Crystal Lake native creates Christmas nostalgia

Published: Sunday, Dec. 29, 2013 11:56 p.m. CDT • Updated: Monday, Dec. 30, 2013 11:35 a.m. CDT
(Sarah Nader –
Dawn Ellison (left), Alice Gordi, Kevin Ellison and Lonni Oldham, all of Huntley, look at the 1950s and 1960s holiday display Friday at the McHenry County Historical Society and Museum in Union. Society board member Dave Harms of Crystal Lake, with the help of antiques dealer Lynne Eltrevoog of Marengo, compiled the must-see display featuring a selection of rare, vintage radios – including one honoring Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris, plus a working 1951 Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer model.
(Sarah Nader –
Kevin Ellison and Lonni Oldham, both of Huntley, look at the retro holiday display Saturday at the McHenry County Historical Society and Museum in Union. The display is meant to re-create the feel of a 1950s streetscape.

UNION – Those yearning for a time when holiday gifts consisted of Lionel trains and Erector sets instead of iPads and XBox systems can step back in time at the McHenry County Historical Society & Museum.

The museum, at 6422 Main St. in Union, features a 1950s Christmas storefront featuring toys, displays and antiques from the bygone era. The scene was created by society board member Dave Harms, who has collected Christmas memorabilia since 1980.

“Christmas was the greatest time for me as a kid growing up,” Harms said. “I just hope to grab people’s nostalgia and give younger people an idea of what it was like. It’s a world of difference now with all the electronics, but as time marches on things change.”

The storefront features well-known items such as a 1947 Daisy Red Ryder BB gun; era icons such as Bozo, Frosty the Snowman and a Rudolph model from Montgomery Ward; and past holiday staples such as aluminum trees and moving clocks. Harms even incorporated some local history, using the old checkout counter and signage from the Raue Hardware Store in Crystal Lake.

But Harms’ favorite item is the one that inspired him to collect in the first place – a vintage lighted Christmas tree stand. Harms said his grandparents’ lighted stand never worked, which led him to seek out a similar one when he was older, and his love for collecting blossomed.

“In 1980, I joined a group called the Golden Glow of Christmas Past, which is a network of collectors from all over the world,” he said. “Seeing all the things from Switzerland, Germany, Australia, Canada and all over really opened up a whole new world.”

Harms has shared more of his collection in previous Christmas displays at the museum, including last year when he re-created a 1950s living room. The display featured an old Motorola TV that played episodes of “Howdy Doody” and other old shows as visitors toured the site.

A forest of aluminum Christmas trees also was a previous display in the seven years Harms has been creating scenes for the museum.

Harms said that as he looks around stores today, he still sees many items inspired from his favorite Christmas era.

“There is so much retro Christmas that is out there,” he said. “A lot of the ornaments are all reproductions of what was made in ’50s and ’60s.”

Kira Halvey, curator at the historical society, said the Christmas display is becoming one of the more popular exhibits each year.

“Dave is becoming a more well-known Christmas memorabilia collector, and people are becoming more aware of this display,” Halvey said. “It has a nice twist with history and brings up a lot of nostalgia.”

The exhibit is open from 1 to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday until Jan. 10. Evening and weekend appointments can be made by request at 815-923-2267.

If you go

What: Christmas on Main Street

Where: McHenry County Historical Society & Museum, 6422 Main St. in Union

When: 1 to 4 p.m. every Monday through Friday until Jan. 10

Features: A 1950s Christmas window display that features well-known and rare items from the era, including some pieces of local history.

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