Crucial to the plot of the film A Christmas Story is the window at the fictitious Higbees Department Store. It is there that Ralphie Parker gets his first glimpse of the elusive and magical Red Rider BB Gun.
Reaching back in cinematic history a little further, the opening scene of Miracle on 34th Street also involves a window. Kris Kringle corrects an errant shopkeeper who is placing reindeer in the wrong order.
Both these Hollywood vignettes recall when holiday window displays were a time-honored retail tradition.
THESE TOWERING TOY SOLDIERS STAND GUARD AT THE AMERICAN TREASURE TOUR IN OAKS
The custom had its beginnings in the late 1800s, driven by two technological advances. The first was the invention of large-scale plate glass, which enabled big-city department stores to design large windows on their exteriors.
These, in turn, became a marketing tool, especially during the holidays. Retail giants like R.H. Macy and (locally) John Wanamaker soon discovered that they could catch the eye of pedestrians by enticing them with a sparkly scene.
WHO NEEDS REINDEER?
And a passer-by, sufficiently engaged, could well become a customer.
The second development that pushed window-dressing to greater heights was the invention of electricity. Soon, windows were adorned by moving figures and colorful bulbs that the public found fascinating.
The art is still around today, although perhaps to a lesser extent. Nowadays, store displays feature more merchandise than magic.
But there are still places to encounter this unique art form.
The American Treasure Tour, for example, encompasses multiple advertising trends over the decades. Among its marketing memorabilia are a number of moving Santas, elves, reindeer and snowmen, all retirees from department stores across the nation.
New to the assortment are a set of scenes from the 1960s that once graced Macy's flagship New York City store.
THESE THREE KINGS ONCE BORE GIFTS AT MACY'S IN NEW YORK CITY.
They include several Biblically-inspired vignettes, where a trio of kings bear their gifts from astride noble camels.
On the secular side, the dioramas show an early 20th century family prepping for the holidays, with an often humorous outlook. A couple, for example, struggles to find gift-hiding spots in the house without being detected.
Isaac Brooks, Community Relations Manager for the tour, says that the pieces have survived their years with only moderate wear and tear. The mechanisms inside required only minor refurbishment, and now, their cogs and gears provide captivating animation today as they did more than 50 years ago.
HO HO HO! HUNDREDS OF SANTAS ARE ON DISPLAY AT THE AMERICAN TREASURE TOUR
As part of the larger collection of holiday-themed items, the American Treasure Tour has hundreds of mechanized St. Nicks. Each has been lovingly relocated after years of peering at bustling holiday shoppers scurrying by on sidewalks all across the U.S.
Elsewhere on the tour, visitors can enjoy a playlist of holiday songs performed on intricate, mechanized instruments like nickelodeons and music boxes. A pair of massive Wurlitzer Band Organs, for example, works in tandem to perform a jolly (and enthusiastic!) version of "White Christmas."
Other seasonal music includes:
- "Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer"
- "Here Comes Santa Claus"
- "Silent Night"
- Selections from "The Nutcracker"
- "Joy to the World"
- "O Little Town of Bethlehem"
- "Oh Come, All Ye Faithful"
- "It Came Upon A Midnight Clear"
- "The First Noel"
- "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing"
- "Angels We Have Heard on High"
A SMALL VILLAGE IS PART OF A BIGGER CHRISTMAS CELEBRATION AT THE AMERICAN TREASURE TOUR
Also on display is a miniature Christmas village that is stunning in its detail. Assembled by a hobbyist, it came to the American Treasure Tour when it became too large for his home.
The American Treasure Tour is open to the public every Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. with no reservations required. Group tours - spanning 2 to 15 visitors - can be reserved Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The tour is open daily except Christmas Day. An onsite dining option can also be added.