Richfield holiday display is a step back in time

  • Article by: ERIN ADLER , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 18, 2012 - 4:25 PM

A reel-to-reel projector, a tinsel Christmas tree and a metal doll house are all part of the Historical Society's 1954 display.

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The Richfield Historical Society decorated a room with items the way Christmas would have looked in the 1950s. Historical Society volunteer Karie Ouellette made adjustments on a silver sparkler pom-pom tree. A steel-runner sled, a Maytag washing machine and a metal doll house add to the display.

Photo: Marlin Levison, Star Tribune

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When Gary Anderson heard the Richfield History Center was planning to do a Christmas exhibit set in Richfield circa 1954, he knew immediately he had plenty of items to contribute.

"That Christmas, 1954, just happened to be the epitome, gold-plated, chocolate-covered, best one of my life," he said. "I knew I had a lot of stuff from that year."

Anderson, a history buff and self-described collector who was 10 years old in 1954, loaned more than 20 items for the display. The combination of center-owned and donated vintage items from him and others create the "Richfield Christmas 1954" exhibit, a detailed living room and kitchen vignette all decked out for the holiday season.

The exhibit, which fills a 15-by-15-foot space in the gallery, features era-specific artifacts like a tinsel Christmas tree, a metal doll house with plastic furniture, a miniature wooden bowling set, a 1950s dinette set, a wood-framed television set, a camera for making home movies, a reel-to-reel projector and a 1954 Maytag washing machine.

The year marks an iconic time for Richfield. "The suburbs were going up and it was the modern thing to do to move here, where a family with young kids could afford to have a house and a yard," said Jodi Larson, director of the History Center.

The exhibit, which runs through Jan. 5, is a follow-up to last year's Christmas exhibit set in 1977. Both exhibits aim to help visitors envision what everyday life was like for Richfield residents like Anderson in the 1950s, Larson said.

"The reason we do these time travel exhibits is to really get people talking about history," Larson said. "People will bring their grandkids and it starts a conversation about what their life was like."

History of everyday people

In the last two years, the center has tried to focus on the lives of "average" residents and the recent past, said Larson.

Larson, the board and a core group of volunteers sought to "change the Historical Society so it reflects everybody's history, not just what's in a bunch of boring old textbooks," she said.

Their efforts have been successful, with visitor numbers growing.

About 60 people attended the exhibit's Nov. 17 opening. They watched an hour-long video featuring 1950s TV shows, movies and radio clips and perused supplementary items like recipe cards, a booklet of local news clippings and a compilation of advertisements. The exhibit also features a scavenger hunt with pictured items visitors can locate.

Anderson, who attended the opening, said he enjoyed the mix of younger and older people there.

"That's the nice thing -- I get to talk with these younger folks. They can ask me, 'What the devil is this?' and I can tell them. It's nice to pass on information," he said.

Although the center has a professional staff person, volunteers are still key, said Larson. About 15 people helped with the holiday display.

Volunteer and former intern Karie Ouellette pored over 1954 newspapers and landed the tinsel Christmas tree from her neighbors. She said she especially enjoys assembling the exhibits.

"You've got snippets here and there and you know you're making progress, but you can't see it. It's cool to see it all come together and think, 'We made this happen,'" Ouellette said.

It's the little things that make the difference, said visitor Brian Carlson of Richfield. A gardening book Carlson donated a while back made it into the display.

At the exhibit, he noticed the TV lamp with a green accordion shade sitting atop the set. It made him remember that people thought watching TV in the dark caused eye damage.

Favorite pieces

"That's a good detail," he said. "The little details you don't realize have all changed until you see them all together."

Ouellette and Larson count the two tiny metal credit cards -- early versions of today's plastic ones, each the size of a couple postage stamps -- among their favorite items.

For Anderson, though, his own "Prince Valiant" play set, which included little plastic knights and a tin castle, had the most sentimental value.

Anderson said he's willing to loan the center other items in the future.

"What good is this stuff if you don't share it?" he said.

Erin Adler is a Twin Cities freelance writer.

  • IF YOU GO

    What: Richfield Christmas 1954

    Where: Richfield History Center, 6901 Lyndale Av. S., Richfield

    When: Through Jan. 5; Wednesdays, noon-8 p.m.; Saturdays, noon-4 p.m.

    Cost: Free

    Info: www.richfieldhistory.org or 612-798-6140

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