopping, and gift-giving—American Jews were drawn to the bright lights and excitement of that holiday.
Leading rabbis worried that, compared to the increasingly popular celebration of Christmas, Hanukkah lacked “romance” and allure. The campaign to revive and enhance Hanukkah began in the 1880s. Families were encouraged to create a festive atmosphere at home, to have Hanukkah parties, and to exchange gifts. By the 1920s, Hanukkah had begun to assert itself as a major Jewish domestic holiday.
Hanukkah reached its full flowering in the child-centered culture of post-World War II America. Beginning in the 1950s, not only did more families celebrate the holiday, the celebrations themselves became more elaborate. Jewish organizations encouraged this with books and manuals to help families make the holiday more appealing (and discourage the celebration of Christmas). Families might exchange gifts for eight nights, light several menorahs, give parties, prepare special foods, and decorate their houses.
Today, the eight-night Hanukkah holiday still usually involves menorah-lighting, latke-eating, and dreidel-spinning, but Jewish celebrants can choose from a wide variety of items and ways to celebrate the traditions and rituals.
Items selected for this year’s Hanukkah display in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation:
One couple used both of these menorahs to celebrate Hanukkah. The brass menorah was an heirloom, passed down through three generations. Its design incorporates traditional Jewish cultural symbols. The contemporary design of the other menorah, featuring popular cartoon characters, delighted the couple’s grandchildren. Traditional Hanukkah Menorah, 1900-1920 and Modern Hanukkah Menorah, 1998 / 2005.121.62 and 2005.121.61
Just after dark each night of Hanukkah, one additional candle is lit in the menorah until all eight candleholders are filled with light. A ninth shammas (also spelled shammash)—or “attendant”—candle is used to light these candles. Detail from 1953 book, We Celebrate the Jewish Holidays. / THF111666
The alternate and more traditional spelling of the holiday starts with the two letters “Ch,” which is an English transliteration of the eighth letter in the Hebrew alphabet.The words “Chanuka candles” are written in both English and Hebrew on this box. Hanukkah Candles, 1946-1980 / 2010.2.178
Forty-four candles light the Hanukkah menorah—a shammas (also spelled shammash), or “attendant,” candle plus an additional candle (beginning with one) for each of the eight nights. The candles are inserted from right to left (the direction in which Hebrew is read) but kindled from left to right. Spinning the dreidel (pronounced “dray’-duhl”), a four-sided top with a Hebrew letter on each side, is a traditional children’s game played during Hanukkah. A blue dreidel is depicted in the lower left corner of this box of menorah candles. Hanukkah Candles, 1990-2010 / 2010.2.176
This recipe booklet suggests traditional dishes for the Hanukkah celebration, including mandelbrot (a crunchy almond bread also known as mandel bread) and latkes (potato pancakes fried in oil). Famous Recipes for Jewish Housewives, 1940 / 2005.29.79
Ideas for this Hanukkah table arrangement from the 1955 book Jewish Home Beautiful include traditional dishes as well as gelt—chocolate coins often given to children during the festival—and small boxed gifts. Detail from 1955 book, Jewish Home Beautiful / THF111655
Also on exhibit, but not pictured here:
Fried potato pancakes, or latkes, are a Hanukkah staple. This packaged mix offered a convenient alternative to the traditional preparation—grating numerous potatoes by hand. Product Package for Kosher Potato Pancake Mix, 2000-2010 / 2010.2.100
In 2020, families celebrating Hanukkah can use everything from traditional spinning dreidels for playing the dreidel game to electric blinking menorahs to face masks for family get-togethers during the COVID-19 pandemic. These are part of a larger acquisition of contemporary items relating to the Chanukah celebration from the online store, www.TraditionsJewishGifts.com. This is an online extension of the Traditions Judaica Gifts retail store, located in South Florida’s Pompano Beach—a family-run business that is one of the largest purveyors of Judaica gifts in the world. Items were selected to represent the wide spectrum of ways in which people express their style, personality, and values in celebrating the holiday. Traditional wooden dreidels, ca. 2020 (2020.140.4-.7); “GO” Menorah (electric or battery-powered), 2018 (2020.104.1); Face Masks, “Happy Chanukah” and “Eight Crazy Nights” (referencing Adam Sandler’s 2002 animated musical), 2020 (2020.104.2, .3).
Donna R. Braden is Senior Curator and Curator of Public Life at The Henry Ford. She enjoys explaining the Hanukkah traditions that she grew up with to others. Thanks to authors Saige Jedele and Judith Endelman for their previous blog posts about the history and traditions of Hanukkah, from which this blog post heavily draws, and to Saige for writing the initial exhibit labels for many of these objects.
Entrance to the exhibition in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation.
We curators love to show off our expertise in these blog posts—with knowledge we’ve gained from books and articles and stories we’ve gleaned from our own collections. But one thing we often forget to do is to invite opinions from other staff members. As an avid comic book fan, I have written several blog posts about comic books—about my own favorites, the censorship wars of the 1950s, and how you can tell the difference between DC and Marvel superheroes.
When it came time to reflect upon the Marvel: Universe of Super Heroes exhibition currently at Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation, I suggested we talk to other Marvel fans who work here. They could be like ambassadors, I proposed, both for Marvel devotees and for those who are new to the Marvel Universe. What did these fans on our staff like best? What do they think other people shouldn’t miss? Below are their responses to questions I posed to them. And don’t be surprised if you find a few opinions of my own in here. Sorry. I couldn’t help it!
Spider-Man photo op.
First, meet our panel.
Kate Morland is our Exhibits Manager. Although she loved Archie comics as a kid, it was the movies that first interested her in the Marvel franchise. The Spider-Man moviefrom 2002 was her first Marvel movie. She loved Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker and Kirsten Dunst as Mary Jane Watson. As a teenager herself at the time, she found Spider-Man relatable as a peer. Over the years, she’s broadened her interest through the different movies. Recently, she’s grown to love Guardians of the Galaxy, as she’s come to appreciate humor in tense situations. For that reason, Goose, the Flerken/cat, is another favorite!
X-Men section of the exhibition.
Tim Johnson is our long-time Program Leader in Talent & Culture. He got “hooked” on Marvel through the comic books. His best friend is a massive comic book collector and got him hooked after college. As his friend tired of Tim giving him grief about his own love of “funny books,” he made Tim a bet that he would change his view after reading Watchmen by Alan Moore. He was right. After reading that series, Tim jumped into X-Men. Over time, he has continued to love a wide array of superheroes, especially the antiheroes and “gray hats” (that is, those who are not naturally “white hat” heroes--Wolverine, Punisher, and Gambit would all qualify as Gray Hats). He prefers the antiheroes because being heroic and doing the right thing doesn’t come naturally to them. That’s his “beef” about Superman (the original superhero from that other company, DC)—very little struggle with his conscience! He just naturally always did the right thing.
Melissa Foster is our Senior Manager, Public Relations, Media & Studio Productions Department. Her love for Marvel has been a “slow burn”—in a good way! She’s seen every Marvel movie—including the 2002 Spider-Man and the X-Men movies. Some are better than others, she says, but when Marvel Studios set its focus back on the Avengers, that’s really when her level of interest changed.
