A king, a queen, and a clown

Billy and Ruth's Toy Headquarters promo

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:

Billy and Ruth's Toy Headquarters promo

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:

Billy and Ruth's Toy Headquarters promotion

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.

 

 

 

Your daily floss

Long ago, my oldest son explained to me the difference between a “geek” and a “nerd.” Tom now works at JPL (which you may recognize from The Big Bang Theory), so whatever he told me then was no doubt correct.

Thing is, I don’t exactly remember what he said …

But whether you’re a geek or a nerd, if you like fun facts, I think this “27 Fun Facts About Fun” video from Mental Floss magazine will do the trick (be sure to catch #18!).

Do you remember Santa Claus Land? Please post your favorite memory here!

Photographic memories

A lovely email from longtime friends:

My family has been going to your park for many, many years. My grandparents used to visit back when you were called Santa Claus Land. Generations have come and gone to your park. For the second time we will be taking my daughter to your park to celebrate her birthday. She will be 14 this year, and when asked what or where she would like to go for her birthday, your park was the first place she picked.

Anyway, I was going through my parents’ old photo albums gathering pictures that we wanted to scan for preservation, and I found these two pictures that I wanted to share with you. They were developed in November 1955, but I do not know the date of the visit. One picture is of my uncle and cousins…


…and the other is of my grandmother, her sister, and their mother (my great-grandmother).

So when I tell you that many generations from our family have visited, I wasn’t kidding.

Thanks so very much for all the past and future memories!

Sincerely,
Becky C.
Bloomington, Indiana

We’re still Santa Claus Land to some

Wow.

Whoever wrote this headline not only took a time-machine ride back to the 1960s … they also physically moved the park to the south and west! (In that case, shouldn’t it be Evansville Land?)

You may notice the article was written by Mrs. Koch’s pictorial history book co-author. Poor Jane is beside herself. First her oldest heads off to college, and now this.

My absolute favorite Santa Claus Land headline was back in 1992, when the park had been Holiday World for an entire decade.

It was my first season with the park and we’d had great fun with the bungee show and rides we offered. It was located where the high-dive show used to be (and still exists). If you look around behind the high-dive seating, you can still see the footers that were put in for the bungee tower.

The plan was always to offer bungee jumping for a single season. Then back to the high-dive show.

But when, toward the season’s end, a newspaper article ran about the bungee show, the big hook was that we were not going to continue it in 1994.

Never planned to.

Told you.

But it was more exciting to write about the “big decision,” apparently.

The wire service picked up the story and it ran all over the place.

My budget nearly exploded as the clipping service mailed us boxes and boxes of clips.

The headlines varied wildly as those are written by someone on each paper’s staff. But the one I’ll never forget, for its absurdity, was:

Santa Claus Land Rids Self of Bungee Nightmare

Now that’s creative writing!

Yum, yum, yum!

Anyone else out there a cornball who loves to listen to old radio shows from the ’40s?

I grew up hearing my folks talk about Fibber McGee‘s closet, Jack Benny‘s squeaky violin, and Baby Snooks‘ antics.

Thanks to satellite radio those shows are available again, 60 years later.

And the commercials are a hoot. Either the plugs are non-too-subtly inserted into the script or the cracky, nasally voice of Henry Aldrich belts out a jingle.

Tums for the tummy. And Jell-O, yum, yum, yum!

A Kraft Foods employee emailed the other day, so pleased to see in our pictorial history book that Santa long ago posed for an advertisement with a variety of products, including Jell-O.

Santa Jim and Jello

Upon closer inspection, it appears that it was Jell-O pie filling.

Lemon pie filling to be exact.

Mrs. Koch might need a slice of pie to keep her energy up as she autographs all those books, which are available in our shops and through our website.

More memories of our feathered friends

It’s amazing the memories that are stirred whenever we talk about the Educated Animals.

