"Christmas in the 1970s," now on display at the Fridley History Center, aims to make people feel right at home in the decade.  

As a part of the exhibit that runs through Dec. 18, the basement of the historic building has been divided into several vignettes: a living room, a teenage boy's bedroom and an eating area. Each is filled with authentic vintage items that set the scene. A Christmas tree in the living room, adorned with a mix of handmade and store-bought ornaments, is the centerpiece.   

Other iconic 1970s items include a rotary phone, a Farrah Fawcett poster, a lava lamp, a General Electric portable record player, a Crissy Doll, and more. "We're trying to recreate an era that people have warm feelings about," said Mary Ann Hoffman, a board member for the Fridley Historical Society, which runs the center.

At the same time, it's an opportunity to "remind people that their experiences in the 1970s are part of history," she said.

To put the exhibit together, the historical society spent several months gathering all kinds of vintage items from community members.

Some volunteers ransacked their attics and shopped for certain pieces at thrift stores and garage sales.

Hoffman was struck by the amount of 1970s stuff that's still around. "None of us expected that," she said. "You could almost move in here."

Some items, like the lime-green shag carpet, were harder to nail down, she said.

The rooms invite exploration. "People are welcome to get up-close and personal, and step right into the vignette, as though it was their home," Hoffman said. Meanwhile, old Christmas TV specials, commercials and music play in the background.

Volunteers with the historical society have baked old-fashioned cookies, like the sugary pretzel treat "bacon and eggs," that were popular in the 1970s. Russian tea, a powdery concoction made out of Tang, is served on Tuesdays.

The exhibit also includes interactive activities such as 1970s trivia developed by Hoffman, a retired history teacher.

New life at the center

The exhibit is the center's first new installation in almost 20 years, said Hoffman, who attributed that to limited funding and manpower. The entirely volunteer-driven center has a permanent exhibit upstairs that speaks to the history of the building, which originated as a two-room schoolhouse.

The '70s exhibit was pulled together on a shoestring budget but already has brought a new clientele to the center, Hoffman said. It's something she hopes to build on. "To me it's a starting point for a new life here."

In setting up the show, Hoffman drew inspiration from the Richfield Historical Society. Last year, that organization presented an exhibit at the Richfield History Center themed around Christmas in the city in 1977. This year the center is homing in on "Richfield Christmas 1954." That exhibit runs through Jan. 5.

Jodi Larson, the Richfield center's director, said 1954 was a pivotal year for the suburb, involving "record booms, lots of children and change."

As such, the exhibit pays "homage to the generation that built Richfield and the first-ring suburbs," she said.

A part of recent history

Deb Youngsjostrom, a Fridley resident who was at the Fridley exhibit with her mom and sister on opening day, said of the '70s: "It doesn't seem like it was so many years ago."

A wooden spinning wheel-shaped lamp in the living room reminded her of a planter she once had. "I haven't thought about that planter in years," she said, adding, "It was so ugly."

Board games like Battleship, Sorry and Miss America also brought back memories. "I'm a huge fan of board games," she said. "I think I had all of these."

For Fridley resident Brett Hotzler, the faux fireplace stood out. While he was growing up, his family placed presents around a similar fireplace set up near a pool table. His girlfriend, Anita Ewald, was drawn to the rotary phone, which made her think of her grandparents. She also spotted a farmhouse picture that "everybody had."

But for the some of the exhibit's youngest visitors, the retro rooms made a different impression. Chantel Sorman, of Minneapolis, said her 11-year-old daughter, Emily Lene, was dumbstruck by the sight of the heavy TV. "It was fun and interesting to go back and see where we came from," she said, adding, "We had a great time."

Anna Pratt is a Minneapolis freelance writer.