What started out as a general interest in the movies flourished, thanks to one of her friends, who is a giant comic enthusiast and gave her more insight into the bigger Marvel Universe and the stories behind the characters. Seeing how innovative Marvel really is when it came to stories of diversity, and making their heroes relatable beyond the big screen, changed her from an occasional enthusiast to a person who owns Marvel TOMS (i.e. casual footwear featuring images of popular Marvel characters and scenes), pays for a subscription to Disney+ so she can watch their content, and is an avid reader of their comics. The movie that really made her say, “Wow!” was Captain Marvel. She loved watching a female superhero who didn’t have a love interest on the screen—and just was a total powerhouse. To Melissa, Captain Marvel is the most powerful Avenger. She’s so happy that this female superhero is represented in the exhibition.
For me (Donna), it has always been about the comic books, which is where I started my interest back in the early 1970s. Like Kate, I found Spider-Man relatable too. Like Tim, once I discovered Marvel, I thought Superman was totally one-dimensional. And I also first learned about Marvel from my best friend.
And now, on to the questions…
Q: What were the most memorable parts of the exhibit to you? Why?
Kate: In my role, I look at both the guest perspective as well as how the exhibit comes together during installation. The most memorable part to me is Dr. Strange’s mirror dimension. Not only do we have two highly recognizable costumes from the film, but the immersive set, including disorienting mirrors and projection, is so intricate and transporting. All of the work that went into its construction was really worth it.
Tim: Oh, boy, that’s a toughie! I loved the original artwork, since I have no artistic skill whatsoever and wish I did. The photo ops are tremendous, especially hanging on the couch with The Thing. The flow of the exhibit is on point, and I am always into the backstories of the characters and creators.
Melissa: I’ve seen the exhibit many times—including once before it came to The Henry Ford—and every time I walk through, something new strikes my interest. One of the most memorable things for me during all of this has been watching the “mini”-superheroes dressed in their Iron Man, Black Panther, Spiderman, and Captain Marvel costumes, coming in and not wanting to leave. I was on a shoot with a film crew one day and we were filming a tiny Iron Man interacting with the “Be Iron Man” experience in the exhibit. His mom looked at me and said, “We’ve been in here for two hours and he won’t leave.” That, to me, was amazing. I love watching people connect with our exhibits, and this one has brought in so many different and interesting connections.
Donna: I loved both reconnecting with my “old friends”—Spider-Man, Dr. Strange, Silver Surfer—and becoming familiar with superheroes I didn’t know that well. And, like Melissa said, watching the families go through the exhibit is fascinating. It is so rare to see an exhibit where the kids are the experts!
Mirrors in Dr. Strange section of exhibition.
Photo op with The Thing.
Q: What is your single favorite object or feature in the exhibit? Why?
Kate: My favorite object to talk about in the exhibit is right at the beginning—an original copy of Marvel Comics #1 from 1939. I’m a sap for a good origin story, and the beginning of the franchise is as good as any.
Tim: The photo ops, both in the exhibit and the photo booth outside. Who wouldn’t love seeing their picture in a comic book? Best $8 souvenir ever!
Melissa: If you go into Dr. Strange’s Mirror Maze, be sure to walk back through the opposite way one time, or at least look back before taking in the X-Men artwork. The kaleidoscope effect of the artwork displayed is absolutely beautiful, and it’s something you can’t get the full effect of if you walk through only once.
Donna: The issue of Amazing Fantasy #15, from 1962—the first appearance of Spider-Man. I never get tired of that!
Marvel Comics #1 from 1939
Original artwork for The Incredible Hulk comic books.
Q: If you were to describe the exhibit to someone who is new to Marvel, how might you describe it?
Kate: I would describe the exhibit as an excellent one-hour overview to the franchise. When I first saw the exhibit at a previous venue, I was astounded by how much was covered. If someone is considering jumping into Marvel comics, movies, or shows, they can certainly find a hook in our exhibit that could lead to continuing interests.
Tim: It’s a wonderfully immersive way to both experience the character history of Marvel and to enjoy a tangible way of putting yourself into their world.
Melissa: I would describe it as an exhibit for everyone. Seriously, people who love the movies might be interested in seeing their favorite character’s costume up close, but don’t skip the original artwork. There are some very talented artists at Marvel, and I think the work within this exhibit, would be appealing to even those who have zero interest in comics.
Donna: It’s great if you have a Marvel fan as your tour guide but the exhibition nicely helps you understand the characters and the Marvel Universe without having to feel embarrassed in front of your friends or family!
“Become Iron Man” interactive.
Q: What should they not miss?
Kate: “Become Iron Man” is such a fun interactive because you get to pretend to wear one of his suits and practice shooting targets. It’s my favorite interactive in the exhibit.
Tim: Bring a camera! You will want to capture and preserve the memories you create!
Melissa: Do NOT miss the Ant Man and Wasp area of the exhibit located just behind Spiderman. You won’t regret it. Its whimsical, and quirky—and I love it. If it wasn’t for the cool kaleidoscope feature of Dr. Strange’s Mirror Dimension, it would be my favorite part of the exhibit.
Costumes from the Black Panther film.
Q: Is there anything else you would like to add?
Kate: Marvel has such a long history that one of the best parts of hosting the exhibit is the intergenerational relationships that it nurtures. I love seeing two or three generations of Marvel fans walk through together, swapping stories of different plot points from stories about the same character over the decades.
Tim: Marvel is one of the best exhibits we have hosted in the Gallery. It is colorful, informative, and fun for all ages. I can’t remember another exhibit we have hosted that was as much pure kick-in-the-pants fun. To sum the exhibit up in one word, let me quote Marvel legend Stan Lee—“Excelsior!”
Melissa: This year has been such a difficult one for everyone. Sometimes it’s nice to escape the reality for a minute and get distracted by something fun. The Marvel exhibit does just that. Even if you aren’t a fan of Marvel, just walking through and seeing the excitement it brings to so many, might be a little—dare I say it—contagious—in a good way!
So…there you have it! Thanks, Kate, Tim, and Melissa! We hope this little fan exchange has whetted your appetite to see—or return to see—the Marvel: Universe of Super Heroes exhibition before it closes at the end of January 2021. And no doubt you have—or will have—stories of your own to tell!
"Ghost of Abraham Lincoln" in Logan County Courthouse for Halloween in Greenfield Village, 1982 / THF146345
Our beloved Hallowe’en in Greenfield Village program is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. It’s been a fascinating journey to have been involved from nearly the beginning, eventually leading the team that plans and produces this very complicated and detailed guest experience.
Throughout the entire history of the event, the true star of the show has been Greenfield Village after dark. I know of no better palette for our amazing creative team to have at its disposal to work magic year after year.
The year 2020 and its COVID-19 pandemic will be looked back on as a turning point for not only the Hallowe’en in Greenfield Village program, but for all of The Henry Ford. The need for a safe environment and the resources available have forced the team to take a fresh look at the event and view things from a very different perspective. We are excited and invigorated by the plan we have brought forth and we hope our guests are too.
