Light Collection Makes the Season Glow

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Just one example of Bob Doak's lively collection of bubblelight ornaments. i

Just one example of Bob Doak's lively collection of bubblelight ornaments. hide caption

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Just one example of Bob Doak's lively collection of bubblelight ornaments.

Just one example of Bob Doak's lively collection of bubblelight ornaments.

Ohioan Bob Doak shows off his Christmas sprit every year with an ecclectic holiday display that includes bubble lights and glowing elephants. He shares highlights from his collection with Naomi Lewin of Cincinnati Public Radio.


Bob Doak loved Christmas lights so much that he became an electrical engineer. For him, tracking down vintage ornaments that shine, twinkle or move is a year-round pursuit. Naomi Lewin of Cincinnati Public Radio looked in on Bob Doak this year as he decked the halls of his Ohio home.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. BOB DOAK: Anything electrical fascinates me. And Christmas lets you do anything you want and nobody can make fun of you.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Man #1: (Singing) It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas everywhere you go.

Mr. DOAK: These are all old series lights. These are the most common that everyone had. People will probably remember these. They were strings of seven, eight and nine. The bad news is, if one goes out then the electrical circuit goes out and the whole string goes out and then you're constantly trying to find the burned-out bulb.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. DOAK: It started when I was about eight. There were no children really to speak of in our neighborhood.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Man #2: (Singing) Oh, there's no place like home for the holidays.

Mr. DOAK: They were all mostly retired people and two doors down was this Roy Enofal (ph). Well, he loved Christmas and there was this huge grand staircase. And at the top was a knife switch just like you what you saw in the Frankenstein movies and he ran wires out and he put trees and then he built these strings of lights using large light bulbs and he would turn them on with that thing. And if you touched it, it would definitely kill you.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Woman #1: (Singing) Have yourself a merry little Christmas, let your heart be light.

Mr. DOAK: The lights swept the country, OK. These are later ones that kind of look like Sputnik. There are some that actually look like rockets. Some of them are just filled with liquid and some of them are filled with liquid and sparkles, and then some of them are filled with oil. The oil ones were done during World War II. And that was because this non-flammable liquid that they used for safety was not available. And they had these sparklies in them and they truly are the most impressive and they've been named shooting stars. They're highly collectible and very rare.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Man #3: (Singing) Oh, star of wonder, star of might, star with royal beauty bright, westward leading, still proceeding, guide us to the perfect light.

Mr. DOAK: This tree's probably got, oh, 150 or so figural light bulbs. The figural lights depict everything, from ice houses to elephants, tigers, candy canes, Santas, birds. They're made of milk glass and they were hand painted and over the years a lot of the paint does actually come off them. They originally were made in Austria. They're not as pretty, but they're the oldest. These were made more in Japan and in the United States probably in the late '30s, '40s. They started doing cartoon characters later on in the '40s and '50s.

(Soundbite of song)

ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS: (Singing) Christmas, Christmastime is near, time for joy and time for cheer.

Mr. DOAK: Electric lighting was so expensive when they first came out in the early 1900s that many people would have only seven lights on their whole tree. The strings and the bulbs were so expensive, people would rent them. When the original electric Christmas lights came out, there weren't sockets. And you actually had an electrician come in and wire your tree. It was very dangerous.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Woman #2: (Singing) Rocking around the Christmas tree at the Christmas party hop.

Mr. DOAK: You'll notice with the different lit Santas through the house. The older the Santa, the meaner Santa looks. I don't know why. I keep the real mean Santas in the back of the house.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Man #4: (Singing) You better watch out, you better not cry, you better not pout, I'm telling you why.

Unidentified Women: (Singing) Why?

Unidentified Man #4: (Singing) Santa Claus is coming to town.

Mr. DOAK: Noma Fancy Figures. The fancy figures were made during a wartime period and because they were made with whatever was available, they start to crumble. They're only made in a few varieties. There's the Santa, the duck, the rabbit, there's a dog and an angel. Oh, the angel lost her head. OK. She disintegrated during the winter. Her head fell off. Oh, well.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Man #5: (Singing) Hark, the herald angels sing, glory to the newborn king. Peace on Earth...

Mr. DOAK: These are actual bells and this is an electromagnet that turns off and on the current and rings the bell. Now by today's standard, this is really hokey, but back then this was an amazing, amazing invention. That's the magnet turning off and on.

(Soundbite of magnet and bell ringing)

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Man #6: (Singing) Jingle bell, jingle bell, jingle bell rock. Jingle bell swing and jingle bells ring.

Mr. DOAK: Lighted ice. This is probably the latest thing that I collect. They're just round globes and they were covered with this plastic that makes it almost look iciclelike. Probably a lot of people's grandmas had these.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Man #6: (Singing) ...jingle bell time, dancing and prancing in Jingle Bell Square...

Mr. DOAK: To turn on these lights, you always put them on a dimmer and you bring them up slowly, so there's no shock to the filament. Because turning off and on a light is really what shortens the life of the bulb.

Oh, and then of course the ultimate Christmas tchotchke. I found this on eBay.

(Soundbite of organ chimes)

Mr. DOAK: This is a set of organ chimes from--they said it had to come from Europe because the voltage is so high.

(Soundbite of organ chimes)

Mr. DOAK: This is not plug and play. You're always fussing with it through the season but I like it because I can look back at all of these ornaments and I try to envision how the world was.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Man #7: (Singing) It's the most wonderful time of the year.

Mr. DOAK: You would think I was a serious collector, but you know what I do? I do it so I can look at them and have fun. I don't keep them pristine. I don't keep them in their boxes. I don't put them on display so people can see the boxes but never see them lit. The whole view for me is I don't care what year it is. If I like it, I mix it together and make it a magical place for Christmas. Why not?

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Man #7: (Singing) It's the most wonderful time, yes, the most wonderful time, oh, the most wonderful time of the year.

ELLIOTT: For this evening, that's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.


ELLIOTT: I'm Debbie Elliott and we all wish you a very happy holiday.

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