By Jared Janzen
HALSTEAD—Ol’ Saint Nick would feel right at home inside Joe Flask’s house this time of year.
“I don’t think you’ll find anything like this in the area,” Flask said.
Flask’s 1887 home—which is normally filled with antiques any day of the year—is now once again decorated with his massive collection of Christmas antiques.
“There’s over 2,000 ornaments here, in this room, right now,” the Halstead resident said as he stood in his living room. “I gave my son probably 500 or so and a big tree a couple years ago.”
The majority of his ornaments are at least 100 years old, dating back to 1900, he said. With that many ornaments, obviously one Christmas tree isn’t enough. He has feather Christmas trees of all sizes, probably 13 to 15, he estimated. His three biggest trees are in his living room.
“Every ornament is hung individually,” he said. “Each one goes in a plastic bag to be stored.”
Flask said he planned to allow two weeks to decorate the house for Christmas, but he was able to do it in one, finishing last Sunday. He unpacked about 30 totes worth of decorations for his house this year. As many as that sounds, he said he has another eight to 10 totes that he didn’t even get into.
This is the first year since 2013 that Flask has gone to such lengths to decorate his home for Christmas. That year, 2013, his Christmas collection was featured in the national magazine, Early American Life.
He decided to go all-out again this year for sentimental reasons.
“It may be the last,” he said. “I don’t know. I don’t like to be a pessimist, but at 88 years old—87 right now—I don’t know that I could do it again.”
Different rooms in his house have different themes. The dining room is filled with snowmen, while the front room features his wife Carolee’s nativity sets.
“She’s got 30-some, but there’s only 12 in here,” Flask said about the nativities.
He told the story behind one of the larger nativities on display, which he said was exactly like one his family had when he was a kid.
“I always wanted one, and I always looked,” he said.
He kept an eye out when going to garage sales, but his habit was just to carry $5 with him. One day two years ago at a garage sale in Wichita, he finally found the nativity from his childhood. It was the last day of the sale, and the owner was ready to bargain.
“There wasn’t any prices on anything, so I asked how much for the nativity,” he recalled. “She said, ‘How about $5?’ I almost broke my arm getting my $5 out of my pants pocket.”
He added his daughter found a similar set selling for $500 online.
Another of his favorite nativities was made by an Italian sculptor, Angela Tripi, with an impressive level of detail in Flask’s opinion.
“Look at the work,” he said. “Anything hand-done, to me, is just wonderful.”
Some of his decorations were locally made. He has a wooden nativity made by Jim Hefling and snowmen and a Santa Claus made from pop bottles by Matthew Dunn.
Other curiosities you’ll find in Flask’s Christmas display include bottle brush trees, reindeer made from lead, Czechoslovakian bead ornaments, a basketful of German “kugels,” a small tree with stars for Hanukkah, candy containers, and some small chenille trees his grandmother brought from Italy when she emigrated.
He built up this collection from a variety of sources.
“I had several people looking for me, antique dealers in Wichita and back in New Hampshire, in New York state, and also in Pennsylvania,” he said. “I started to really seriously collect after I moved here [to Halstead], which was 50 years ago.”
Out of all these special things, Flask doesn’t have a favorite.
“I really don’t. I just love it all,” he said. “What I enjoy is getting each thing out and knowing where I bought it or who gave it to me, where it came from.”
Flask expected to leave the house decorated through the end of January. Once, years ago when his daughter was in college, they didn’t take the decorations down until March.
“I love Christmas,” he said. “I could leave this up all year-round.”