The Beginnings of Halloween in Greenfield Village
The Greenfield Village Halloween program began as an experience shared through our Education Department’s catalogue of classes and courses. This new concept of a family-based, Halloween-themed experience was first developed as a scary wagon ride experience, with stops and treats at various buildings in Greenfield Village. There were other fun seasonal activities, including dunking for apples, a costume parade and contest, and refreshments in Lovett Hall. The wagon ride was carefully planned out and tapped into Village stories, going as far as having as having a staff member’s child on board as a designated kidnap victim--a sign of the different times that were the early 1980s.
"Trick or Treat" at Wright Home in Greenfield Village, October 1982 / THF146356
This program was presented on an ambitious scale. It was offered one night only and served a remarkably large audience. It was wildly popular and showed what future possibilities and demand lay ahead for the Halloween season. (You can read more about this very first Greenfield Village Halloween program here.)
A series of events led to the next phase of the Greenfield Village Halloween program. The Tylenol poisoning scare in the fall of 1982 changed people’s view of the safety of trick-or-treating. This, combined with new staff and reorganized Village Programs and Special Events departments, brought forth the novel idea of opening Greenfield Village at night as a safe place for trick-or-treating. Thus, the foundation for Hallowe’en in Greenfield Village was born: the basic format of the program we have used until now.
This first Village trick-or-treat Halloween program drew an unexpectedly huge crowd of over 5,000 people. No control measures for timed or paced entry times were put in place and the event was open to the public. As expected, the supply of treats ran out quickly and drastic measures had to be put in place to try and keep pace. I remember working at the first treat stop, the Loranger Gristmill. We gave out handfuls of loose candy corn (a nice thematic connection to the gristmill). I remember it being a very chaotic experience and the porch of the gristmill being coated in smashed candy corn, which could not be seen—only felt—under my feet. In the light of the following day, I was amazed to see single pieces of candy corn that had been pressed out to the size of my hand, still retaining their original shape and color!
"Trick or Treat" at Heinz House in Greenfield Village, October 1982 / THF146374
Many lessons were learned that opening weekend. Moving forward, Halloween in Greenfield Village became a members-only event and entry times were established to slow and control the flow.
Developing the Program in the 1980s and 1990s
Halloween would remain a members-only event for the next 20 years. The first few years, Halloween only took place for one weekend in October. This would continue through the 1980s. By the early 1990s, the still members-only program would expand to two weekends and eventually three. During this time, staff were allotted a certain amount of free tickets, but were required to show up on a set day and time and stand in a very long line to get their tickets. Member tickets for the limited number of program days typically sold out very quickly.
In the first era of the program, there was a lot of emphasis put on the treats and their thematic connection to the Greenfield Village sites from which they would be given out. Different treats were picked out each year.
The inside of the brochure for 1983’s “Family Halloween in Greenfield Village” lists the thematic connections for each building treat stop. / THF146311
Connecting the trick-or-treat path were a variety of Halloween-themed vignettes or interactions, associated with historical events and characters with a nod to scary stories of the past. The effects were low-tech and, in some cases, took inspiration from the emerging haunted house industry. First seen in the 1970s, these haunted houses were grassroots amateur efforts, often sponsored and produced by local Jaycees, Elks, and other fraternal organizations as fund raisers. They relied on cheap scare tactics that involved being jumped out at, grabbed, and sometimes gory scenes. For years, we used some of these very same techniques. The Ackley Covered Bridge was notorious for this.
"Gorilla" on Ackley Covered Bridge during Halloween in Greenfield Village, October 1982 / THF146372
When it came to infrastructure, the Greenfield Village of the 1980s and 1990s basically resembled the Greenfield Village of 1929. There were very few, if any, streetlights and limited access to power to add additional lighting. Until the restoration of 2003, Halloween in Greenfield Village was very dark. Because of this, the jack-o’-lantern pumpkin path played an important role in lighting the way through the experience. A continuous thread to today’s program is the large number of hand-carved and candlelit jack-o’-lanterns that line the path—though now, they serve more to create ambience and atmosphere. Over 1,000 pumpkins are now hand-carved each week to achieve the continuous path.
Volunteers Carving Pumpkins for Family Halloween Jamboree in Greenfield Village, October 1981 / THF146327
Throughout the 1990s, the Family Halloween program, still a members-only event, continued to grow in popularity and had become a yearly tradition for many. Creative collaborations between the Special Events, Village Programs, and AV teams continued to improve the experience, and serious work and experimentations began with lighting and visual effects. A huge breakthrough was the discovery that Tim and Tom, the Firestone Farm black Percheron horses were decent riding horses. It was not long before the Headless Horseman made his debut in the front fields of Firestone Farm. He was soon joined by Ichabod Crane and a Halloween in Greenfield Village favorite was born.
By 2001, though the sophistication and fit and finish of Halloween in Greenfield Village had evolved dramatically from its early years, there was still great potential for growth. Previously, costuming had mainly been reworked or cast-off bits and pieces from the period clothing inventory, décor was minimal, and aside from the hundreds of pumpkins on the jack-o’-lantern path, the main emphasis remained on treats.
The New Millennium Brings a Turning Point to the Program
Workers Laying Conduit in Greenfield Village during Infrastructure Restoration, January 2003 / THF133585
In 2002, the big news around Greenfield Village was the impending massive infrastructure restoration that would begin to take place in the fall. The Village would close at the end of September and not reopen until the following June. Halloween would take a hiatus that year as the huge project gained steam. This would be a turning point and a newly imagined program soon emerged, keeping in step with the newly imagined Greenfield Village.
By the summer of 2003, a cross-functional team began planning the work. The team very quickly established a back story that would guide what the new Halloween would and would not be. The shock and gore, now so prevalent in haunted houses, was removed from the mix. Instead, there was a move toward a family-friendly experience that would rely on the power of Greenfield Village after dark and scary and adventure-based stories that fuel the imagination and Halloween spirit.
Another important inspiration was Halloween party guides, published from the early 1900s through the 1950s, in the collections of The Henry Ford. These handbooks gave endless advice on how to decorate, what games to play, what food to prepare and serve, and a whole host of other miscellaneous tips on how to throw the best Halloween party. Among the most useful and inspirational were the series of yearly Bogie Books, published by the Dennison paper and party goods company from 1912 through 1935. These pamphlets were filled with illustrations, some in color, that featured the huge array of crepe paper and other party products produced by the Dennison Manufacturing Company. Elaborate costumes and party décor were shown—along with the list of Dennison products one would need to replicate the awe-inspiring ideas featured. The colors, textures, and techniques guided our teams in both costuming and decorating throughout the Village.
Dennison's Bogie Book: Suggestions for Halloween & Thanksgiving, circa 1925 / THF96746
Trick-or-treating would remain the main vehicle for moving guests through the experience on a set path, but the look and feel of the treat stations would begin to change dramatically. The Period Clothing Studio became very involved and began to design a spectacular series of costumes to bring the gothic, fairytale, and adventure storybook characters to life—with a nod to costumes of the 1910s and 1920s. By 2005, these characters would become the treat station hosts, with their own stages and stage lighting. Other favorite characters, like the Woman in White, the Dancing Skeletons, the live scarecrow, and, of course, the Headless Horseman and Ichabod Crane, made triumphant returns with new costumes.
