Rediscovering Pip the Mouse
Puppet show brings back cherished childhood memories
One of my most cherished and clearly crystallized memories of Christmas features a mouse named Pip.
Pip was as much a holiday mainstay as Rudolph, Frosty and Santa himself. In fact, Pip was even more real to me thanks to bygone days when a retailer named Max Hess was also a supreme showman.
Ah, Hess's department store. There are still Hess's gift boxes covered with the familiar red, green and blue script logo in my closet. I'll never throw them out.
The grand holiday shopping trip from my little Carbon County coal hometown of Nesquehoning to the Big City of Allentown ranks right up there with my adult travels to London and Rome.
I can close my eyes and envision stepping onto the main floor of Hess's where magnificently attired mechanical figures of Victorian skaters – mustachioed men and women with hands tucked in furry muffs - whirled among the store's shimmering chandeliers.
I can still feel the chill as I huddled with dozens of other patient parents and restless kids outside one of the store's large glass display windows waiting for the show to begin. "The Mouse Before Christmas" starred a personable rodent, a shadowy moon with great rolling eyes and a special guest – Santa Claus.
Max Hess Jr. bought the stage and puppets and opened the show in 1962, according to the website of the Liberty Bell Museum, where Pip now makes his home. Pip was created by a magician and master puppeteer named Dr. George Creegan of Steubenville, Ohio.
The show – just 10 minutes long – has its share of suspense. Will Santa visit Pip? Will Pip get some cheese for Christmas? Will Santa survive a surprise mishap and resume his worldwide sleigh ride in time to deliver all his gifts?
I won't divulge the ending, but I can say "The Mouse Before Christmas" embodies those lovely holiday intangibles: innocence, anticipation and joy.
Last year, I rediscovered Pip the Mouse as now showcased at the Liberty Bell Museum in Zion's United Church of Christ, Hamilton Street, Allentown – just a reindeer's leap from the once bustling Hess's department store. The performance was as delightful as ever although, with adult eyes, it was now obvious how the "special effects" were done. (Remember, I first saw Pip at a time when the hot video game was Pong.)
Thousands of people have enjoyed "The Mouse Before Christmas." How glad I am to be one of them.
The show runs through Dec. 31 with performances Monday at noon, 1 p.m. and 2 p.m.; Tuesday at 10 a.m., 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 2 p.m.; and Thursday, Friday and Saturday at noon, 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. (No shows on Dec. 24 and 25.)
Find out more at www.libertybellmuseum.org.