Video: Trendy trees return

By Correspondent
updated 12/24/2004 7:50:34 PM ET 2004-12-25T00:50:34

It was 1959, and Dick Thomsen had an idea he thought was perfect for the times — the world's first mass-produced aluminum tree, the Evergleam.

"The problem was cutting the foil," remembers Thomsen.

Jerry Waak was the trees' traveling salesman — but unlike that other jolly Christmas peddler with his pack, Jerry found his wares not so welcome, at first.

"I was told to get out of here, you're nuts," says Waak.

But the trees were space age and futuristic like the late 1950s themselves — and soon — they caught on. The aluminum specialty company found itself working around the clock to meet demand.

"I think people wanted one 'cause it was so new, something different," recalls former factory worker Ginger Baryenbruch.

Baryenbruch spent the night shift twirling aluminum branches and singing to stay awake. "We are the girls of the specialty, we specialize in Christmas trees!" went one song.

But the blazing trees proved to be more a meteor than a mainstay of Christmas. By the mid-1960s they had come to symbolize a holiday season gone over the top. Aluminum trees were focused upon as what was wrong in the classic "A Charlie Brown Christmas."

So a decade after it was born, the aluminum tree was dead.

But now, 35 years later, aging baby boomers loaded with nostalgia and money are bringing aluminum trees back out of the box. And the only thing over the top — is the price.

"I just hope it's decent when I put it all together, that it looks like something that's worth $800!" laughs teacher Bundy Jost.

Yes, the tree you last saw in a thrift store or garage sale now goes for hundreds of dollars. In early December online auctioneer eBay sold a rare pink Evergleam for more than $1,000, while stores with aluminum trees in their display windows say people off the street are offering as much as $800 to buy them. The original Evergleams, manufactured in two, four, six and seven-feet versions, sold for between $4.99 and $19.99.

"It makes me sick. I wish I still had them!" says former salesman Waak.

It all makes the silver forest on display at a Nashville museum a gold mine.

"I love aluminum trees and they make people smile," says museum curator Terry White. "They make me smile."

"They're fun! I think we need that kind of spirit back," says museum visitor Sylvia Hutton. "I think we all kind of long for that."

The futuristic has become nostalgic — making the Evergleam a classic Christmas tale of aluminum recycling.

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