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Happy Halle Days

Lake Metroparks brings a storeful of downtown memories to the country.


Ever wonder what woodland animals get for Christmas? Visitors to Woodland Halle Days at the Penitentiary Glen Nature Center in Kirtland will find out exactly what Father Nature, a sort of "Santa for nature," is working on for his furry and feathered friends.

Father Nature's cabin is nestled within the Lake Metroparks' indoor winter wonderland. Inside, visitors find a workshop filled with handmade bird feeders and birdhouses. "Father Nature's workshop helps us send out the message that we all have to take care of wildlife in the winter," says manager Dan Burnett.

The center was once the summer estate of Sam and Sal Halle, owners of the Halle Brothers department store, which closed in 1982. Part of the exhibit plays on the cherished memories of Clevelanders who made the annual pilgrimage downtown to take in the holiday magic of Halle's seventh floor. Visitors can flip through original store catalogs, watch videos of local holiday favorite Mr. Jingeling, and look through countless mementos, including puppets, ornaments, and paper keys given out by Mr. Jingeling, Toyland's "Keeper of the Keys." (Earl Keyes, the last and most well known of all the actors who portrayed Mr. Jingeling, died last December.)

Burnett calls the holiday exhibit a multigenerational event. "We see people bringing their grandchildren here and telling them about when they used to bring [their own children] to Halle's when they were kids," he says. "And you see baby boomers, who are now parents, bring their kids and show them the catalogs, so they can see what kinds of toys they asked for when they were young."

With the recent announcement of the closing of Dillard's, downtown Cleveland's last department store, Burnett believes Clevelanders will find some comfort in the nostalgia of the exhibit. "It's really the end of an era in Cleveland," he sighs. "There are so many fond holiday memories."

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