I currently write a column each Tuesday for the DeKalb
Daily Chronicle. The column will also appear on this website
each week and be added to the archives.
The Articles started December 2007.
If you've missed any please follow the links on the dates
to catch up.
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A house full of Christmas joy
By Barry Schrader.................................December
As a child growing up in DeKalb County, a December shopping
trip to Marshall Fields in Chicago was a tradition I will always
cherish. My mother would drive to the L train station
in Brookfield and from there it was a fascinating ride to the
When we got to the store, the first thing
to do was marvel at each window decorated with animated holiday
scenes and then go inside and maybe stop for a bite to eat at
the Walnut Room. But the big multi-story tree was awesome to
behold and, next to the toy department, was my favorite attraction.
Of course, I was too old to stand in line to visit Santa but
couldnt resist a peek at the jolly old elf with a line
of children (and mothers) awaiting a turn on his knee.
has been more than half a century since those delightful holiday
shopping trips, but the memory was rekindled last week when I
got to visit the home of
David Miner sits next to one of his newest creations
featuring the Nutcracker ballet on stage. Above that is one of
four large dollhouses he has built for his Christmas displays.
David Miner, a retired Waterman High science teacher and lifetime
resident of DeKalb. Miner has lived in the same house on Normal
Road since 1949 when he and his late parents moved in when it
was not even completely built.
Miner and his late
father always had a knack for building things, some with wood
and others mechanical. But it wasnt until 1996, a few years
after his fathers death, that he really got into constructing
Christmas scenes and model dollhouses in a big way. That hobby
has blossomed into a year round project that culminates each
holiday season with decorations and layouts that fill all nine
rooms on three floors of his home. He shares them each year with
friends, neighbors and family and Kay and I were fortunate to
receive an invitation for a tour this month.
generally begin in his basement where a 6-foot long barn with
several sections for Santas toy workshop fill the center
of the room. Animated figures include elves busily preparing
for the sleigh ride on Christmas Eve. Most of the figures are
handmade and mechanically operated by small motors. Then in another
basement room is a complete village with a one-room country school,
rural church, general store, working mill with a wheel that runs,
and other buildings he designed.
stairs to the second floor you view each room featuring layouts
that are lighted, animated and include objects from his childhood
or that hold some special meaning to his family. In one room
is a small stage that was built by his uncle in 1929, eventually
finding its way from Kansas City to DeKalb many years ago and
stored in Miners attic. This year he finished refurbishing
the display which now features a ballerina doll doing a pirouette
in the Nutcracker ballet, revealed as a miniature stage curtain
Asked which was my favorite exhibit,
I had to choose the attic layout. You sit on a 1-foot tall stool
and look through an opening into a small attic which is designed
like a childrens playroom with all the toys, games, and
even a table with bowls of popcorn.
My other favorite
is the 6-foot high wooden Christmas tree in the living room with
revolving platforms holding some 100 decorations, lights and
toys that were either picked up at antique shops, garage sales
or made by Miner.
It is impossible to describe
all the wonders throughout the house. I asked if the Chronicle
could videotape a few of the displays to put on its Web site,
which should be loaded by now so those with computer access can
get a better idea of what it looks like.
spends about 500 hours each year assembling and setting up things
and then disassembling and storing the displays. He said it has
become such a time-consuming project that he has begun doing
it only every other year.
When asked why he does
all this, he quotes Kris Kringle from the movie classic Miracle
on 34th Street saying Christmas is not just a day,
it is a frame of mind. I can believe Miner is in the right
frame of mind all year long.
The columnist can be reached via email at :
or by snailmail at:
PO Box 851
DeKalb, Ill 60115