Here’s an email from last week:

I really appreciated the picture of the educated animals. I tried to tell my wife about them but could not do it justice. One of my greatest memories is of my mother putting money in the chicken who played baseball stand. Mom hates birds (don’t ask me) she is scared to death of them? The bird immediately went out to second base, did his/her daily constitutional and went right back to its change. The look on my mom’s face was priceless. Thanks for the memories. See ya this summer.

Keith B.
Vienna, Illinois

I couldn’t find a photo of the baseball-playing chicken, sorry to say.

Will Desmond the Drumming Duck do?

Will’s favorite ride

When you saw the subject line of this post, you probably assumed the subject was going to be coasters.

Right?

That’s a reasonable assumption, but truth be told there’s another ride from Will’s childhood that is right there at the top.

Pump cars.

See them there, in the middle of the photo?

This is the Pleasureland ride section of Santa Claus Land. (Yes, we’re working on our pictorial history book again today.) The pump cars are also featured in the Vintage Footage of Santa Claus Land, which you’ll find on our streaming video page.

When asked by reporters over the years, Will and his four siblings are unanimous in their delirious memories of the pump cars.

They were the best.

The reason why they were the best, though, explains why they’re no longer here.

“You could pump really hard, build up some speed, and then crash off the track when you came to a curve. It was great!”

I won’t credit that quote to a particular Koch. I believe I’ve heard all three of the male siblings say it.

When preparing the above photo for this post, I emailed a piece of it to Will. My question was regarding whether the pump cars were individual cars, or connected, as it looks here:

Will’s reply: Yes, they are the pump cars. They are individual units. However, if the person in front is going too slow…?

Our answer to the Christmas debate

Have you been following all the fuss? About whether it’s a Christmas tree or a “holiday tree”? Not a terribly new debate, sadly.

We had to go back seven years to find this, but thought it was worth dusting off. Back in 1998, we were approached by a national newspaper chain to write a “counter-point” opinion piece about one man’s push to have Christmas removed from the list of national holidays.

He was suing the government in an attempt to turn December 25 into just another day here in the U.S.

Here’s the reply, from Mrs. Koch, that was printed:

Point/Counter Point

Dear Santa, I have been trying to be good this year but my little sister gets me in trouble. I hope you give me lots of toys this year. I’ll be happy with anything you give me this year. Your friend, Bubby B.

Dear Santa, I what my dad to be smarter. Love, Robbie D.

Dear Santa, I have been a very, very good gril this year. I want your picer. Your friend, Annessa P.S. Go to Mrs. Johnson’s house to get me a cat. She has lots of them.

Dear Santa, I like board games. I promise to leave you some cookies and milk. Oh, don’t forget to turn off the TV this year, you forgot to last year. From your friend, Michael

Santa's ElvesAs thick as snowflakes in a blizzard the letters come, year after year, as children send their letters to Santa Claus.

Somehow these letters find their way to the tiny post office in Santa Claus, Indiana, from all around the world even though at times the address is simply “Santa Claus, USA,” with a colorful sticker where a 32-cent stamp should be.

Somehow the harried postal workers see to it that the letters get to Santa Claus in time. And somehow this town provides enough volunteers to make sure that each of the thousands of letters receives a personal reply from one of Santa’s Elves. Everyone is busy, everyone has shopping and cooking and wrapping to do. But the sweet and sometimes sad letters from children from all over the world are too important to ignore.

Christmas is about children. Although we Americans sometimes complain about the commercialism of the holidays, we must look beyond the hustle-bustle and into the eyes of our nation’s children, for it is there that we will rediscover the true spirit of the season.

Children understand Christmas. They know it’s about believing.

It’s about sharing and loving and giving from the heart. As adults, it’s about gathering the little ones in your lap and telling them about what you asked Santa to bring you (back in the dark ages when you had to walk eight miles to school in ten feet of snow). It’s giggling as three generations try to remember the gift given on the eleventh day of the Twelve Days of Christmas, and blinking back tears of tender love as the tiniest grandchild recites the names of Santa’s reindeers.

