The Lynchburg Museum exhibit brings vintage Christmas back to the present

From window-shopping to the living room, the Lynchburg Museum transports guests to a mid-20th-century-styled living room in its Christmas mini-exhibit, displaying iconic vintage presents from popular Lynchburg department stores.

After stepping through the museum’s main doors, guests see festive toys, books and era-appropriate products arranged around a historically recreated family living room during the Christmas season. Most of the items in the exhibit were purchased from Lynchburg department stores between the 1940s-60s.

Through encountering the exhibit, viewers will get to learn about each of the different department stores that existed during the time period and how they influenced the consumer’s Christmas experience. Some of Lynchburg’s most popular department stores of the 40s and 60s include Guggenheimer, Millner’s and Leggett’s.

The creator of the exhibit, Vincent Bruno, hopes to create conversations between the older generations, who experienced many of these Christmas toys and traditions firsthand. Bruno also hopes to include the younger generations, who look back on these exhibits as history to continue learning more about Lynchburg’s past.

“The department stores and mainstream stores have kind of been forgotten about just because they were associated with everyday life for a lot of people,” Bruno said. “So a lot of people don’t think that they are historic just because when they were a child, it was around. But it’s not around anymore, so it’s kind of bringing back these stores and their significance to the younger generation.”

One of the most iconic parts of the exhibit is the Leggett’s Santa, which the museum regularly cycles through its Christmas displays due to popular demand. The Leggett’s Santa was a figure that many people associated with the Leggett’s department store because anyone could see the classic animatronic Santa and reindeer just by walking past the store. Other department stores were known to decorate the inside of the store for paying guests, but Leggett’s spread Christmas cheer for everyone in the community by decorating the outside too.

“Instead of just Christmas lights, there was this full three-dimensional human person up there. I think it made a lot of the kids think that they were seeing the real thing, and they just fell in love with it. So, it’s a nostalgia thing,” Bruno said.

To create the exhibit, the museum staff researched the time period, searched through its collections and talked to local businesses to acquire several of the artifacts that were hard to find. When the time came to set up the exhibit, the entire staff worked to assemble everything and build the living room scene so that the exhibit would be ready before opening for Lynchburg’s first “First Fridays” event of the season.

“My favorite part was getting to set it up with everybody. It’s always fun because you get to pick up all of the artifacts. You have them ready; you have analyzed everything; you have done the paperwork. So it’s just kind of getting it all out, preparing and getting it all unraveled,” Bruno said.

Through reading the panels of accompanying text, guests can learn about Lynchburg’s Christmas history and how classic Christmas songs like “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “Frosty the Snowman” originated. The free exhibit is open for anyone to visit during the Lynchburg Museum’s weekly hours and will be on display until Jan. 29. For more information about the exhibit, visit this website.

Freund is a feature reporter for the Liberty Champion. Follow him on X

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