For years a team of reindeer graced the holiday scene on the Square in Carlisle.
Photographs from the 1960s show the decorations hanging in an arc from a tree or adding a warm glow to the frigid winter night while towing Santa in his sleigh.
“We were wondering where are they now?” said Glenn White, recalling the research he had conducted in the fall as executive director of the Downtown Carlisle Association.
“We’re always looking at doing something different,” White said. “This is a great way to give respect to Carlisle’s past and to raise awareness and money for the events that we [the DCA] are doing.”
The idea was for staff to examine photographs of past holidays to determine what, if any, of the old style Christmas decorations could be found, restored and revived. The intent is to put the vintage decorations back on display and to use them as models for commemorative ornaments celebrating the heritage of Carlisle.
Staff members were reviewing images at the Cumberland County Historical Society when they came across pictures showing the reindeer decorations. Curious to learn their whereabouts, staff posted messages on Facebook and other social media asking the public for leads on how to locate the reindeer.
One lead led the DCA to contact Jen Smith, owner of two of the plastic reindeer. Smith lives on land her late grandmother Mary K. Barrick owned on Airport Drive in North Middleton Township.
Barrick was the local tax collector for 47 years, Smith said in an email to The Sentinel. “Each Christmas she hung two reindeer on her house. When she passed, I offered to take them to keep the tradition going.
“My family doesn’t have a lot of details about the reindeer,” Smith said. “I saw photos at the historical society last Christmas that indicated they were hung in 1966. Just prior to that, we were unaware of their use in Carlisle.”
The family believes the two reindeer are from a set made by Smith’s great uncle Philip Lear for Lemoyne Borough. Lear had a neon sign making business and had served on the Lemoyne Borough council when that municipality decided to discontinue the use of the reindeer as holiday decorations.
Lear managed to salvage some of the reindeer, two of which ended up in the possession of Barrick, his sister-in-law. The family had put the reindeer out on display each holiday season for at least 15 years, White said.
White has no information on how the reindeer became part of the downtown Carlisle holiday display. He was not sure whether the reindeer were first displayed in Lemoyne or Carlisle or for what years.
This holiday season, the family decided to loan out the two reindeer to the DCA, which is working with Carlisle Borough to put up the decorations on the Square after Thanksgiving.
While one reindeer was working, the other was not, so the DCA asked Doug Detweiler, co-owner of DeRock Electric, to have both decorations rewired, White said.
Electrician Tyler Rittenhouse said the work involved replacing the main power cord and changing the bulbs. One of the cords had been cut in half while the other had been spliced together.
The plastic of each decoration is getting fragile, Rittenhouse said. “They could use a new paint job.” He thought it was neat to work on something different that for years was part of the downtown Christmas scene.
A design depicting one of the reindeer decorations will be on the first in a series of downtown Carlisle heritage ornaments, White said. “It’s great to look back and remember the times of our parents and grandparents around the holidays.”
Ornaments cost $15 apiece and will be sale from Friday, Nov. 24, to Friday, Jan. 5, at the DCA office, 53 W. South St., and the following locations throughout downtown Carlisle:
Create-A-Palooza, 11 E. High St.
The Greatest Gift, 117 N. Hanover St.
The American Artisan Gallery, 35 N. Hanover St.
Whistlestop Bookshop, 129 W. High St.
Helena’s Chocolate Café and Creperie, 36 W. High St.
Comfort Suites Downtown Carlisle, 10 S. Hanover St.
Marjorie’s Gems, 44 S. Hanover St.
Pat Craig Studios, 30 W. Pomfret St.
Camellia’s Sin Tea Parlor and Gift Shop, 36 W. Pomfret St.
The Downtown Carlisle Association ornaments will also be sold at the Hershey and Harrisburg performances of the Nutcracker by the Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet.
Proceeds from the sale of the ornaments will be reinvested back into DCA holiday events and decorations. “We are looking to more in the series,” White said. “We are very excited about it.”
The DCA seeks information on other holiday decorations seen in vintage photographs of downtown Carlisle. These include the Santa sleigh that was grouped with the reindeer, wooden cut-outs of Santa and candles; and four emblems depicting Santa faces that were hung over the intersection of Hanover and High streets, each facing a different direction.