Costume Studio Preparing for Halloween in Greenfield Village, October 2005 / THF12490
Another significant change at this point was the shift from Hallowe’en being a members-only event to a public event. Members still had first-pick when ticket sales opened, as they do now, but after a certain date, the public was invited to purchase tickets. As the popularity of the event continued to grow, so did attendance capacities.
The creative work to improve costumes, set designs, and theatrical lighting continued. Through the 2010s, staged theatrical performances of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart” and other fun, but dark fairytales, such as “Hansel and Gretel” and “Little Red Riding Hood,” were added to the mix. To set up the live Headless Horseman experience, Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” was also performed. Along with the dramatic presentations, live Halloween-themed musical performances featuring a vampire trio, the Potion Sisters, and a musical pirate review rounded out the offerings. To top it off, the Top Hat Side Show became a fixture on Washington Boulevard, anchoring the 1920s carnival theme in that area.
The Top Hat Side Show performing at Hallowe’en in Greenfield Village for the first time in 2015. (Photo by KMS Photography)
By 2019, the Hallowe’en in Greenfield Village experience had hit its full stride and welcomed a record number of guests. There were now several different ways to experience the program with the addition of evening dining opportunities, including the children-themed “Fairytale Feast” and the 1850s Eagle Tavern Harvest Supper.
Rethinking Hallowe’en in Greenfield Village in 2020
Signage outside the main entrance of Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation in March 2020, announcing the closure of our venues due to the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo courtesy Ellice Engdahl)
Planning for the 2020 Hallowe’en program was well underway when the world as we knew it came to a screeching halt—and along with it, the entire summer calendar of Greenfield Village special events. As we cautiously reopened the Village and Museum over the Fourth of July weekend, The Henry Ford continued to learn and understand how safety measures should work, what the scale of program offerings needed to be, and what the future might bring. By the end of the summer, it was clear that we could consider a Halloween program in October. We knew it would need to be reimagined and presented in a very different way in order to comply with safety measures while at the same time allowing our guests to have a fun and enjoyable experience.
Based on decades of experience in planning and producing large scale public events, the Hallowe’en planning team took a fresh look at the program. It was immediately apparent that the entire concept of lining up for treats would have to be eliminated. Without the need for a set prescribed route, new possibilities opened, and the Holiday Nights model of enjoying the evening at one’s own pace and experiencing program elements in any order became the logical approach. Greatly reduced attendance capacities and timed entry would ensure a safe experience. Unfortunately, we were not able to offer our evening dining experiences this year, but happily, many familiar and favorite characters and experiences made a return.
A witch and the Hallowe’en Express welcome guests to Hallowe’en in Greenfield Village in 2020. (Photo courtesy Jim Johnson)
A very exciting addition for 2020 is the Hallowe’en Express, a brand-new Halloween-themed train ride that makes a round trip excursion from the “Brimstone” Station at the front of the Village. Guests encounter all sorts of sights and sounds along the way. The presence of a live steam locomotive in the Village, with an eerie whistle created just for this occasion, adds an entirely new dimension to the overall experience for our guests.
Over the past 40 years, Hallowe’en in Greenfield Village has steadily grown and evolved. There have been many turning points in its long history, and 2020 will rank among the most significant. New beginnings can often be viewed as painful endings, but the Hallowe’en in Greenfield Village planning team is fully embracing this new beginning and is very excited to share the path we have taken.
Jim Johnson is Director of Greenfield Village and Curator of Historic Structures & Landscapes at The Henry Ford.
Curt Braden, as the “ghost” of Abraham Lincoln, posing with the carved jack-o’-lanterns at the doorway of the Logan County Courthouse that marked treat stops. (Photo courtesy Susan McCabe)
The 40th anniversary of “Hallowe’en in Greenfield Village” seems like a perfect opportunity to reflect upon the first Halloween program in Greenfield Village. I was there with my husband, Curt, in the Logan County Courthouse. With his face covered in white theatrical makeup, he played the “ghost” of Abraham Lincoln for the evening, while I played his wife, Mary Todd. Other “ghosts” were stationed at various other Village buildings, awaiting the young trick-or-treaters who would show up at their doorstep. We all wondered whether it would work, this crazy idea of using the Village as the canvas for a historically-themed Halloween program.
As kids filed through the Courthouse that night, my “ghostly” husband handed them each a Lincoln Head penny while he told them, “Here’s a token in remembrance of me.” Some kids gawked at him. Others smiled and circled back again for another penny. Still others scowled and said, “Only a penny?” I honestly remember almost nothing from that night. It was all a blur except for a few snapshots I have, proving we were there.
Now, 40 years later, I feel compelled to find out exactly what transpired that night. So, I asked Brian Wilson, our Senior Manager of the Archives and Library, to see if he could dig out the original program description of it (which he did). I also got in touch with a few old friends who had helped plan it and participate in it. What I found was that, while our memories are sketchy and sometimes inconsistent, we all felt that night that we were on a mission, a mission to provide guests with a combination of fun and learning using the rich historical stories that pervade Greenfield Village. The magical quality of being in the Village at night (decades before there were streetlamps) didn’t hurt either.
Description of the Family Halloween Jamboree in the 1981 class catalog / THF610727
In 1981, the program was called the Family Halloween Jamboree and it was one of the many listings in the catalog of Adult Education, Teen, and Children’s Classes organized by the Education Department at the time. After the Greenfield Village schools had closed in 1969, the museum had become a strong advocate of offering educational classes for the general public. By the early 1980s, the class catalog was extensive, including page after page of lectures, tours, and an incredible array of craft classes, like glassblowing, blacksmithing, and tinsmithing. Children’s classes also involved a wide array of different take-home crafts and hands-on opportunities.
Colonial Cooking was a popular Adult Education class held in Clinton Inn (now Eagle Tavern) during the late 1970s. / THF112256
Harold Skramstad’s arrival as President in 1981 provided the catalyst to reimagine a wide variety of new educational programs. Summer Discovery Camps began that year, along with new Member programs. All of these new programs were characterized by a close alignment with our historical figures and stories. The Family Halloween Jamboree was no exception. Jim VanBochove, a graduate student intern that previous summer and a participant in the first Halloween program (and now Director of Organizational Culture at The Henry Ford) explained that, “That was one of the great things in those days—that you could really try some new things. There was support, even if it didn’t turn out.”
This program was the brainchild of museum professional Candace Matelic, hired earlier that year as Manager of Adult Education and Children’s Programs. She was helped by her able assistant, Susan Gangwere (now Susan McCabe), a graduate student summer intern like VanBochove who had just recently joined the Education staff. Inspired by Skramstad’s encouragement to be creative, break down old barriers, and try new things, Matelic and Gangwere put their heads together to create each of the elements for this, one of three holiday-related family programs that year.
A colorful and enticing flyer for the 1981 Family Halloween Jamboree. (Image courtesy Donna Braden)
From the beginning, the 1981 Family Halloween Jamboree was planned with children in mind—including “hair-raising stories of ghosts and witches,” making Halloween treats, and enjoying a variety of traditional games. In keeping with the focus on the historic nature of Greenfield Village, children were encouraged to come dressed as their favorite historic character, which they would show off in a “parade down a pumpkin-lighted path,” followed by a judged costume contest with prizes. Parents were encouraged to dress up for the night as well. The evening cost $7.00 per child, while accompanying adults were free.
