Creegan Co. prepares to close shop
STEUBENVILLE – The puppets and animated figures were part of the lives of children around the world, and they hailed from a set of storefronts and upstairs rooms on Washington Street since the early 1960s.
Now, the figures, puppets, decorations and more are all being sold, as the Creegan Co. prepares to close its store and puppet factory by the end of the year.
There are still countless figures in the upstairs rooms at the remaining Washington Street Creegan facility, the Christmas store and music shop having closed several years ago. And the front showroom has all kinds of Halloween home decorations and costumes, as well as Creegan’s books on puppeteering and magic, written after years of experience in the buisness, for sale.
On Thursday, Creegan was in the shop, donating a set of puppets to Joshua Fink, curator of the Liberty Bell Museum of Allentown, Pa. Fink explained one of Creegan’s first displays back in 1962 was “Pip, the Mouse Before Christmas,” that was an elaborate display in the main Hess Department Store in downtown Allentown. Creegan and his wife, the late JoAnn, created the puppets and the massive puppet stage, Fink said.
At its peak the Creegan Co. had 37 employees working in the factory on Washington Street, making puppets, animatronic figures, mascot costumes and holiday displays.
His daughter, Mary Elaine Feist, said the time has come to close the remaining store and factory. Her mother died seven years ago and some of the major creative forces are no longer there. Frosty Bianco, a designer and display builder who made many of Creegan’s major works over the years, is slowed by age, and designer and creative mind Lindy Andriano died earlier this year, Feist explained.
The store is open from noon to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, and the Creegan Co. is continuing to bring some of her father’s extensive music collection to sell at the Treasure Island Marketplace in Wintersville on weekends.
She hopes to find groups and former clients who remember the Creegan displays and will buy some of them to preserve them. The upstairs room has parts for everything from pirate shows to elaborate Egyptian displays, from Fred Flinstone to many of Creegan’s original whimsical creations.
She grew up in the family business.
“People were encouraged to think outside the box. They could do anything,” she said, recalling how her father would sketch out an idea on a napkin or placemat, then designers such as Andriano would flesh them out into elaborate puppets and designs and characters in full-color sketches.
She and her husband plan to keep the tradition going, performing repairs on many of the displays that are still in service across the country, including some at the Noah’s Ark in Kennywood in Pittsburgh, the Idlewild Park Mr. Rogers Neighborhood and displays at Sea World parks and Six Flags, as well as in stores that bought them years ago.
“The Original Fudge Factory still has our stirring animations, and Shriver’s Candies on the Boardwalk in New Jersey uses some,” she said. One apartment rental group still was buying a number of big costume mascots for each one of the complexes they opened.
“Hopefully there are customers, or theater groups that need props who will come and buy some of our items. I’ve got a warehouse full of buildings, and a herd of rocking horses,” she said.
The items are treasured memories for many, exemplified by Fink’s spirited retelling of the tale of Pip the Mouse Before Christmas and its place in Allentown.
He said the Pip show became a part of Allentown Christmas tradition and was kept going by a downtown merchants association even after the Hess store closed in the mid-1990s. Eventually, the puppet show and stage were donated to the museum, which showcases Allentown history, including the time the Liberty Bell was hidden in the church that houses the museum, in 1777. The church, Fink noted, is a couple of blocks from the former Hess store. Fink said he had tracked down Creegan after studying the history of the Pip show and had come to Steubenville to meet him before.
“In 2008, he made three animatronic figures for us, a dog on a rocking horse, a bear and a jack-in-the-box,” Fink said.
“Pip the Mouse was a very popular show, and you don’t see shows like this anymore. That we’re able to preserve them is important. In two years, Pip will be 50 years old,” he said.
Creegan donated several figures to Fink Thursday, including puppets from a variety of his shows.
Creegan entered the puppeteering business after departing the U.S. Air Force in 1959, attending Boston University and Columbia University in New York, where he began working in puppet show productions and moved into doing the shows on his own and developing the mechanical animated figures that were popular in displays in major indoor malls throughout their heyday in the 1970s and 1980s, as well as making a wide variety of promotional items for major companies.
For instance, Creegan showed some Corningware coffee and teapots with animated faces cut into them.
He recalled they were used in a store display at an A&S store, where the faces were turned inward on a display table. A puppeteer was beneath the table. When a customer would pick up the pots and turn them around, they’d begin to talk to the customer, “Candid Camera” stunt style.