Window wonderland

Sunday, November 28, 2004

The Christmas window at Hutson's Fine Furniture in downtown Cape Girardeau is as much about holiday traditions as it is family togetherness for both its viewers and its creators.

The window -- usually filled with animated elves, trains circling their tracks, and Santa Claus -- has been drawing families to 43 S. Main St. for nearly 50 years.

And members of the Hutson family, including all the offspring of the store's founders, play a part in building the Christmas display that is unveiled annually on Thanksgiving Day.

"Everybody in the family likes Christmas," said Linda Hutson, whose father, Lynn, and his twin brother, Glenn, opened the store in 1945. Glenn's son, Charlie, also joined the pair in business.

Lynn, Glenn and Charlie Hutson are now deceased. But the tradition continues through Linda, her brother, Jeff, and his son, Jason, as well as Charlie's sons, Dave and Chris.

There are few other stores downtown, or anywhere for that matter, that still create large-scale Christmas window displays.

None of the Hutsons are really sure when the first window display was built -- there aren't any official records or photo albums to consult -- but everyone knows it's a family tradition that can't really be eliminated.

Dave Hutson knows that the window's fast approaching a 50th anniversary. He's got home movies of the window from 1962.

But there isn't a single book that shows every window created over the years. And each year the window has a new theme, so the Hutsons rely on collective memory to make sure they're not repeating.

Recent windows depicted the construction of the Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge and a replica of the Louis Lorimier Red House.

There are elements of downtown Cape Girardeau in each window. This year, the window depicts the mining town of Silverton, Colo., a favorite vacation spot for Charlie Hutson.

This year's window easily could be a memorial to Charlie Hutson, who passed away last December, his sons say.

The window has all the makings of an old mining town in the mountains, but there also are images of old stores from downtown eras past and replicas of the shopping district's streetlights.

The display was actually used several years ago.

Charlie Hutson "built this, so in his eyes it was a replica of one of his favorite areas in Colorado," Chris Hutson said. "There are a lot of little things in the window that are a tribute to Dad."

And every window had to have a train -- that was a Charlie Hutson tradition.

There are eight trains that circle through the holiday display this year. Moving elves and gnomes have been part of past displays, "but kids love trains," Linda Hutson said. "All they have to do is go around and back, and they're just fascinated by it."

But laying tracks for eight trains, setting up the cars so they don't derail and maintaining them for miles of wear and tear can be the most time-consuming and difficult part of creating the Christmas window display.

All the work is completed when the store is closed, and sometimes into the wee hours on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. There have been years when the fine-tuning lasted until early Thanksgiving morning.

"We're not engineers by trade, but we end up engineering things," Chris Hutson said.

Sometimes those engineering plans don't always work, and disaster strikes. One year the window was filled with parachuting elves who jumped off a roof. The elves had to be weighted down so they would drop and a pulley system helped lift them back up. But after running for several hours in a test, the pulley gave out and had to be rebuilt.

Every window usually has some moving element, whether the trains or elves or Santa himself. For a window that involved building the inside of an antique home, the Hutsons wanted Santa to play the piano.

But to do so they had to make it look like he was striking the keys on the player piano. Dave Hutson worked a week on that project.

Linda Hutson calls the windows "synthetic realism."

The Y2K computer glitch window display, with smoking computers at Santa's workshop, seemed so real that people came into the store to tell employees that the window was on fire.

"We knew it was a success," Chris Hutson said.

The true proof of the window's success is when the school buses come for a day to see the display. "But we get kids of all ages," Dave Hutson said.

ljohnston@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 126

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