This cover of the 1982 class catalog shows a portion of the 150 jack-o’-lanterns that volunteers had carved for the 1981 Family Halloween Jamboree. / THF610728
Hay wagons took guests on rides from Town Hall through the Covered Bridge, around the loop and back to the Village Green. On the way, they encountered spooky characters, like the Grim Reaper and the Headless Horseman. Back at Town Hall, they could partake of cider and donuts, and bob for apples. A highlight of the evening was that guests could walk to several trick-or-treat stops in and around the Green. White-faced “ghosts” of historical figures connected with Greenfield Village buildings passed out treats that were specifically themed to each building or character. At the Courthouse, it was Lincoln Head pennies; at Stephen Foster Memorial (now the Sounds of America Gallery), VanBochove, as the “ghost” of Stephen Foster, handed out kazoos while singing excerpts of more “ethereal” Stephen Foster songs like “Beautiful Dreamer” and “I Dream of Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair.” Carved jack-o-lanterns, placed at the doorways, marked each treat stop.
Curt and I pause for a snapshot before heading to the Village for the big evening, 1981. Before the days of a department that researched and created historical clothing for Greenfield Village staff, I did my best to dig out some (rather historically inaccurate) vintage clothing from my own closet to wear for the evening. (Photo courtesy Donna Braden)
This one-night Jamboree attracted some 300 people. As VanBochove recalled, “We all thought that was HUGE. And there were many moving parts so lots of learnings.” Susan McCabe concurred that it was a great way to learn about the logistics of Village experiences, like how to move people through, how many supplies to have on hand, and how to get all those pumpkins carved!
Curt having his white theatrical makeup applied before the big night, 1981. (Photo courtesy Donna Braden)
Building upon the success of this first program, the next year’s program was expanded. Now costing $5.00 per person, it was held on two successive nights. The modest pumpkin-lit path for the children’s costume-judging parade now extended through many of the streets of the Village, with an accompanying map “to tell you the whereabouts of the ghost and spirits we expect to join us.” Candace Matelic remembers that two educational assistants “did nothing all night but keep the pumpkins lit, and there were hundreds of them.”
Description of the 1982 Family Halloween Jamboree, explaining the new navigation through the Village by pumpkin-lit paths and a map / THF610735
One goal of these early programs was to attract new audiences, people who did not ordinarily come to Greenfield Village. As Matelic recalls, “We reached people from all backgrounds…many of whom were coming to Greenfield Village for the first time.” It was also a way to attract new Members by offering them first pass at signing up.
The popularity of the 1982 Family Halloween Jamboree was greatly aided by the Tylenol scare of that year, in which cyanide-laced acetaminophen was found placed on drugstore shelves and sold. This high-profile crime eventually led to the introduction of child-proof containers and tough Federal laws aimed at punishing those who tampered with drugs. No evidence of contaminated Halloween candy was ever found that year and, since that time, stories like these have become the stuff of urban legend. But, in 1982, the scare was real, parents were worried about letting their kids go trick-or-treating through neighborhoods, and that year’s Family Halloween Jamboree in Greenfield Village received a big boost in attendance.
Beyond this, Matelic thinks that these early programs were exceptionally unique because, “We clearly touched a chord in providing a safe and memorable family experience in those early years, in response to a community need. I like to think of it as a gift to the community. It was fun, interactive, and welcoming. We had fun and that let visitors have fun. We made a connection to a beloved American tradition and started a new relationship to the community.”
By 2018, the year of this photograph, “Hallowe’en in Greenfield Village” had become a mega-event that lasted 11 nights and attracted 70,000 guests.
These two early programs laid the groundwork for today’s extravaganza that thousands anticipate every year. Why does it remain as popular as ever? Having spent time at many treat stations over the years, VanBochove remarks that, “it has always amazed me that even with the thousands of guests who come on any evening, almost everyone has a sense that the program is just for them, that they are there with family, and that this is a special memory that only we can help create.” Matelic, who has worked at several museums since those early days and mentored hundreds of students pursuing museum careers, reflects that, “While the focus and contents (and size and length) have broadened over the years, the program is still touching hearts and minds, offering an opportunity for generations to continue making cherished family memories.”
Do you have a cherished memory of the 1981 Family Halloween Jamboree in Greenfield Village?
Donna R. Braden, Senior Curator and Curator of Public Life at The Henry Ford, would like to thank Candace Tangorra Matelic, Ph.D., Susan Gangwere McCabe, Jim VanBochove, and Curt Braden for their willingness to share their memories of this groundbreaking program.
This year would have marked the 70th anniversary of Old Car Festival, the longest running antique car show in America. While due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we currently can’t be immersed in the moving stories of the early automotive era, we didn’t want to miss the opportunity to celebrate our longest running and one of our most loved events in Greenfield Village.
Old Car Festival is more than just a car show. It’s an experience. It’s the detail that goes into the costumes and settings of the vignettes created by our staff that depict the turn of the century to the Great Depression. It’s the blues, jazz and Ragtime that you can hear throughout the streets and the dancing to go with it. It’s the delicious food offerings from our culinary team. It’s the sight and smell of more than 800 vehicles taking to the streets and taking over nearly every corner of the village. All of it together transports our participants, members, guests and staff back to a time when these vehicles created their own roads.
All of it wouldn’t be possible of course, without our wonderful participants who come year after year to take their cherished treasures out for a spin (or just for show in some cases), participate in games of skill out on Walnut Grove and share their favorite stories with those who pass by.
In addition to the 70th anniversary of Old Car Festival, this year’s event would have also celebrated the centennial of the 19th Amendment. Automobiles arrived just as women were making new inroads in the workplace and in civic engagement. It’s not too much to say that the car’s freedom of mobility made an important contribution to this social change. On September 10, our curator of transportation Matt Anderson participated in a special THF Conversations for our members on “Women behind the Wheel,” taking a look at how early American carmakers marketed to women and the role the car played on the road to suffrage. (The link to this video will be available here soon, or read about the same topic here.)
We look forward to making more Old Car Festival memories soon. Until then, stay safe and have a great weekend--and if you want, explore round-ups from previous Old Car Festivals on our blog here.
Melissa Foster is Senior Manager of Public Relations at The Henry Ford.
A Half Century in the Making, the Journey from Yuletides to Holiday Nights
What we know and love today as Holiday Nights did not spontaneously appear in 2000 when we first opened Greenfield Village on December evenings for an immersive holiday experience. Holiday Nights has evolved and grown based on many experiences and inspirations from decades of village “Christmases past.” and the work of many talented people.
The ability to transport our guests to a different time and place is most powerful after dark as the modern world that constantly pushes closer to our borders can be temporarily pushed away. When all is said and done, Greenfield Village provides the most perfect “set” in which to bring the past alive. With over 300 years of history represented, the possibilities are endless; a world where Charles Dickens’, A Christmas Carol, and It’s a Wonderful Life can seamlessly collide. A place where a small town from the distant past comes to life for several hours on December evenings, bringing forth the magic of the holiday season.
Holiday Nights in Greenfield Village is a classic example of “if you build it, they will come.” What began with conservative hopes for several hundred people in attendance has continually grown year after year.
