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One decoration brings many memories

Tue., Dec. 18, 2007, midnight

During the holiday season, Jerry Baldwin likes to keep it simple.

While many front yards in Spokane are ablaze with a dizzying array of Christmas displays, Baldwin’s Manito Boulelvard home boasts only one: a 21-foot tall mechanical contraption that incorporates faux candles, spinning angels, the Star of Bethlehem, and a pair of makeshift bells.

“It goes up at Thanksgiving and I take it down on New Year’s Day,” Baldwin said on a chilly December night, his cherubs twirling overhead. “But we only do one decoration – not 12, not two, just one.”

Based on a Swedish Christmas table decoration popular in the 1950s and ‘60s, angel chimes are fondly recalled for their soft light and joyous sound. Baldwin’s giant angel chime is a scale replica of the 12-inch-tall brass version he has known since childhood.

“It’s a remembrance of Christmases past,” Baldwin says of the enormous ornament built by his son, David, a Bothell, Wash., policeman with a good knack for art and design.

Constructed on a simple premise, angel chimes rely on burning candles to create a warm updraft that moves an impeller carrying small clappers. As the impeller rotates, the clappers, often adorned with trumpet-playing angels, ring a set of chimes.

Although Baldwin’s apparatus includes four larger-than-life faux candles at the base, a Range Rover windshield-wiper motor powers his gold-foil angels. Two of the fake candles, which are made from cement pipes, feature silk flames that actually flicker, thanks to a couple of desktop computer fans fashioned to keep them animated.

“It’s really a wonderful engineering job that he did,” Baldwin says of his son’s effort.

Instead of bell chimes, the spinning angels strike a pair of upturned metal mixing bowls spray-painted gold. Their sound – less jingle bell than Zen wind-chime – can be heard all along the snowy boulevard.

“I can adjust the speed to make it softer or louder,” Baldwin says.

Passersby strolling along the parkway frequently stop to admire the angel chimes and inquire as to their origin.

“It’s a nice thing,” Baldwin says. “We’ve had a lot of people stop and say that it brings back memories for them.”

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