Jingeling Bells

Lake Metroparks' Halle's 7th Floor Holiday Memories Exhibit. Through January 2 at Penitentiary Glen Nature Center, 8668 Kirtland-Chardon Road, Kirtland. It's free. For hours, call 440-256-1404.
Happy Halle-days.
Happy Halle-days.
For a lot of local baby boomers, the countdown to Christmas began with Mr. Jingeling's ting-a-ling tune.

Mr. Jingeling's jingle lingers for countless Clevelanders, whose minds will, inexplicably and without provocation, erupt into the refrain: "On Halle's seventh floor/We'll be looking for/You to turn the key."

As all true believers know, Mr. Jingeling was Santa's most important elf, the official "Keeper of the Keys" for Halle Bros. Co.

Mr. Jingeling's fans -- and there are legions of them -- won't find him on any floor of the Halle Building this season (the store closed in 1982), but they can have the solace of catching some of his legendary Christmas spirit at the Halle's 7th Floor Holiday Memories Exhibit at Penitentiary Glen Nature Center in Kirtland. There they'll find a re-creation of the seventh-floor castle from 1956, Mr. Jingeling memorabilia, a TV set running the Mr. Jingeling shows which aired seasonally on Channel 5, and a memory book in which fans can write their own recollections of the story-telling elf.

The center's staff has been putting in long hours creating a festive atmosphere, from the magical elevator that never leaves the ground floor (but you'll swear it does) to the Enchanted Forest, featuring a whimsical look at the 12 days of Christmas (a partridge in a pear tree is accompanied by photos of TV's Partridge Family).

Another room holds a veritable Halle's shrine, filled with its signature pink geranium hatboxes, a tearoom menu, cherub decorations, and the brass nameplate from the building. "It's a department store in miniature," says Dan Burnett, manager of the center.

It had a modest beginning. "One day a visitor [knowing that the center's grounds had been the site of the Halle family's summer home] brought us a Halle's hatbox, and we put it in a display box," says Burnett. Then, other people started dropping off things. Now he and his staff have so much Halle's memorabilia that they can rotate it so that the exhibit doesn't get stale.

Last year, a record 35,000 people attended the event in six weeks, says Wendy Pittenger, exhibit naturalist. "It has kind of become a tradition for families." They wax nostalgic about the store gone by and particularly about the Mr. Jingeling display.

"People love it," says Burnett, who grew up in Cleveland. "I used to go to Halle's seventh floor. It brings up memories of my childhood, too."

All together now: "Mr. Jing-e-ling/ How you ting-a-ling . . ." -- Kathryn DeLong

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