No strings attached: Pip the Mouse is back
“Pip: The Mouse Before Christmas” has returned to its vintage stage for the 15th season at Allentown’s Liberty Bell Museum.
Pip and his holiday puppet show premiered at Hess’s, Ninth and Hamilton streets, in 1962. After the iconic Allentown department store closed, puppets, props and stage found a home at the Liberty Bell Museum where the seasonal show has been going on since 2003.
The regional favorite continues through Dec. 31 in the museum in Zion’s United Church of Christ, 622 W. Hamilton St. The Liberty Bell is said to have been transported from Philadelphia to the church where it was hidden from the British and saved from being melted into cannonballs during the Revolutionary War.
A exhibit in the museum lobby, “George Creegan: The Man Behind the Mouse,” celebrates the life and work of Dr. George Creegan (1936-2018). The Air Force veteran with a doctorate in education created Pip the Mouse and wrote the script for the show.
The fanciful stage was built in partnership with the Bliss Display Co. of New York. Props, early incarnations of the Pip puppet, Hess’s memorabilia, and photographs, including one of Creegan teaching volunteers at Hess’s “School for Puppeteers,” are on view.
“He was the ‘Renaissance Man’ of Central Ohio,” says Liberty Bell Museum manager Stephanie Burke, adding, “He was a puppeteer. He was an accomplished magician, a sleight-of-hand artist. He was an opera singer.”
In 1964, Creegan and his wife, JoAnn, founded the Creegan Co. in Steubenville, Ohio. They produced and sold audio-animatronics, animation and costumes until the business closed in 2010. The Creegan firm’s building was destroyed in a 2013 fire.
According to Burke, of the 15 department stores in the United States and Canada that had Pip’s holiday puppet show, Allentown has the only surviving plywood and pressboard stage, and possibly the largest collection of puppets and store-window display items.
Many of Hess’s displays and animatronics from 1962, including a cat at her ironing, are integral parts of the Christmas display. Other animatronics, including Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus, as well as George and Martha Washington, were purchased in 2010 when the factory closed by Josh Fink, former Liberty Bell Museum curator.
“I love hugging all the little children,” says volunteer Elaine Charron of her role as the Pip mascot. “I can be irritated in the beginning, but as soon as I put the costume on, it all changes.”
Charron, also a volunteer at Zion’s United Church of Christ, has worn the “Pip” costume for as long as the show has run at the Liberty Bell Museum. Born at home in Emmaus, “in a snow blizzard,” she now lives in Summit Lawn, Salisbury Township.
Across from the stage is the holiday putz of ¼-inch-scale replicas of buildings from around the Lehigh Valley. These were crafted from wood and foam board by attendees of Lehigh Valley Active Life, Allentown. A Lionel train makes its way around the miniature cityscape and countryside.
The exhibition, “The Splendor of Allentown,” features nostalgic landscapes of local landmarks in winter by regional artist Leah Anderson Joseph (1945-2018).
“Pip: The Mouse Before Christmas,” 12:30, 1:30, 2:30 p.m. Monday - Saturday, second Sunday of the month, 5:30, 6:30 p.m. Thursdays, through Dec. 31. Gallery hours: noon - 4 p.m. Monday - Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, noon - 8 p.m. Thursdays, noon - 4 p.m. second Sunday. libertybellmuseum.org; 610-435-4232