Some of my fondest childhood memories revolve around an energetic and fun-loving maiden Aunt, who entertained me with extended weekend visits to rock shops, surplus stores, and whatever passed for tourist attractions in Akron, Ohio.
It might as well be true that my treasured ornament dates from the year I learned NORAD was tracking Saint Nick. Hearing the reports on the radio during a long winter’s drive from Bay Village, I breathlessly informed Aunt Eloise that you could see Santa on the RADAR. She lived alone in a funny little old Firestone Park house with its perpetually out of tune piano, push button electric switches, and a treasure trove of an attic. Her Christmas tree was full of these fascinating plastic ornaments, glitter-infused in blue, and green and pink, an army of kitschy gold foil propellers, silently spinning away over C7-generated updrafts. Eloise unhooked one from the tree and generously handed it to me. 46 years later, that thing is still spinning away on a Heiserbaum, its longevity assured by today’s lower wattage bulbs.
Can you remember a time when Christmas didn’t come from China? As it turns out, the Twinkler Ornament was made in Ohio, conceived of in 1949 by Boardman, Ohio native John Garver and manufactured by the Tinkle Toy division of defunct Ohio firm Plakie Toy Company (and who would not want a Tinkle Toy?). According to Garver, who was trying to relaunch an updated version of his popular retro ornament in 2009, fifteen million of the things were manufactured. It would be nice to think that my ornament is not alone, and that Garver’s estimate that 2/3 are still intact and spinning was correct, although price history on eBay suggests otherwise. A fellow Twinkler reports that many of these were unfortunately lost in the heat of the 1950s moment.
Garver’s 1956 patent shows a somewhat less ornamental ornament, yet the basic design is clear. Thumbing through some of the related patents leads to some interesting paths, including a somewhat different approach for a thermally-driven rotating tree display, and my favorite, AE Newton’s 1933 patent for Electric and Other Artificial Fire, a whimsical device that I can only envision as a sort of flaming cash register, which probably had a greater impact on 1960s dens than the Twinkler.
I’d always referred to my ornament as the birdcage, and its inexplicably satisfying to learn that the creator of the thing called it that, too. Its just a little bit of Ohio, hanging on the family tree of my life, embodying a rich and wonderful set of memories in a dated but surprisingly sturdy form.
According to a site dedicated to retro Christmas decorations, the following text appeared on the outside of the box.
“THE CHRISTMAS TREE
When placed above the light
IT WHIRLS – IT FLASHES – IT’S PERPETUAL MOTION
Made of durable plastic, not glass”