Column: Toyland was Worthington's holiday heaven
Editor's note: Former longtime Daily Globe Editor Ray Crippen died Dec. 27, 2015. We will continue to publish previously run “Isn’t That Something” columns on Saturdays, until further notice, as a tribute to Crippen and his knowledge of local and regional history. The following column first appeared Dec. 22, 2007.
WORTHINGTON — One of the Christmas season sensations at Worthington in a time gone by was Toyland at Rickbeil’s on 10th Street.
Rickbeil’s was Worthington’s fabled, preeminent hardware store, of course, but the Christmas season began unofficially when announcement came that Rickbeil’s Toyland was open. Nuts and bolts somewhat aside, Rickbeil’s unveiled a stock of toys which awed kids year by year.
Rickbeil’s — to begin with — occupied a part of the Masonic building at the corner of 10th Street and Second Avenue. Save for relatively small toy inventories at the five-and-dime stores, toys were almost not seen through most of each year. Then Toyland opened in the Rickbeil basement.
I was talking lately with Hardy Rickbeil about those days of Christmas past.
“People used to walk through the downtown in those cold evenings,” Hardy remembered. “They were all wrapped up in coats.”
“Store windows were all decked out for Christmas.
“I wonder if you can imagine this — this was sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce — every store had a red candle burning in the window. They did this for several years. These were large candles, perhaps two feet high and five inches across. They had rough sides; it appeared wax had run down them.
“It was a wonderful sight, all those candles burning. You know, some of those candles burned all night. You would have thought they would have caused fires. Actually, we had more problems with electricity in that time than with candles.” Hardy recalled the original Rickbeil’s Hardware burned — the Masonic building burned — in 1923, “and that fire was caused by a short in electric wiring.”
Hardy credits his father, F.S. Rickbeil, with introducing Toyland, beginning in 1920.
“Every store went all-out at Christmas,” Hardy says. “You tried to do something a little different each year. Electric lights were such an attraction, of course.”
Hardy remembers — with the coming of electricity — the coming of electric trains. “Boys just loved those, of course. But not just boys. Rev. (William) Ratz of the Presbyterian church was a big fan of trains. Ed Dolan, the judge, the attorney. He loved trains. Rev. (C. J.) Fellger of the American Lutheran church.”
Hardy recalls, “One year we had two white mice on a treadmill.”
The Christmas feature Hardy remembers best: “We had a Santa Claus in the window. He was nearly full-size. His head and arms moved.” Rickbeil’s made an early experiment with a public address system.
“There was a basement window. People hardly noticed that. We would play music through that basement window — Christmas music going out on the street.
“The kids would come. They would stand watching Santa. We could talk to them from that basement window, but they couldn’t see us. It seemed to be Santa talking. Oh, it was fun to talk to those kids, and then you could hear them talking back. They would talk to Santa.”
Rickbeils did their toy buying in July. “We did that at Our Own Hardware in the Cities.”
“There was another thing — now this was not just for Christmas. My dad bought his store from a man who had been to Florida. He brought two baby alligators back. The men in the tin shop at the back of the store shaped an iron — oh, a can. About five inches high. There was a raised place where the alligators could climb up.
“The corner store was a butcher shop. I would go there every day and get meat scraps — pieces about five inches long. I was about 12 years old. I would hold the meat with a pliers and I would feed the baby alligators. Those were an attraction.
“One thing unusual — there was a Miss England. I don’t remember Miss England’s first name. Miss England made jigsaw puzzles in the store — more or less under the stairs where we went up to the office. We stocked jigsaws, of course, and jigsaw blades. People bought Miss England’s jigsaw puzzles and many of them went on to make their own puzzles.”
As he reminisced about the great fire which razed his father’s store and the original Masonic building, a special fear came back to Hardy’s mind. “This was what worried my dad. People were taking down a lot of trees in the country at that time. There was dynamite for this on a shelf at the back of our store. There could have been a terrible blast.”