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Posted at 5:54 PM ET, 12/17/2010

Disney FD takes the cake at gingerbread contest

By Timothy R. Smith
disney fd_opt.jpg (Maggie McGuire, courtesy of NIH)

Two weeks ago a gingerbread village sprang up at the National Institutes of Health. Town elections were held today.

For the past seven years, the Clinical Center at NIH has held a gingerbread house competition for its staff, and this year more than 28 houses were on display in the center's spacious lobby, including ones with Disney, "Toy Story" and "Harry Potter" themes. Snoopy rested atop his doghouse. Harry Potter played quidditch, the quaffle a metal orb that whizzed along a meandering, roller coaster-like track. Alice in Wonderland ate treacle with the Mad Hatter.

Snoopy_opt.jpg (Maggie McGuire, courtesy of NIH)

After more than 2,500 people cast ballots, the winner, with 453 votes, was a model Disneyland Fire Department. It was not your grandmother's gingerbread house.

The winner was more than a foot high, its exterior brick made with Big Red chewing gum (from 20 large packs), which perfumed the air with peppermint. An edible Mickey Mouse wore a firefighter’s suit. Near him was a doghouse with Dalmatians. One, atop the roof, left paw prints in the snow. Minnie Mouse sat under a palm tree, a martini glass made from melted Jolly Ranchers at her side. Inside was a fire pole and truck, its ladder wrought from licorice. Unlaced boots, a hanging coat and a red ax were made of fondant. The windows, clear and unblemished, were made of leaf gelatin.

“You can’t use Windex,” said Susan Perry, a nurse who was the mastermind behind the DFD display.

Her team, including eight other nurses, started planning for the competition at least a year ago. This past November, they received a gingerbread kit. Per the rules, each gingerbread house had to use the kit, and everything had to be edible. They made the doghouse out of the kit. Then they added more to create the sprawling firehouse. They put in more than 100 hours of work over two weeks, Perry said.

toy story_opt.jpg (Maggie McGuire, courtesy of NIH)

Second place went to a Christmas “Toy Story” display. At the center was a large Christmas tree made of green Fruit Roll-ups. Buzz Lightyear hung precariously from a popcorn garland that wound up the tree. A gingerbread train, with Woody straddled above the cattle catcher, circled the tree. Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head were made of real spuds.

The gingerbread competition has become a staff favorite at NIH. The announcement of winners always draws a crowd. In years past, the houses were donated to the Children’s Inn, but they often broke during transportation or voracious kids would nibble away.

“Some people think these will be little things, but they’re really big,” said Lt. Cmdr. Ann Marie Matlock, a nurse with the Public Health Service.

Last year, a team built a model Fallingwater, the Frank Lloyd Wright masterwork.

“If you look for things that make people smile and give them a moment of happiness, this is one of the them,” said John Gallin, director of the Clinical Center. “You see little kids just giggle.”

By Timothy R. Smith  | December 17, 2010; 5:54 PM ET
Categories:  Holiday  | Tags:  National Institutes of Health, Timothy R. Smith, gingerbread houses  
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