Information Booklet, "Christmas at Greenfield Village 1964." THF112439
The holiday experience in Greenfield Village has a long history. As early as the mid-1960s, Village buildings were decorated both inside and out for the holiday season. Historic Christmas recipes were prepared in the village kitchens in fireplaces and wood burning stoves. Early on, all the guest experiences were limited to daytime and varied from guided tours, to full access, to tour on your own. Decorations were very elaborate, and included many collection items, but were not always based on sound historical research. Every building got a bit of Christmas, whether it would have been celebrated or not. During this period, attendance was vigorous, especially on December weekends.
Guests at Clinton Inn (Eagle Tavern) During "Yuletide Evening in the Village," 1975. THF144738
By the mid-1970s, new evening holiday experiences, called Yuletide Evenings, were introduced. Guests had the choice of a formal dinner in either the newly constructed Heritage Hall (now the Michigan Café) or the Clinton Inn (now the Eagle Tavern).The experience included horse drawn wagon, or if conditions allowed, sleigh rides into the Village, and depending on which package was purchased, a tour of 4 different decorated historic buildings, either before or after dinner. By the early 1980s, the Clinton Inn became Eagle Tavern, and the evening program changed to become an immersive 1850 dining experience much like the program offered today. Eventually, the Village tour portion of the evening was discontinued, offering a dinner only experience.
In the early 1990s, a concerted effort had been made for some years to reinvigorate the daytime program. By paying attention to historical accuracy, but at the same time, broadening the scope and allowing for a wider interpretation of how Americans began to celebrate Christmas in the 19th century, more engaging programs were offered. Hundreds of artifacts were chosen to fit out the dining rooms, parlors, and where appropriate, Christmas trees. Additional research was also done to lift-up the historic cooking programs and infuse a “living history” approach to the historic structures with the addition of period clothing. All this further supported the stories of the diversity of the American Christmas celebration. This work laid the foundation for the core content of Holiday Nights that we rely on today.
By the late 1990s, for a variety of reasons, the daytime visitation to the Greenfield Village Holiday Program had begun to decline while the evening program attendance remained strong. Based on the inspiration and fond memories of the wonderful candle and lantern lit buildings decorated for the holidays, a new program was proposed to re-create that opportunity through the Educational Programs class offerings. Though on a very small scale that served less than 100 people, this program reminded us of what could be possible and got the creative process rolling.
Brochure, "Twelve Nights of Christmas" in Greenfield Village, 2003. THF144736
The Twelve Nights of Christmas, what would later be called Holiday Nights, debuted for the Christmas season of 2000. The daytime “Holiday” program remained in place, and the evening program was basically an evening version. This early version was very quiet, and very dark, as none of the village restoration had taken place yet. Most of the activities were based inside the buildings. Despite the slow start, the potential was fully realized, and creative and physical growth began. With the village closed for the holiday season of 2002 for the renovation, there was time to regroup, brainstorm, and make plans. The new and improved version for the “new” village in 2003 saw expanded outdoor activities, more music, and an ice rink that featured an artificial ice surface. Even with enhanced programming elements, the program was still not really filling the space as it could.
Musicians Performing at "Twelve Nights of Christmas" in Greenfield Village, 2003. THF133593
During these early years, it was apparent to the village programs team that to achieve the level of experience we were aspiring to, the event would need to be broken down into production areas, and each would need its own level of care and attention to detail. Decorating the village, designing and deploying the lighting, planning the historic food demonstrations, food sales and retail, staffing and training, musical and dramatic program casting and rehearsing, dressing an army of staff, firewood, lanterns, and communicating the entire thing, all was captured and pulled together with the Holiday Nights manual. This work became the go-to document for what needed to be done when and where, once preparation for the evening program began. This tool also became invaluable in planning and producing subsequent years of the program. So, as ideas came forth as to how to expand and improve the Holiday Nights guest experience, the program manual format made it possible to incorporate the new elements and move the experience forward.
A very memorable off site staff mini-retreat to a local book store cafe in 2004 laid the foundation for the program we know today. Building on the sound historical content of our village holiday celebration, our success with Holiday Nights thus far, along with a commitment from the institution, we created and refined the combination of guest experiences that today, makes Holiday Nights truly one of the nation’s greatest holiday experiences. The fireworks finale, the end of the evening procession and sing-a-long, a visit from Santa, a real ice skating rink, immersive food and drink stalls in the center of the Village, a greens market, storytellers, over 100 staff in period dress as well as a wide variety of additional dining experiences and top quality live music, has put Holiday Nights on the map over 20 seasons.
The program continues to grow and evolve. For my part, it’s been a privilege and source of pride to see how far we have come and how we have come together to achieve such greatness. I look forward to the road ahead and what the next 20 years may bring.
Inspired by the evolution of Holiday Nights? See it for yourself - limited tickets for 2019 remain.
Jim Johnson is Curator of Historic Structures and Landscapes at The Henry Ford and Director of Greenfield Village.
This 1930 Hupmobile Model S was one of nearly 800 vehicles that filled Greenfield Village for this year’s Old Car Festival.
Another summer car show season is in the books as we wrap up our 69th annual Old Car Festival in Greenfield Village. We enjoyed practically perfect weather, enthusiastic crowds, and a field of nearly 800 vintage automobiles, trucks, motorcycles, and bicycles. You couldn’t have asked for a better weekend – or a better way to spend it.
This 1925 Ford Model TT truck fit perfectly with the Depression-era Mattox Family Home. Greenfield Village provides an incomparable setting for Old Car Festival.
Our spotlight for 2019 shined on early sports cars, whether genuine performers like the Stutz Bearcat, or mere sporty-looking cars like Ford’s Model T Torpedo Runabout. We usually associate sports cars with postwar imported MGs or all-American Corvettes, but enthusiast motoring is an old idea. For as long as there have been cars, there have been builders and buyers dedicated to the simple idea that driving should be fun.
The Henry Ford’s 1923 Stutz Bearcat. Many consider the Bearcat to be America’s first true sports car.
In keeping with the theme, we featured three sporty cars in our special exhibit tent across from Town Hall. From The Henry Ford’s own collection, we pulled our 1923 Stutz Bearcat. If there’s one name synonymous with early sporting automobiles, it’s “Bearcat.” Indianapolis-based Stutz introduced the model in 1912. The first-generation Bearcat featured only the barest bodywork and a trademark “monocle” windshield. Our later model was a bit more refined but, with 109 horses under the hood, it had no problems pushing the speedometer needle to the century mark. And, with its $3500 price tag, it had no problems pushing your bankbook into the red, either.
The sporty, affordable 1926 Chevrolet – for when the heart says, “speed up” but the wallet says, “slow down.”
Our good friends at General Motors once again shared a treasure from the company’s collection. This time it was a beautiful 1926 Chevrolet Superior Series V. The car boasted custom bodywork from the Mercury Body Company of Louisville, Kentucky. The speedster body and disc wheels gave a sporty look to a car targeted at budget-minded buyers. The Chevy sold for $510 – about one-seventh the cost of that Stutz!
This newly-restored 1927 Packard ambulance served the city of Detroit for nearly 30 years.
