Saturday, August 12, 2000

Lava lamps light up memories

Readers share their recollections of the 35-year-old symbol of the '60s

By Shauna Scott Rhone
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        One of the best-known icons of the '60s is celebrating a milestone. The Lava brand motion lamp, which has entranced and entertained generations around the world with its calming undulations, turns 35 this year.

[photo] Randy Mueller (left), Tim Geers, James Geers and Dave Hester all credit a Lava lamp with leading them to true love.
(Luis Sanchez photo)
| ZOOM |
        For the millions who have enjoyed one of the colorful dancing blobs, it will always be called a “Lava lamp.” Nevertheless, the company that makes this mood-relaxing appliance is uptight about the use of that phrase.

        Chicago-based Haggerty Enterprises, who first released the lamp in 1965 (after buying the rights from Belgian inventor Edward Craven Walker two years earlier), states in its press material, “There is no such thing as a "Lava lamp' or a "Lava lite.'”

        That being said, we asked Enquirer readers for their “Lava”-ble musings about one of the original symbols of peace and love. We received more than 50 responses from across four generations. Some lamps have been handed down like precious heirlooms, others have been the source of desperate pleas for possession. Some readers even claim their lamp has special powers. All confessed the warmth of the lamp conjured fond memories.

        First, the unofficial winner of our quest to find the Tristate's oldest lamp. Some who wrote couldn't remember exactly when they acquired their lamp, but one reader fondly remembers his 11th birthday in 1964:

        When I was a child, my uncle Bob was very good to the children in my family. He was a manufacturer's rep for several good companies that sold games and novelty items ...

        My brother and I immediately fell in love with the (lamp's) swirling surreal colors. We were allowed to take this unique gift into our bedroom, where we would spend hours gazing at the dark ruby wax as it took our imaginations to places we could only dream of.

  Facts about Lava brand motion lamps, courtesy of Haggerty Enterprises Inc.:

  • Employees take an oath of secrecy upon being hired so that the mystery of the Lava brand motion lamp is never revealed.
  • Lava brand motion lamps can be seen almost every night on prime time TV. They've been spotted on Friends, Dawson's Creek and Will and Grace, also films, including American Beauty and American Pie.
  • Haggerty Enterprises Inc. is the only manufacturer of the Lava brand motion lamp. Greater Cincinnati sources include Spencer's, JC Penney and Kohl's. Prices range $20-$50. A 27-inch special-edition lamp sells for $250.
  • More Lava brand motion lamps were sold in the 1990s than in the '60s, '70s and '80s combined.
  • There are more than 100 style and color combinations of Lava brand motion lamps.
  • No two Lava brand motion lamps are the same. They all have their own personality.
  • The Lava brand Century motion lamp was the first style created. Today it remains a top seller.
  • The Lava brand Carlisle motion lamp was one of the original models. Its heat source was a candle.
  • The Lava brand Giant motion lamp is the largest motion lamp on the market, a towering 27 inches tall.

        When my brother announced he was getting married and moving out, we had a tremendous knock-down, drag-out fights over the custody of the Lava lamp. I finally won when Mom stepped in and reminded my brother that the lamp was sent to me for my (birthday).

        The lamp still sits on my desk along with other reminders of a childhood made more special by the gifts my uncle Bob gave to us.

        — Rick Stone, 46, Westwood

        One reader remembered his lamp with a different kind of fondness. He says the lamp's mellow mood kept him and his wife warm through a few frigid winters:

        My wife Sandy and I still have our lamp from 1970 and it's in mint condition. There were many cold winter nights ... when our Lava light helped to set the mood for a romantic interlude. We've been married for 33 years and those memories are etched in my mind forever.

        — Ron Gray, 53, Bridgetown

        Not all of the lamps made their place of honor in a living room or bedroom. One was an “office sentry” for a city official:

        I purchased a Lava lamp for my husband, Wayne, when we lived in Forest Park in the late 1970s. He had seen them and thought they would be an interesting addition to his office. At that time, he was Forest Park city manager.

        He took the orange and gold lamp with him to his new office in Loveland, where it remained for 13 years. It then moved with him to his office in Moraine where he was city manager for five years. So that Lava lamp has probably been privy to some very interesting and heated discussions!

        The lamp is still working great and sitting on Wayne's desk at home, as he retired in January. The lamp has only had two-three replacement bulbs in all that time.

        — Ann Barfels, 54, Mason

And one lamp lit the way for a family going through tough times:

        I was divorced in 1972, with three young daughters ages 7, 5 and 2 ... I think it was 1975 when my girls asked me what I wanted for Christmas. I responded, “a Lava lamp.”

        That Christmas, I opened my gift from my daughters and to my absolute delight, it was a beautiful Lava lamp they purchased at Spencer's in the old Kenwood Mall.

        After I took a second job at night during tough times, we still lit the Lava lamp when I got home. It was very comforting to me to watch its blobs and bubbles. I thought, “if a blob can reach that height, so can I.” It was also very meaningful that my children scraped together all their pennies to give me such a wonderful token of their love. I'm sure some, if not all, of their lunch money went into their collective venture.

        To this day, my Lava lamp sits proudly on my Victorian marble-topped chest in my living-dining room area. I turn it off before I retire, thanking God for bringing my girls (now 35, 34 and 30) and me to where we are today.

        — Jane Stockman, 60, Anderson Township

By far, the most amusing story centers on four University of Cincinnati grads: James Geers, Mike St. Clair, Dave Hester and Mike Reuter.

        Each of them swear the lamp that entered their lives in 1993 gave them “mystical powers in the area of love and romance.”

        It started when a fifth friend, Randy Mueller, moved in with the guys for a few months. When he moved out, he left several boxes and a Lava motion lamp. Mr. Geers' wife, Mary, sent in the story:

        “Just three months after the lamp arrived, James was dating Mary. By July 1995, Randy was dating Christine and Mike (St. Clair) was dating Angi. This was also when Mike (Reuter) moved to Berkeley, Calif. (where he has since fallen in love and wedding bells are imminent). Dave, who hung around the apartment a lot, had also begun dating Jackie.

        All four of the friends, including the original owner of the lamp, were married by the end of 1997. James' brother, Tim, acquired the lamp in a toss and almost immediately met and married his wife in 1999. At their wedding, the lamp was given a place of honor on the head table and honored in a wedding toast made by the best man, the groom's brother, James.

        Two of the couples have started a family and two are awaiting the arrivals of their first-born later this year. Three of them now work together as architects for the same firm.

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