The holiday season is always pure insanity in our family. Not only does Sebastian’s birthday fall within 0-5 days of Thanksgiving, but we are an interfaith family, so we celebrate both Hanukkah and Christmas. All this makes it very difficult to take on any other extracurricular activities. However, there are a handful of holiday-related activities that are on my bucket list (i.e. – Seeing Santa at Macy’s in NYC, ice skating at Central Park, Christmas caroling). Most of these things will have to wait until the children are older, but there was one item on my list that I decided would be perfect for us to do with the kids this year. Growing up in Emmaus, I was aware of many Lehigh Valley attractions and traditions. I practically lived off of Yocco’s hotdogs in high school. I’ve enjoyed the covered bridge tour several times. And I can’t even count the nuamber of times I’ve been to the fish hatchery. However, I hadn’t had the chance to see “The Mouse Before Christmas” puppet show. I had wanted to take Sebastian last year, but between taking my comp exams and suffering from hyperemesis gravidarum, it never happened. So as Jane was taking her morning nap on December 31st, it dawned on me that we would miss it again this year unless we went that afternoon. So as soon as Jane woke up, we jumped into the car and drove to The Liberty Bell Museum in Allentown.
While I have been to The Allentown Art Museum countless times, I somehow never noticed The Liberty Bell Museum. This is probably because the museum is actually located in the basement of Zion’s Reformed United Church of Christ off of Hamilton Boulevard. While this location makes an excellent home for the show, it is not the original, second or even forth location that has hosted it.
Pip the mouse debuted on October 27, 1962 in the main window of Hess’ department store on Hamilton Avenue. The show was such a hit that its audience became big enough to block traffic. Therefore, Hess moved the show to its community room, where it added a winter village and a series of motionettes. Following Hess’ closure, The Bon-Ton took over all of the store’s locations and many of its traditions, including hosting The Mouse Before Christmas puppet show. Eventually, the 9th and Hamilton Street location closed and Pip the Mouse was donated first to Allentown Economic and Development Corporation and eventually to The Liberty Bell Museum, where it has been ever since.
We arrived at the museum around 1:25pm. Typically they do a 1:30pm show as their last show of the day, but as it turned out, the final show of the season was actually at 1pm on New Year’s Eve. I was unaware of this, so imagine my disappointment when we entered the museum to learn that we had just missed the final show (and after driving an hour). However, without me even asking, the man at the register, Jerry, told us that he would speak with the puppeteers to see if they would be willing do give us a private performance.
While we waited, we took some time to look at the winter wonderland surrounding the set of the show, which was adorned with dozens of motionettes. Now if you know me, you know that I absolutely love vintage and kitsch. In fact, several months ago I found a Christmas bear motionette for Jane’s room, so seeing so many unique motionettes was a real treat. My favorites included a bear balancing spinning balls and a cat ironing a shirt.
As we were admiring the set and all it’s treasures, Pip, the mascot, came out to say hello. I wasn’t sure how Jane would handle it, but she was completely enamored by them, even though she does not appear that way in the photo (clearly, she takes after her mother, who, at 9 months old REFUSED to be taken away from Goofy at Disneyland).
Shortly after our meet and greet, we were told that the show was about to begin, so we took our seats on the floor, right at the base of the set. Being on ground level created a sense of being a part of the show that really drew the children in. You could literally see the wonderment in their eyes.
The show followed Pip the mouse as he prepared for Christmas Eve and Santa’s arrival. What I found to be really enjoyable were the various ways in which the show used puppetry. Not only did they use basic and traditional hand puppets, but they also used wire rigging to move the reindeer and sleigh, as well as levers to control the moon, and an “animated” set. Something about using different forms of puppetry reminded me a lot of Pee Wee’s Playhouse. I also really loved how innocent the whole thing felt. Even though the show was very well done and clearly well thought out, the show was not trying to be something it wasn’t. The creator knew his limitations and made a show that was not only enjoyable, but clever.
Another great aspect of the show was that it was on the short side. The entire thing was under 10 minutes, which means that it is suitable for even the youngest of children, or children who have trouble sitting still or paying attention (of which, I have both). It also means that you will have time to explore the rest of the museum, which also won’t take you long. We got to see a replica of the liberty bell, along with George and Martha Washington motionettes, and a really nice electric train display that sat below an exquisite mural. There were slso several cases with historical archives relating to the museum and its collections.
After about an hour we left so that we could make it home in time for Jane’s second nap (it’s so hard to travel when you have children who don’t sleep in the car). However, after finally getting a chance to see pip the mouse, I am certain that it will become an annual tradition for our family, as it has for hundreds of families throughout the Lehigh valley. In fact, after telling my stepmother about our experience, she gifted us with our very own pip the mouse puppet, which she had purchased after taking her son to see the play when he was small.