It’s taking time off from work and school to be home with loved ones. It’s breaking bread together, and giving thanks for family, good health, and for the blessings of living in America. It’s a time to donate to a good cause, to prepare meals for the less fortunate, to bring flowers to a shut-in.

Thousands of children visit Santa Claus, Indiana, during their summer vacation each year to get an early visit with the town’s namesake. As they climb up into his lap, there are no questions about religious or ethnic background. The only questions are: “Have you been good this year? And what would you like Santa to bring you?” Nothing political, nothing controversial, simply a quiet conversation between a little child and kindly old gentleman.

During the years when Americans have been overseas at war, the bombs stopped while soldiers from both sides gratefully celebrated the Christmas holiday. There was no question of religion for these cease-fires, but a universal agreement that on December 25th there would be no war.

Can a holiday with the power to halt wars not be a national treasure? Christmas is as American as the 4th of July. It should be celebrated by all who wish to recapture the belief and hope of a small and trusting child.

Patricia A. Koch
Santa Claus, Indiana

Anyone know these beauties?

We were sorting through some archival photos the other day and wondered about this photo:

Bathing beauties at Santa Claus Land

Goodness! Is that Marilyn?

And what’s with those high heels?

Must be beauty queens. (If so, where are their sashes? Their tiaras? Didn’t they have tiaras back then? What good is it being a beauty queen if you don’t get to wear a tiara…)

If you’re wondering where this was taken, it was back when the Santa statue was located in front of Santa Claus Land’s main buildings (this area is now “back of the house”). Santa was elevated somewhat, and there were steps to get up on the same level with him.

Anyone recognize these ladies? If so, please be sure to email me so we can share the story.

(The above blog entry was first posted on 9/8/05 and by the next week, we had some “answers.” Here’s the second HoliBlog post:)

Where are they now?

Remember those mystery ladies from one of last week’s posts? We’ve identified them all!

Thanks to a series of emails from interested parties (actually, they were all from my Cousin Jeff in St. Louis), we now know that those beauties all went on to find successful careers in the public eye.

Again, this is a photo from our Santa Claus Land archives. No scribbled notes on the back. No date.

Marilyn?But don’t you think this might be Marilyn?

Just take a quick look and you’ll probably agree.

Don’t stare, though.

That’s rude.

Jackie?

 

And couldn’t this possibly be Jackie?

You know…Jackie O. …back when she was Jackie B.

 

After identifying the most famous beauties, I was stuck.

Cousin Jeff came to the rescue within hours via email.

Lucy's friend?

This beauty next to “Jackie” looks like Lucy’s friend (not Ethel … her other friend) but I’m drawing a blank.

Hmm… let’s Google that.

Oh yes – Betty Ramsey! (The actress’s name was Mary Jane Croft. She hailed from Muncie, Indiana. )

Andrea?

And Jeff says this next bathing beauty must be Andrea Martin.

By golly, she does look familiar, but I’m not sure if the ages synch up.

Close enough.

We’re almost done!

But this one (no offense, Jeff!), I really do question.

Bertie?

According to Jeff, “The final beauty is now a grandma. Why, that’s Lindsay Lohan’s grandmother Bertie Lohan. Her friends just called her “Bert.”

Maybe we’ll try this again some day. We have lots and lots of old photos. And for some reason, every single face looks familiar.

Was it this hot?

…back before we had Splashin’ Safari?

It’s just hard to believe, isn’t it?

What did people do before water parks?

Before wave pools and fountains?

Before air conditioning?

How did they keep cool?

Santa had the right idea:

Best I can tell, Santa is sitting on a thin pillow to keep from sticking to his ice-block throne. I’m guessing the photo was taken in the ’50s, as it’s in black and white.

Even back then, Santa was one cool fellow.