Every car at Old Car Festival has its own story, but some of them are particularly special. You could certainly say that about the 1927 Packard ambulance bought to us by owner Brantley Vitek of Virginia. He purchased the vehicle, in rather rough condition, at the Hershey swap meet in 1974. Dr. Vitek planned to restore it but, as is sometimes the case for car collectors, life got in the way. He wasn’t able to start the project until 2016, but it was well worth the wait. The finished ambulance is gorgeous – and not without southeast Michigan ties. The Packard served all its working life with the Detroit Fire Department. Old Car Festival wasn’t just a debut for the completed project, it was a homecoming as well.
The corn boil was just one of the dietary delights offered at this year’s show.
Veteran Old Car Festival attendees know that the show mixes a little gastronomy with its gasoline. Each year brings historically-inspired foods to the special “Market District” set up along the south end of Greenfield Village’s Washington Boulevard. Offerings for 2019 included turkey legs, sliced pastrami sandwiches, baked beans and cornbread (served in a tin cup), and peach cobbler. Longstanding favorites like kettle corn, hobo bread, and frozen custard were on hand too.
Prize winners received glass medallions handcrafted in the Greenfield Village Glass Shop.
As it does every year, Old Car Festival wrapped up with the Sunday afternoon awards ceremony. Show participants are invited to submit their vehicles for judging. Expert judges award prizes based on authenticity, quality of restoration, and the care with which each vehicle is maintained. First, second, and third-place prizes are awarded in eight classes, and one Grand Champion is selected for each of the show’s two days. Additionally, two Curator’s Choice awards are given to significant unrestored vehicles.
The Canadian Model T Assembly Team entertained by putting together this vintage Ford in mere minutes.
Year after year, Old Car Festival provides sights, sounds, and tastes to delight the senses. It’s no wonder the show has been going strong for 69 years. We’ll see you for show number 70 in 2020!
Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.
Factory-built trucks, like this 1931 Ford Model A pickup, were the highlight at this year’s Old Car Festival in Greenfield Village.
Another summer car show season has come and gone, but it was capped off in spectacular fashion with the 68th annual Old Car Festival. More than 750 bicycles, automobiles and trucks filled Greenfield Village with the sights and sounds of motoring circa 1900-1932.
This year’s theme commemorated a century of factory-built trucks. Chevrolet introduced its first half-ton and one-ton trucks in 1918. Ford technically built its first Model TT trucks in 1917, but TT production that first year was so small that it seems fair to celebrate the Ford truck centennial in 2018, too. Regular Old Car Festival attendees know that – despite the show’s name – trucks have long been a part of the event, but this year the spotlight was theirs. In addition to the many participant trucks, our friends at the GM Heritage Center kindly provided a 1926 Chevrolet Superior Series X pickup for display, while we pulled out a 1925 Ford Model TT stake truck from The Henry Ford’s collection.
A group of eight Sears high wheelers heads through Pass-in-Review – with the non-runner towed by a 1921 Fordson Model F tractor.
Old Car Festival always brings together a mix of the rare and the common, the strange and the standard, and this year was no exception. Among the highlights was a group of eight Sears high wheelers. From 1909 to 1912, aspiring motorists could order complete cars (along with just about everything else) from the Sears catalog. Priced around $400, the cars were solid if not spectacular, but their arrival was something of a cultural milestone. If *Sears* was selling them, then surely these horseless carriages were here to stay!
Even 130 years after “safety” bicycles supplanted them, high-wheel “ordinary” bikes continue to fascinate.
Not every vehicle at Old Car Festival had a motor. Once again members of the Michigan Wheelmen brought a variety of period bicycles, from a replica of a circa 1817 draisine (the bicycle’s earliest, peddle-less ancestor), to intimidating high wheelers of the 1870s, to more conventional “safety” bikes of the sort Wilbur and Orville Wright sold in the 1890s. Throughout the weekend, the Wheelmen wowed the crowds with their displays of skill – from bicycle games, to stunts, to simply managing to climb aboard something with a front wheel 58 inches high.
Visitors enjoyed an additional musical treat this year as organist Dave Wagner performed hit songs of the early automobile era on the newly-restored pipe organ in the Menlo Park Laboratory.
Our decade vignettes, so popular last year, returned for 2018. For the Aughts, we had a group of Civil War veterans enjoying a G.A.R. reunion picnic (with a period-appropriate blend of horse-drawn and motorized transportation). For the 1910s, we had a Ragtime street fair complete with fast-fingered pianists, vintage games, and tasty foods along Washington Boulevard. At the other end of the village near Cotswold Cottage – “over there,” if you will – a group of World War I reenactors commemorated the centennial of the Armistice. The Roaring ’20s were recalled with a concert and dancing at the bandstand near the Ackley Covered Bridge. And the somber early years of the Great Depression came to life through the blues guitar of the Rev. Robert Jones.
Another rare sight: five Model K Fords attended the show. Today the big six-cylinder K is unfairly dismissed as a failure. In truth, it sold well – and quite profitably – between 1906 and 1908.
Whether it was your first visit or your 21st, Old Car Festival surely offered something to bring a smile to your face or a tap to your toe. It’s a car show like no other, and one we’ve been proud to present year after year.
Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.
Nostalgia for those who experienced it—and a hip mid-century modern revival for others.
The Visits with Santa experience in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation this year is a throwback to the 1960s. Kids can tell Santa their wishes as they sit next to him under a colorful kiosk made by Ray and Charles Eames for the IBM pavilion at the 1964 New York World’s Fair. Nearby is a cozy 1960s living room vignette—complete with a La-Z-Boy chair, television set, and an aluminum Christmas tree from the era.
This mid-century modern theme coincides with the opening of our newest permanent exhibit in the museum, Mathematica, alsodesigned by Ray and Charles. Several components of Mathematica were featured inside that IBM Pavilion at the 1964 World’s Fair, so we were excited to bring those two experiences together for this year’s holiday programming.
The scene provides a bit of nostalgia for those who experienced the 1960s—and a hip mid-century modern revival for others. Let’s look at some blasts from the 1960s Christmas past.
Aluminum trees brought a modern look to a mid-1960s Christmas. THF170112
The early 1960s brought a fresh, new look to Christmas tree aesthetics. A completely modern look--the aluminum Christmas tree. It made a shiny, metallic splash in living rooms all over America. More than a million trees were sold during the decade. A tree choice that eschewed the traditional pine- or fir-scented Christmas experience when it landed on the Christmas scene in the 1960s, now conjures up images of a retro Christmas past.
Color wheel sold by Sears, Roebuck and Company, 1960-1965. THF8379
A color wheel lit up the aluminum tree, with the tree changing from blue to red to green to gold as the wheel revolved. The color wheel was there for a practical reason—you couldn’t put strings of lights on aluminum trees because of fire safety concerns. But to those viewing the transformation, the color wheel seemed a no-brainer way to light these trees—so modern and so magical. It was mesmerizing to watch—whether from a front row seat in your living room or the view through your neighbor’s window.
The Smith family of Redford, Michigan purchased these ornaments in 1964 to hang on their aluminum Christmas tree. THF309083
Aluminum trees called for minimalist look. The trees were often sparingly decked with ornaments all of one color.
