Go There: Future Christmas Wonderland

City Desk IconGo There is a feature in which our writers tell you about tourist attractions and other places of interest around the city.

In 1960, the downtown Osberger’s Department Store unveiled the Future Christmas Wonderland, an audio animatronic attraction that took up half of its sixth floor shopping space. Visitors were directed by temporary holiday employees in silver and gold lamé jumpsuits through a winding path past scenes of what Christmas would be like in the distant future. The display was a yearly tradition through the 1975 holiday season, replaced by a bicentennial attraction for 1976-1977 and then a standard “Santa’s Workshop” theme until the store’s closing in 1993. The pieces of the Future Christmas Wonderland were packed away, presumably forgotten.

A few years ago, the family of the man who used to maintain the Wonderland discovered it in a storage space he’d rented for years near his home in Wicker Hills. When this hit the news, retirees Mary and Lewis Henry called the family and offered to take it off of their hands and they were more than happy to oblige. Mary had been the director of the DiFlorio Children’s Museum in University Center for many years and thought the Wonderland would make a nice addition over the holidays, a fun example of the city’s past. A quick inspection of the pieces revealed that they were in good shape for the most part, just needing some restitching, paint touch-ups and updating of the mechanicals. After a few months of restoration work by a team of volunteers, the exhibit was installed last November. It did well enough that it’s back again this year, so people can catch a glimpse of the city’s past glimpse of the future.

:: Some exhibits were updated in 1972, adding brown carpeted walls, rounded white plastic and all of the figures wearing clear plastic raincoats. One of the 2010 figures bears a passing resemblance to Silent Running star Bruce Dern.
:: Expect to see the standard hovering cars, jet packs, domed cities, etc.
:: The monorail in the background of the 1985 display is the model used by the City Planning Department in the proposal for the Riverfront Monorail in 1959. Look for the city flag on the front car.
:: The big family Christmas dinners in 1980 and 2000 consist solely of food pills, as owner Wharton Osberger also had invested in several research firms working to develop them.
:: The enormous dreidel-shaped glass and steel building was based upon plans for an unbuilt project/theme park in 1970.
:: The 2100 scene consists mainly of multi-colored pools of water lit from beneath which talk about buying “new 3-D hi-fi sets.”
:: The subjugation of robots plays heavily in some displays, owing to Osberger’s intense distrust of mechanization
:: The original final scene, which features a single Christmas tree in a scorched post-armageddon landscape populated by giant insects wearing helmets, is not included.

Future Christmas Wonderland, through Dec. 31
DiFlorio Children’s Museum
1517 Oakford Ave, University Center
M-F: 9am-6pm, Sa-Su 8am-6pm
Exhibit is included with regular museum admission, $10.95 per person. Children under one are free. For groups of 15 or more, there is a discounted price of $8 per person.
– RJ White

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