In the Communications Office space, we have a sizable storage room that houses our publicity archives.
This storage room used to be the park’s dark room. (Back when photos were taken using large cameras and black-and-white film, they were developed … in a “dark room.”)
We don’t have to tell you how photography has changed over the years, and especially the past decade or so. (You’ve seen what our HoliDrone has captured over the season, right?)
… but still, there’s something rather mysterious about digging through our archives and discovering a black-and-white photo like this:
We recognize Santa, of course. That’s Santa Jim. This photo was taken on October 18, 1959, in the room at Santa Claus Land where Santa visited with countless children over the decades.
Upon further research, we discovered that this photo was the culmination of a “Billy & Ruth Day” promotion. Children from all over entered this promotion for a chance to win a 26″ Deluxe Bicycle by drawing a picture of Santa Claus.
Who’s that clown on the left?
That’s Peppo the Clown, from WEHT-TV in Evansville. A 2014 article from the Evansville Courier & Press reveals Peppo was actually Chicagoan Ulysses A. Carlini, Sr. Mr. Carlini endured the 30-minute application of clown makeup each Saturday morning because he knew the kiddos watching from home enjoyed his show.
The children who won the promotion were “King Billy” David Risinger, 11, and “Queen Ruth” Gloria Majors, 10, both of Evansville. In addition to winning bicycles, they were guests on Peppo’s TV show.
Here’s a quote from that week’s “Bish Thompson” Saturday Special column in the Evansville Press: Throughout the day there’ll be events of bugeyed interest to the small fry. If they’ve been yammering to go to Santa Claus, looks like tomorrow will be the day for it.
But wait! There were second-place winners, too:
That’s Reed Sugg, 6, from Morganfield, Kentucky, holding his Lionel Train Set prize and Becky Holbrook, 11, from Owensboro, Kentucky, with a 36″ doll. (They don’t look quite as happy as King Billy and Queen Ruth, though, do they?)
And who’s that peeking through the window behind the two fellows? And, for that matter, who were Billy and Ruth? (Google keeps trying to convince me their last name was Graham, but I know that’s not right!) Billy and Ruth Steltz’s father owned the company in Philadelphia that provided catalogs to a series of hardware stores across the land. One of those publications, starting in 1929, was “Happy Hours with Billy and Ruth,” a magazine-like toy catalog sprinkled with children’s stories, poems, and even connect-the-dots puzzles.
We hope you enjoy these stories as we occasionally lose ourselves in our history. Please post a comment if there’s any topic you’d like us to explore, either here on the HoliBlog or on our podcast.