By Bill Hudson

MINNETRISTA (WCCO) —  For generations of Minnesotans a trip to the long time Dayton’s Department Store 8th floor holiday display was a must-see event.

It’s where an imaginary toy land kicked off the countdown to Christmas.

But the tradition, which began in the early 1960’s, came to an abrupt close in 2016 when Macy’s decided to close the Nicollet Mall location. When that happened, the historic downtown store had to be vacated of all fixtures and that meant all the display characters from the annual 8th floor display had to go.

That’s when handyman Bill Ewald knew he had to have a piece of this history.

“I didn’t describe how big that piece would be, and I brought home this big piece,” said Ewald smiling.

Ewald bought seven of the automaton elves and a reindeer Prancer to boot. Unfortunately the vignette display had seen better days. The figurines were tattered, motionless and to a great extent, broken.

“Every single piece needed love. Every single piece needed individual attention,” Ewald explained.

So he went to work spending hundreds of hours in his own workshop — shaping wood, remaking arms, legs and antlers. One by one he’d rebuild and remake the cheerful figures.

Ewald wired in all new motors to bring Santa’s little helpers back to life.

“This was just a hobby for me, this was a privilege to work on what these true artists did,” said Ewald.

His wife even outfitted the elves in fresh clothing, since so much of it was dirty and torn. As for Prancer the reindeer, Ewald created a rustic looking stable.

“It was part of a family tradition and this enables it still to be,” said Ewald.

Preserving a piece of our holiday history, through a labor of love.

Bill Hudson

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