GR Christmas decorations invoke nostalgia

Vintage-inspired Christmas directions go up along Jefferson Avenue SE. (Dec. 9, 2014)

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — It’s beginning to look a lot like an old-fashioned Christmas in Grand Rapids.

Downtown Grand Rapids, Inc. and Fubble Entertainment have teamed up to dress up a some downtown areas with decorations inspired by decades past.

The decorations will be unveiled Friday night. Some of the details are being withheld until then. But organizers of the effort have released some sneak peeks.

A vintage photo of Herpolsheimer's department store. (Courtesy Fubble Entertainment.)
(A vintage photo of Herpolsheimer’s. Courtesy Fubble Entertainment.)

One of the decorations is a restored car from the train that ran for decades inside Herpolsheimer’s department store, which used to occupy the Monroe Center building that now houses Grand Rapids Police Department. There has long been speculation that the train was the inspiration for Chris Van Allsburg’s classic children’s Christmas story “The Polar Express,” though the author and illustrator has never confirmed that.

“From what I hear, he (Van Allsburg) won’t officially say that this is the Polar Express, but Grand Rapids likes to believe that it is and I like to believe that it is,” Patrick Ziegler of Fubble said.

The restored car will go in the old Grand Rapids Public Museum on Jefferson Avenue SE, south of Fulton Street. It will be visible through the doors. The windows of the museum will be decked out to remind passersby of the department store of Christmas days past.

Zeigler wouldn’t give much more detail about another Herpolsheimer’s installment, but he did provide a clue:

A vintage photo of Herpolsheimer's department store. (Courtesy Fubble Entertainment.)
(Courtesy Fubble Entertainment.)

“A lot of people might remember an iconic figure that was in the basement of Herpolsheimer’s that you would talk to and out of a chute a present would come out for you,” Zeigler teased.

Vintage decorations are also being installed along Jefferson. Old-fashioned, glass-bulb Christmas lights are being strung along dozens of streets. Tinsel-covered icons have been put up. They’re new, but they’re meant to invoke nostalgia.

“There was such a connection that happened in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s. For people who are having these memories, it is a shared experience,” said Teresa Thome of Fubble.

The topper may be a recreation of a 16-foot candle that used to stand in the middle of Fulton Street at Sheldon Avenue downtown.

“The candle is insane. We are so excited about it,” Thome said. “For many people it is part of Grand Rapids legend and so we’re doing our best to honor that.”

The candle will be installed in Veteran’s Park on Fulton Street near Division on Wednesday. Nearby Monument Park will have a replicated tree of lights like the one that hung outside Wurzburg’s department store.

All the decorations will be lit at 6 p.m. Friday.

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