Whitehall-Coplay Press

Friday, February 28, 2020
PRESS PHOTO BY ED COURRIERLiberty Bell Museum Manager Stephanie Burke, with Pip the Mouse hand puppet, prepares for some cheesy fun for the 16th season of “Pip: The Mouse Before Christmas Puppet Show,” in the museum in Zion’s United Church of Christ, Allentown. Copyright - © Ed Courrier PRESS PHOTO BY ED COURRIERLiberty Bell Museum Manager Stephanie Burke, with Pip the Mouse hand puppet, prepares for some cheesy fun for the 16th season of “Pip: The Mouse Before Christmas Puppet Show,” in the museum in Zion’s United Church of Christ, Allentown. Copyright - © Ed Courrier

Pip the Mouse returns to Liberty Bell Museum

Friday, December 6, 2019 by Ed Courrier Special to The Press in Focus

“Pip: The Mouse Before Christmas” has returned to its fanciful stage for another run of vintage seasonal fun in the Liberty Bell Museum, Allentown.

Pip and his holiday puppet show premiered at Hess’s, Ninth and Hamilton streets, in 1962. After the iconic Allentown department store closed, puppets, props and stage found a home at the Liberty Bell Museum where the holiday show has been going on since 2003.

“We’re adding an element that was in the original show that got lost over the years,” says Liberty Bell Museum Manager Stephanie Burke. “It involves Santa’s pants,” she grinned.

The regional favorite continues through Dec. 31 in the museum in Zion’s United Church of Christ, 622 W. Hamilton St., Allentown. The Liberty Bell is said to have been transported from Philadelphia to the church where it was hidden from the British and saved from being melted into cannonballs during the Revolutionary War.

The “Trees, Trains and Traditions,” exhibit in the museum lobby and adjacent gallery traces the Christmas tree’s pagan origin through the modern era. Included among the festively-adorned trees is a store-bought “Charlie Brown Christmas Tree.”

Although the Puritans in New England “frowned upon” such pagan displays, Burke says Pennsylvania’s 18th-century German settlers brought the custom of decorating cut evergreens indoors with them.

Burke says that tree-trimming with ornaments became immensely popular after “Christmas Tree at Windsor Castle,” a woodcut of England’s Queen Victoria and her royal family celebrating their German traditions, began circulating on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean in the late 1840s.

Holiday cards became fashionable during the mid-1800s. Several antique cards and reproduction of early cards are on display in the museum exhibition.

At the start of the 20th century, electric trains manufactured by Lionel, a company founded by Joshua Lionel Cowe, found their way under the Christmas tree. This too, became a nostalgic holiday tradition, says Burke.

The oldest model train on display is a Lionel tinplate engine with two passenger coaches circa early 1930s. O-gauge and HO-gauge steam and diesel trains are part of the exhibit, including Thomas the Tank Engine, the Polar Express, and the “Liberty Bell” train.

The museum pays tribute to 1950s’ and ’60s’ era Plasticville model railroad buildings, manufactured by Philadelphia-based Bachmann Industries. The little structures snap together and are easily disassembled for storage.

“The Mouse Before Christmas” tradition keeps chugging along. According to Burke, of the 15 department stores in the United States and Canada that had Pip’s holiday puppet show, Allentown has the only surviving plywood and pressboard stage, and possibly the largest collection of puppets and store-window display items.

Many of Hess’s 1962 displays and animatronics created by Dr. George Creegan, including a cat at her ironing, are integral parts of the Christmas display. Other animatronics, including Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus, as well as George and Martha Washington, were purchased in 2010 by former Liberty Bell Museum curator Josh Fink when Creegan’s factory closed.

Across from the stage is the holiday putz of ¼-inch-scale replicas of buildings from around the Lehigh Valley, including Zion’s United Church of Christ. These were crafted from wood and foam board by attendees of Lehigh Valley Active Life, Allentown. A Lionel train clatters its way around the miniature cityscape and countryside.

“Pip: The Mouse Before Christmas,” 12:30, 1:30, 2:30 p.m. Monday - Saturday, second Sunday of the month, 5:30, 6:30 p.m. Thursdays, through Dec. 31. Gallery hours: noon - 4 p.m. Monday - Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, noon - 8 p.m. Thursdays, noon - 4 p.m. second Sunday. libertybellmuseum.org; 610-435-4232