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Holiday wonder can come in unlikely packages—like this antique ceiling fan that once decorated a magical department store, and recalls the days when Christmas shopping was an event. ​You know when you get to this page you’re going to see a picture of something and it might not be too obvious why it’s in this issue. But I bet you’ve pretty much figured out by now that somewhere there’s a story that’s going to tie it all together— and hopefully make you nod and smile and maybe remember something you haven’t thought about in a while

So yep, this is the holiday issue, and yep, that’s a ceiling fan.

I met Cecil, a rancher in West Texas, when I headed out there to see his ’65 VW bus (a story for another day). He’s a real cowboy, attached to the land his family has worked and loved for 150 years, just past where the paved road ends and the gravel road starts. He doesn’t need or care to leave it very often.

But Cecil remembers that, as a boy, he went to Fort Worth every year right before Christmas and spent wondrous hours in the aisles of the Leonard Brothers Department Store. Those were the days of mahogany display cases and awesome window decorations. Before big box stores and ordering online, shopping was an event—and Leonard Brothers was like Disneyland. Around 1940 the store even got air conditioning, and to help circulate all the cool air, they hung airplane ceiling fans, made in 1939-40 by the Dallas Engineering Company over in the next town. Parents were grateful for the relief. Children, including Cecil, were mesmerized.

Nearly 50 years ago, Leonard Brothers (1918-1967) was bought up by a department store chain and remodeled to look like all the rest of their stores. Most of the old interior furnishings were sold off, and that’s how Cecil came to own the airplane ceiling fan he’d loved as a child.

I spotted it in one of his barns, and it not only still had its propeller (most of them have been lost) but it also had a pair of bombs he added himself (hanging from his improvised floor stand). It’s a rare enough ceiling fan, but it was Cecil’s story of those childhood trips to the miraculous store in Fort Worth that touched my heart and reminded me that holiday memories really are forever. Haul them out this season—they make the best decorations.

Part sleuth, part preservationist and part cultural historian, Mike Wolfe is the star and creator of American Pickers on HISTORY. Find him online at antiquearchaeology.com

-by Mike Wolfe