Arts & Entertainment Community Government

Grinch moves from Rosedale to Skansie Park

Posted on November 29th, 2023 By: Chapin Day

On Monday, Mary Godwin-Austen suddenly interrupted her brisk morning walk along Harborview.

She’d seen an old friend.

On a roof top.

The Grinch.

From left, Dan Coonan, Brandon Ruehl and Seth Wahto of the Gig Harbor Public Works Department install the Grinch at Skansie Brothers Park. Photo by Chapin Day.

A Who-ville House relic

High overhead, three Gig Harbor Public Works employees, two on hydraulic bucket trucks, one clinging to the shingles, toiled to install a new addition to the Skansie Park Visitor Center holiday decor.

Godwin-Austen gazed up at the scene and told a bystander: “That looks familiar to me.”

No wonder.

The cut-out painted plywood portrayal of the Grinch, Santa’s sleigh, and the antler-clad dog Max had first appeared on the roof of her Rosedale neighbor’s home in 1973. It returned annually for decades thereafter on what some locals came to know as the Who-ville House.

The Langhelm family provided this photo of the decoration atop their home in Rosedale during a 2007 snowstorm.

Others knew that the house, on Rosedale Drive NW near Ray Nash Street NW, was the family home of Jim Langhelm, father of three, who designed and created the cut-outs based on his own delight in the children’s book, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”

No more rooftops for him

Langhelm is now 83 and, he said, strictly forbidden by his wife Hallie from doing anything as foolish as climbing up a ladder to the roof with an awkward load of plywood figurines. He now strings a single row of holiday lights on his carport.

“I stopped putting it up about seven years ago,” he said while visiting Skansie Park on Monday as the installation continued. He wore a well-worn baseball-style hat emblazoned with the greeting “Merry Grinchmas” and carried his own beloved copy of the Dr. Suess book, given to him by his wife 53 years ago. He even brought along his original plans for the cut-outs.

“Some people call me Mr. Grinchman,” he noted with apparent pride in such a title.

Jim Langhelm with the design plans he used to build the Grinch decoration. Photo by Chapin Day

He had stopped by the park to monitor progress and pass along some information to his nephew, Jeff Langhelm, Gig Harbor’s Public Works director.

An alternative Grinch tale

The information included a short essay Jim had written, detailing the history of his personal Who-ville.

“While reading the story to my young children,” his history explains, “I began to envision the Ginch & Max and the sleigh on the roof of my white peaked house based on a picture in the book where the Grinch and Max the dog were pushing the toy laden sleigh off the top of Mt. Crumpit, but my vision was of the Grinch & Max saving the sleigh, not destroying it.”

“After doodling on paper for a while, my mind’s image eventually took shape, and in July of 1972 I had my plans on paper.  The finished product was first installed in mid-December in 1973.”

Langhelm made additions over the years, among them a Who-ville arch and some houses.  Those pieces, one of which a granddaughter assisted in painting, are planned for inclusion on the park’s Skansie house in time for tree-lighting ceremonies the evening of Dec. 2.

Jim Langhelm points to the illustration that inspired his decoration. Photo by Chapin Day

Among the people who will be delighted to see it assembled again is Mary Godwin-Austen.

“When I was a kid,” she said, “we would drive by and enjoy it.  I’m glad that it’s staying in the harbor for everyone to enjoy.”

Much appreciated

Mary Godwin-Austen

So did Langhelm donate the display to the city?

“That’s still being worked out,” he replied. “Hmm. We’ll see.”

And how does he feel about seeing it again?

“It makes me proud to think that this community appreciated the display over the years.”