The Wojewidka siblings pose for a Christmas photo in front of their live tree in 1960. THF125145
Yet, “real” trees remained popular as well—fresh-cut trees chosen from one of the many temporary Christmas tree lots that popped up in cities and towns. (The cut-your-own trend was not yet widespread.) Scotch pines were favored by many—though there were diehard balsam fans as well. These trees were bedecked with a varied array of ornaments—glass ones by the Shiny Brite company were popular. And shiny “icicles”—made of lead before it was prohibited—hung from the branches to add to the sparkle.
Holiday Greetings in the Mail
By the early 1960s, Christmas cards offered a greater variety of seasonal images beyond those traditionally found. This image shows a woman clothed in a pine tree decorated with 1960s trendy-colored ornaments. THF287028
By mid-December, mailboxes were filling with Christmas cards, sent by family and friends to let the recipient know that they were being specially thought of during the holiday season. It was exciting to pull out handfuls of cards from the mailbox—it may have been the only time during the year when a kid had much interest in what the postman delivered. And not necessarily because of the cards themselves—the cards were a tangible sign that Christmas was indeed on its way and that Santa would soon be making his deliveries!
Christmas card display clothesline and pins, about 1964. THF155082
Where did people display all these Christmas cards? On a mantle, a table, or the top of the television. Or taped to a wall or a large mirror in the living room. Hanging them from a Christmas-themed clothesline was a more novel way to display them.
This 1962 stamp carried traditional Christmas images of lighted candles and a wreath. THF287036
In 1962, the United States Postal Service issued the first Christmas-themed postage stamps in America. (A few other countries had already beaten us to the punch on issuing Christmas-themed postage stamps.) But once begun, Christmas stamps graced more and more Christmas card envelopes to complete the annual presentation of holiday-themed greetings sent through the mail.
Making a List
Christmas catalogs like this 1964 Sears, Roebuck & Company got a workout in December. THF135874
Kids were busy deciding what to ask Santa for. Instead of perusing the web, kids looked forward to the arrival of Christmas season catalogs sent by stores like Sears, Roebuck and Company, J.C. Penney, and Montgomery Ward. Kids (and adults) eagerly leafed through the pages of the toys, clothing, and other gifts offered within, making their wish list for Santa’s perusal before passing the catalog along to another family member.
Television offered additional gift ideas, playing out the merits of products before viewers’ eyes in commercials that one couldn’t speed past with a DVR.
Toys for Girls and Boys Many 1960s toys that appeared on the Christmas lists of millions of kids during the 1960s—some in updated versions—are still classics.
Silly Putty modeling compound, about 1962. THF135811
Silly Putty was invented during World War II as General Electric researchers worked to develop a synthetic substitute for rubber. While no practical purpose could be found for the stuff, it did turn out to be a great toy. Silly Putty bounced higher and stretched farther than rubber. It even lifted images off the pages of color comics. (My sister took Silly Putty to bed with her, leaving a perfect egg-shaped stain on the sheets that never came out.)
Eight-year-old Rachel Marone of New York received this Etch A Sketch as s Christmas gift in 1961. THF93827
The 1960s saw an innovative new arts and crafts toy—the Etch A Sketch. Turning the knobs at the bottom of the screen (one to create horizontal lines, one for vertical) let the user “draw” on the screen with a mixture of aluminum powder and plastic beads. To erase, you just turned the screen over and shook it. Incidentally, it was the first toy that Ohio Art, its manufacturer, ever advertised on television. (Accomplished users could make great drawings on the Etch A Sketch—and some of us were just happy to produce decent-looking curved lines.)
This 1962 Play-Doh Fun Factory was a childhood toy of Mary Sherman of Minnesota. THF170363
Play-Doh introduced their Fun Factory in 1960. Now kids could go beyond free-form modeling with their red, yellow, blue and white Play-Doh. The Play-Doh Fun Factory provided instructions on how to create things like trains, planes, and boats—and an extruder with dies to easily make the components.
Watching Christmas Specials on TV
Album from A Charlie Brown Christmas television special, about 1965. THF162745
Kids eagerly listened for announcements on television or leafed excitedly through TV Guide magazine to find out when the holiday specials would air. You didn’t want to miss them—it was your only shot at watching! There were no DVRs or DVDs back then. Two animated classics from the mid-1960s--A Charlie Brown Christmas and How the Grinch Stole Christmas--are among the earliest and most enduring of the Christmas specials developed for television.
Within their engaging storylines, these two shows carried a message about the growing commercialization of the holiday. As kids watched the barrage of toy ads that appeared with regularity on their television screens and leafed through catalogs to make their Christmas lists, seeing these cartoons reminded them that Christmas was also about higher ideals—not just about getting presents. These television shows—and the increasing number and variety of Christmas specials that have since joined them—remain a yearly reminder to temper one’s holiday-related commercialism and to think of the needs of others.
Not only have Charlie Brown and the Grinch become perennial favorites enjoyed by children and adults alike, but the soundtracks of these shows have joined the pantheon of musical Christmas classics.
The Ronettes’ version of Sleigh Ride, with its freshly melodic “Ring-a-ling-a-ling Ding-dong ding” background vocals on this 1963 Phil Spector-produced album, has become an iconic Christmas classic. THF135943
What would a 1960s Christmastime be without Christmas-themed music heard on the stereo at home and over speakers in stores? The 1960s saw a flood of Christmas albums and singles. Various singers—like Andy Williams, Nat King Cole, Perry Como, Johnny Mathis, Brenda Lee, Ella Fitzgerald, Elvis Presley, the Ronettes, the Crystals, and the Beach Boys—recorded their versions of old favorites and new tunes.
The Annual Christmas Photo
In 1963, the Truby brothers of Royal Oak, Michigan, posed in Santa pajamas given to them by their grandmother. THF287005
After the presents were opened and everyone was dressed in their Christmas finery, it was time to round up the kids for photos. Siblings (and, sometimes, their parents) might be posed together in front of a seasonal backdrop like the Christmas tree or a fireplace. Some families filmed home movies of their celebrations. These home movies often captured only strategic snippets of the Christmas celebration—movie film was expensive. And these home movies were without sound—which was probably sometimes a good thing!
Jeanine Head Miller is Curator of Domestic Life at The Henry Ford.
Back in the late 1990s when The Henry Ford offered the Legend of Sleepy Hollow and the Story of Ichabod Crane program in Greenfield Village, there was a need to flesh out some areas with unique, yet iconic “set dressing” that would augment the rural and spooky flavor of the story we were trying to tell. Scarecrows were ubiquitous fixtures of kitchen gardens and some field crops over the years to deter birds and other such creatures from unintentional feasting. “Scarecrows” are still used today although a variety of designs, materials and articulations are very few of which take on a human form or shape - a far cry from the days of old.
It didn't take long until our team was challenged with the premise that we needed something large enough to make a visual impact and yet manageable and nimble enough to be used as temporary structure. Inspiration began to pour in from various imagery, films and shows, and descriptive language from literature, along with my own imagination, I created a 16-foot tall scarecrow affectionately named Mr. Irving after author George Washington Irving. Since those autumn nights more than 15 years ago and still today, Mr. Irving has been a part of the Greenfield Village’s fall and Hallowe’en programming. He has been photographed by thousands of guests and his inspiration lives on with many Mr. Irving lookalikes popping up in yards all over southeastern Michigan.