Wanted: A New Home for Miniature ‘Maybeland,’ a Fantasy Christmas Display Inspired by an Old-Time Radio Serial

In a St. Charles, Illinois, basement, a whimsical Christmas fantasy of lollipop forests, root-beer oceans and glittering ice castles lies hidden away, carefully packed into a collection of plastic totes. The fanciful landscapes of “Maybeland” and the curious creatures that inhabit it were handcrafted in intricate miniature by a Chicago father who made it all to display in his family’s Portage Park bungalow every Christmas season.

In the late 1980s, model hobbyist Ronald Konecki created an 8-foot diorama depicting the adventures of a radio show character named Paddy O’Cinnamon, better known as the Cinnamon Bear. The display follows the Cinnamon Bear as he helps siblings Judy and Jimmy Barton on their magical quest through the enchanted Maybeland to find their family’s treasured Silver Star Christmas ornament.

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Ronald Konecki’s son Tony Konecki said his father, who died in 2017, never intended for the display to be seen by anyone but his own family. Indeed, other than two exhibits at a suburban frame shop, the diorama has rarely been seen in public since it was built.

“He worked for 38 years at Commonwealth Edison over at Addison and California, started in the mail room and he went up to, it was called the ‘underground systems recorder.’ Before computers, he had maps of every piece of electricity, every outlet, every cable in the city,” Tony Konecki said of his father. “On weekends, when Dad wasn’t fixing up the house, he would be making models, airplanes, tanks, ships, figures in the basement in his spare time.”

Tony Konecki said his father was also very fond of Christmas celebrations, and collected ornaments that he and his wife, Leola, would arrange on multiple Christmas trees every season. As the Konecki children grew up, it became a family tradition to listen to radio broadcasts of “The Cinnamon Bear,” a series of 26 10-minute episodes originally produced in 1937 by the Hollywood-based Transcription Company of America.

Left: A scene from Ronald Konecki’s Maybeland diorama. (Erica Gunderson / WTTW News) Right: Leola and Ronald Konecki. (Provided)Left: A scene from Ronald Konecki’s Maybeland diorama. (Erica Gunderson / WTTW News) Right: Leola and Ronald Konecki. (Provided)

“We listened to it in the ‘70s on a radio show and it was usually three episodes a day, so it usually started the Saturday after Thanksgiving, right up to the Saturday before Christmas,” said Tony Konecki.

In Chicago, the Wieboldt’s department store sponsored the radio broadcasts in the 1940s and 1950s. Tony Konecki said he doesn’t know when or why his father developed a fascination with the Cinnamon Bear, but he suspects it began at Wieboldt’s “Toyteria” toy department.

“Back in the day when he was a kid, Wieboldt’s gave away the Cinnamon Bear coloring book and a Silver Star ornament,” Tony Konecki said. “And when he found (the show) on the radio later on in life, it probably was just the right thing at the right moment.”

A television adaptation combining the original radio show audio with hand puppets aired beginning in 1951, and the radio shows were revived in the 1970s on WBEZ and on Chicago radio stalwart Chuck Schaden’s WDCB show “Those Were the Days,” which still broadcasts classic programming from radio’s “Golden Age” era.

In the mid-1980s, Ronald Konecki created a few miniature scenes of the Cinnamon Bear story to put underneath the family’s Christmas tree. In 1986, Schaden invited Ronald Konecki onto “Those Were the Days” to talk about the first version of his creation. The following year, Tony Konecki returned home from college for the holidays to find a newly expanded version of Maybeland scenes on display in the living room.

“I was like, you’ve got to be kidding,” Tony Konecki said. “The other one was a little piece of felt underneath the Christmas tree. This blocked out the entire windows it was so big.”

Tony Konecki said his father used the coloring book’s illustrations as backdrops, and with modeling materials as well as a variety of repurposed objects, painstakingly recreated the scenes in 3D.

“When he was making this, you couldn’t go down to the store and find Crazy Quilt Dragons, pirates, magicians. So he had to be creative,” Tony Konecki said. “The Wintergreen Witch, who was the main enemy in this, was actually a glow-in-the-dark prize from Cracker Jack. I was actually with my dad, we were walking down Irving Park Road coming back from Six Corners probably, and … the bowl from a pipe was laying on the sidewalk. My dad picked it up and put it in his pocket and I had no idea why, but then he’s down in the basement making it into a beehive and there’s your beehive.”

The Maybeland diorama by Ronald Konecki. (Erica Gunderson / WTTW News)The Maybeland diorama by Ronald Konecki. (Erica Gunderson / WTTW News)

In Ronald Konecki’s death, the scenes stayed packed away — but over time, the Konecki family hoped to find a way the diorama could be put on public display. In 2018, Tony Konecki contacted Steve Darnall, who took over for Schaden as “Those Were the Days” host, for advice on how to find the display a better home.

“What I didn’t want to happen … is to just let it collect dust,” Tony Konecki said.

Darnall not only invited Konecki on the show to talk about his father’s diorama, he also made arrangements to display the diorama at Frame Makers in suburban Lemont, where “someone would then hopefully see the wisdom in taking it someplace where it could be displayed on a more permanent basis.”

The frame shop hosted an event to show off the display, which Darnall said drew an enthusiastic crowd.

“The response to it was terrific. Ours is particularly an audience that would appreciate the work that goes into sharing something that you love, and obviously in the case of Tony’s father, this was a labor of love on his part,” Darnall said. “I think that what was exciting was the chance to remind everybody about the show that had inspired this because that meant a lot to us and we knew to a lot of other people as well. I think one of the strengths of ‘The Cinnamon Bear’ is that it’s so clearly meant to not be of its time. It was a syndicated show, and the implication there was that this is something that radio stations could get in 1937 when it was first produced and then come back to it year after year after year. The idea behind this show was to create something that could become a tradition … to create something timeless and memorable and something that would enchant children to the point where they would want to share this experience at a major downtown department store with their families, and obviously it was successful in that regard.”

But Ronald Konecki’s creation was unique even among the dedicated nostalgia fandoms Darnall has encountered over the years, the host said.

“What Ron Konecki did was especially ambitious, … and I think that’s what makes the scope of something like this piece all the more impressive because, it’s one thing to decide you’re going to do a sculpture of the head of Jack Benny — which I’ve seen people try to do and that’s great — but to take this 26-chapter story and to take every single thing about it and visualize it, that is something that’s rare,” Darnall said.

The Maybeland diorama by Ronald Konecki. (WTTW News)The Maybeland diorama by Ronald Konecki. (WTTW News)

“Everybody was saying the same thing: ‘This is awesome, you’ve got to put it out some more,’” Tony Konecki said of the event. But even after a second exhibit at Frame Makers in 2019, the miniature Maybeland has not yet found a taker and has since remained in Tony Konecki’s basement.

“I would like to see this go somewhere where it could be displayed during Christmas, residential or business or library or that plays the radio broadcast. Anywhere other than sitting in these boxes in a basement,” Tony Konecki said. “I’d like to see it go somewhere where people can enjoy it, look at it, maybe go back to when they were a kid.”

In the meantime, Darnall said those interested in visiting Maybeland themselves this holiday season can tune into WDCB to hear the radio adventure, and he hopes Cinnamon Bear fans both old and new will come along for the ride.

“There is something about it that’s so different and so enchanting …,” Darnall said. “One of the nice things about getting to share the sounds on the radio is that for some people, it’s nostalgia, it’s memories. For other people, it’s sort of a treasure chest of American history that doesn’t get opened a lot of the time.”

Tony Konecki said anyone interested in rehoming his father’s Maybeland display can contact him directly at [email protected] for more information.

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