When your grandparents were children, they probably saw an episode of NBC’s “Howdy Doody,” which ran from 1947 to 1960 and starred “Buffalo” Bob Smith and his puppet, Howdy Doody, a play on the Western greeting “howdy do.”
Today, you can find the 70-year-old freckled cowboy puppet at Hog Creek Antiques in Allen, Michigan. It costs $375, and a whole lot of nostalgia.
Donna Payne, an employee at the antique mall asked, “Do you know Howdy Doody?” (Howdy who?).
A woman near her age (about 70), responded, “Oh, Howdy Doody!” while standing at the front counter, checking out. She began singing the theme song that goes with the persona, a cowboy marionette that was popular in the 1940s and 1950s.
Prompted by blank stares, Payne walked right to the glass display case with a ginger, freckled, gap-toothed, googly-eyed cowboy puppet with some of the paint cracking peaking out of his box. In all caps, the tag says “Rare boxed Howdy Doody!!! $375 firm. Complete. Check eBay, it’s a bargain.”
Other bargains include a $400 World War II-era bomb, (don’t worry, Payne said, it’s a dud and won’t go off) and other Nazi Germany relics, black swastikas on the white backgrounds of a $50 army patches, a $130 arm band, and a $175 Hitler Youth pennant.
For Hog Creek Antique Mall’s owner, Michelle Barrows, antiquing is all about collecting and finding that hidden gem.
“It’s like a treasure hunt. You get it in your blood and you can’t get it out,” Barrows said.
Hog Creek Antique Mall doesn’t just deal in war memorabilia, though. With more than 23,000 square feet of space and three distinct wings, shoppers can find true antiques, bizarre collections of old Christmas ornaments strung together to whole cabinets of Precious Moments dolls (the pale figurines with the teardrop-shaped eyes you could probably find at your grandmother’s house), and local crafts like wild honey and dream catchers.
By her count, Payne has had “the antique bug” for 13 or 14 years, always on the lookout for Victorian furniture and carousel horses. She caught it later on, but Barrows, has had it her whole life. She grew up surrounded by antiques as her parents learned how to turn a profit going to estate sales, appraising, buying, and selling. She and her husband, Loren Barrows, started building Hog Creek, specifically designed to be an antique mall, in 2005, and it opened in 2006.
Allen is a self-proclaimed antique capital, an attribution you can’t miss when rolling through the 191-person village on Interstate 12. Antique malls, like the Allen Antique Barn, crowd the sides of the road, packed with antiques to overflowing, begging perusal.
The Barn, for example, is two stories, the Loft and the Barn, and 25,600 square feet, with more than 300 stalls crammed with antiques. Antique malls, as opposed to antique stores, are divided into individual stalls professional and amateur antiquers stock with their wares, meaning a greater concentration of eclectic, vintage, and true antique stuff per square foot.
Some of the stalls at the Allen Antique Barn are kitschy bordering on junky, but Bryce McCowan has a few weird stories and a few favorite stalls.
One time, a Humpty Dumpty statue found its way into the hands of a dealer who sold it through McCowan to a man who had a truck perfectly customized to accommodate the oversized egg. McCowan guesses the buyer has a sizable egg collection.
A set of cases running along the front of the store one time housed World War II memorabilia, he said, but this seller’s wares were so popular among McCowan’s customers that the seller ran out of antiques to sell and had to close his stall. Another stall features old, original Native American and colonial American artwork. McCowan once wrote a $14,000 check for one month of sales because a shopper representing a museum came in and cleaned out the stall.
For a village its size, Allen’s antique malls attract national and international traffic. Sellers and buyers come to Allen from all four corners of the United States and from around the world (McCowan has multiple Japanese customers) to buy antiques that would be pricy in their home state or country and sell them back home. One of his sellers makes a killing buying cheap antiques in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and selling them for profit in Michigan, and buying cheap antiques in Michigan and selling them in Ft. Lauderdale — enough, McCowan said, to pay for the next few plane tickets.
After winding around stalls and walking down a long corridor, McCowan arrived at his favorite stall. Jam-packed with true antiques (more than 100 years old), the stall belongs to Rich Derooter, a Battle Creek resident who designed Michigan State University’s Sparty the Spartan mascot for free.
One piece in particular is eye-catching: A rotary phone separated into the receiver and the rotary, built into a marble and bronze table. The tag says “May still work, but definitely a rare piece, great for decorative item.”
Near a stall neighboring this treasure trove, Steve Lindau, an eminently practical man, was perusing for any antiques that may still work. For him, antiquing can lead to unnecessary clutter, so he keeps his collections to a minimum: functioning kitchen appliances and Victorian-era depictions of cats.
“It’s neat to be able to use an egg-beater or a potato-masher someone used 70 years before you and it still works just the same,” he said, joining the other antiquers who agree that stuff just isn’t made how it used to be.
Barrows, who also has a quirky collecting habit — vintage Christmas ornaments — agrees with Lindau about the search for quality, whether searching for handmade German ornaments or solid furniture.
“With your antiques and collectibles, the quality is there,” Barrows said. “You can have a dresser made out of oak that stood up for 50 to 100 years already.”
Barrows has a message for millennials furnishing her home: “If you’re going to furnish your house, furnish it with old furniture, furnish it with quality. The reality is most of it is particle board if you go to a lot of different places.”
Payne, Barrows, and Lindau all caught the antiquing “bug,” but they each have their own collecting symptom.
For Payne, it’s carousel horses.
For Barrows, it’s handmade German Christmas ornaments.
For Lindau, it’s Victorian cats.
“The obsession isn’t about getting the piece,” Payne said. “It’s about the chase.”